There's a verse in Hebrews that I think most of us are not particularly keen to dwell on: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). The living God was certainly against the city of Jerusalem in the year 586 BC.
The leaders and laypeople of Judah had ignored the warnings of God's prophets for years, and Babylon had finally come and besieged the capital city. In the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah recorded the horrific conditions the people faced at the hands of their captors. It wasn't a pretty picture.
But in Lamentations 2, we get an interesting depiction of the devastation: Jeremiah described it as the judgment of God. "How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger!" he wrote. "He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger.... The Lord was like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel, He has swallowed up all her palaces; He has destroyed her strongholds, and has increased mourning and lamentation in the daughter of Judah" (vv. 1, 5).
It's like God was a one-man wrecking crew. In fact, in all of Lamentations, Jeremiah never once mentioned Babylon as an agent of destruction. He went all the way to the source, identifying God as the real agent. Yes, the Babylonians physically ransacked Jerusalem, but ultimately it was God, in His sovereignty, who allowed them to do so (see also Daniel 1:1-2).
What does that mean when it comes to the suffering and pain you and I experience? Simply this: that God allows hurts to come into our lives so that we might turn our hearts back to Him. He gives the hurts because He wants our hearts.
God, through Jeremiah, had already penned a letter to the would-be captives, telling them, "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). To the people who would be utterly defeated, who would wonder, Why has the Lord allowed this to happen? God revealed to them the reason for their captivity: so they would run back to their Father's arms.
It's not that God has a mean streak or something—He has a love streak. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens," the Bible says, "and scourges every son whom He receives" (Hebrews 12:6). As David wrote in Psalm 119, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word" (v. 67). In other words, "The spanking really helped, Lord. Your hurt got my attention. And now I give my heart back to You." As C.S. Lewis put it, pain "plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul."
Here's the question I want to leave you with: Could it perhaps be that the living God is trying to get your attention through the painful circumstances you're facing, all in order to lovingly bring you back to Himself?