On the Subject of Suffering...

"Nothing takes God by surprise."

"The situation you are experiencing now came as no surprise to God. He knew it was going to happen before the beginning of time, and He has a plan for it."

"God is not sitting in Heaven saying, 'Oh, dear, how did *that* happen?'"

About 18 months ago, during some very hard days when I was questioning my faith in ways I'd never imagined questioning before, words like those above began to hit me from every direction. A friend encouraging me over the phone, every book I picked up to read, a radio program I just *happened* across, and more than one sermon. They were the words I needed to hear....over and over again....and I was awestruck by God's grace in gently reminding me of what I should already have known.

It's happening again.

Everywhere I have turned lately, I have been bombarded by reminders that all carry the same theme:

As Christians, we are to *expect* to suffer. We are not to expect an easy life. God does not give us a *free pass* from the storms of life. But we have the assurance that God is in control, whether it *seems* that way to us or not, and we know that His plans for us are for good and not for evil, plans to give us a future and a hope.

Old journal entries. This book, that book, and the other book I pick up. A blog entry emailed to me by my BIL. An entire blog I *happened* across due to a news article. A sermon by a guest preacher while Bro. Kent was on vacation. A sermon by Bro. Kent when he returned from vacation. A conversation between a friend and one of my children. *Everywhere* I turn, that is the message I am hearing and reading. Again...not a new message at all. But somehow one I keep needing to be reminded of as we continue on the path down which God is leading us now, and as I ache for friends who are suffering intensely as well. Seemingly senseless, needless suffering on all sides, suffering that tempts me daily to question the sovereignty and goodness of God. Suffering that unexplainably continues to lead me back to a constantly renewed assurance of that very sovereignty and goodness. And love, and grace, and mercy, and power.

From a sermon by a guest preacher a few weeks ago :

"The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in Him."
Nahum 1:7

I don't know that I had ever noticed that particular verse before. Here's an excerpt of an email I typed to a friend about my notes from the sermon:

"Not anything new or earth-shattering, but the first thing I heard him say was, "God is good, period. Whether circumstances are or not, He is. It is God's character to be good, and He cannot be anything else." Then he said, "When you start to struggle with the issue of God's goodness, look to the cross." He talked about the fact that if we focus on the cross, we can't help but see God's inherent goodness...no matter what else is going on around us.

I was already really beginning to see this as a refresher in what God has been teaching me about His goodness for the past 22 months. I was sitting there thinking about how easy it was to cling to and be certain of His goodness with all that went on with Ammah Grace, and even in the bittersweet testimony of my dad at the end: 'God has been *so* good to me,' but how I struggled with the issue of His goodness two summers ago to the point that I questioned everything I had believed all my life for a while....and how much He has taught me since about His goodness and love and grace. Then he said this:

'Goodness and safety are not synonymous. The church has begun to equate safety with the goodness of God, and it is just not true.' He said that even most Christians today have the idea that God's goodness means that we are always going to be safe and protected from harm...or that if something does happen, it will all be okay in the end, because 'God is good.' He said that is a false idea of God's goodness, and then went on to talk about the disciples, and how all but John ended up as martyrs, tortured before they were killed.

When he was talking about all of that, the quote from The Chronicles of Narnia popped into my head..."Aslan is not a tame lion. He is good, but He is not a tame lion." That quote and surrounding parts of that book were a big part of getting me *over the hump* with things [two years ago, when we] were teaching the Narnia class. The next thing I know, he is saying, "In the Narnia movie and book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Beavers are telling the children about Aslan, and one of the children asks, 'Is he a good lion?' and the Beaver responds..." and then goes on into the quote about his being good, but not being tame. He went into some detail about it, and then said, "And God says to us, 'You can count on my goodness, even when it is not safe."

Wow. I needed to again be reminded of all that, especially [right now]."

From the book, When All Hell Breaks Loose, by Steve Lawson (btw...this book should be required reading for every Christian going through trials. *Excellent* reading.):

"But the fact of the matter is that God's children do suffer, don't they? We are not exempt from trials. Tragedy is a required course, not a chosen elective....

The prophet Jeremiah says,
'Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
that extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.'
~Jeremiah 17:7-8

Here is what God is saying: Those who trust God are like massive trees. Strong. Tall. Towering. Deeply rooted. Growing upward. Fruitful. Productive. And, yes, exposed to life's storms."

A little later in that same chapter, Lawson says to those who are suffering:

"...the message of this book is for you. An all-wise God who knows what is best for your life loves you very much. He remains completely in control, ruling in unrivaled sovereignty. He is Lord of your storms, able to calm the angry waves and hush the fierce winds. He is Lord over Satan. He is Lord over adversity. He loves you deeply and seeks your best."

From Bro. Kent's sermon yesterday (pardon the shape of my notes here...I had been up all night with my mom and my notes show it!):

At the end of John 15, the Holy Spirit is referred to as "The Helper". This refers to the fact that we are not going to have the strength to make it on our own. In John 15 and 16, He is telling them, and us, that times are going to get so tough that we can't face them on our own, so...we need a Helper. "We have a bullseye on our back."

1. God discloses our need for a Helper because we are prone to stumble.

2. God discloses our need for a Helper because of the certainty of persecution.

3. God discloses our need for a Helper so that we will not be discouraged when trials come. Our flesh says, "If you loved me, why would you allow me to suffer like this?" Jesus says, "When suffering happens, remember I told you it would happen, so don't be discouraged."

When the world sees us looking like Christ, they will hate us, because they can't see us without seeing Him. They aren't going to love us for our love and kindness and goodness. They are going to hate us."

4. God discloses our need for a Helper because when Jesus left, we became the target.

God is glorified in us when we are going through the fire...that is when others see God in us more than at any other time.

Excerpt from a blog entry my BIL forwarded to me: (Btw...if you want a blessing, check out my BIL's blog. God's work in His life is so evident and exciting, and His heart for the Lord shines through everything else.)

"No doubt the incident [referring to the death of Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter Maria in a tragic accident] shook the faith of some. How could God allow such a thing to happen? Some will even conclude that God must not exist, because of the accident. Yet, being a Christian doesn’t mean that you are immune from the pains of this life. If a Christian is in a tornado, he may be killed, just like a non-Christian. If it rains, he gets wet." He goes on to share his thoughts on tragedy in the life of a Christian here.

And then this week, I *happened* upon this blog, following the death of Greg and Nicol Sponberg's infant son. The blog is written by the Sponberg's sister-in-law, Angie. She and her husband, Todd, lost their infant daugher just a few months ago. Although our circumstances are very different, I have devoured her blog this week and been amazed at how often her words are a perfect echo of what God has been teaching me over the past two years. There is truly a shared "fellowship of His sufferings" in those who have been brought to the point where intense suffering challenges faith and belief, those to whom God has said, as Angie puts it,

"Either you do, or you don't."

For those who have come to that point, and made the choice, "I do. I do believe. No matter what, " there is a fellowship of suffering, even in those who have never met.

God continues to teach me that there *is* joy in suffering...and that the deeper the pain, the more precious the things He shows us about Himself through it.

"The Spirit Himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God's children.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
~Romans 8:16-18

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives,
so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort."
~2 Cor. 1:3-7

1 comment:

t marie said...

Jef, you have NO idea how much I love you. My heart has been hurting a great deal lately and this post was a beautiful salve to my spirit.

Thank you for the reminders of God's nature and promises.

I am definitely going to read Lawson's book.

Then, to top it off you posted a happy birthday to me.

I love you my dear, precious friend.