” … we are preoccupied with the present.
The solution is to look up to the Lord and look ahead in hope.”
” … we are preoccupied with the present.
The solution is to look up to the Lord and look ahead in hope.”
I don’t believe we can endure suffering without resting our hope and faith in eternity with God.
At one time or another, all of us have questioned how a good God who is supposed to love us would allow suffering.
Thing is, we won’t get a satisfying answer. That’s because as advanced as we have become in areas such as technology, science, and medicine, we don’t understand everything.
Yet, we still seem to want and even demand to understand this. Even people who don’t believe in God are really recognizing his existence through rejecting him.
That’s because the Creator of the universe has written eternity on our hearts. In other words, whether you accept it or not, you can’t change it. It’s there.
When we accept suffering as a part of life, we learn to co-exist with it. We don’t accept it to the point of self deprivation or thinking embracing pain makes us more holier or acceptable to God.
Through faith, we trust God with it all, and find comfort in all his promises of being near us when we are in pain.
A child runs to a mother or father or any trusted caretaker for help and comfort. A picture of our Heavenly Father being there for us, too.
We’ve had our own personal experiences of suffering which can make us bitter and miserable if we cannot see beyond our life on earth. And often, when we get angry with God, we are only responding humanly to injustice. We don’t like to see people suffering.
God understand this. He created us to respond with compassion. We know how to help in many ways whether helping a neighbor who is suffering (from illness to the inability to shovel snow) or volunteering/contributing monetarily to a charity.
Yet, we are limited. In our own lives and the lives of others.
Consider this scripture found in the Bible:
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?
Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
Thankfully, most of us are not always thinking about this (I respectfully realize some suffer with fear). This is God’s design, too. We live life each day, our routines, and doing the next thing.
Even people who do not live as freely in some countries will tell you they have happiness. It may not look like yours or mine.
Throughout the centuries, people have looked ahead. I think suffering makes us do this. Like the adage says, “things will look better in the morning”, we are designed to hope in tomorrow. This is from God, too: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I think one of the most inspiring times of suffering in American history is listening to the richness of the spiritual songs sung by plantation slaves of the Old South. Their suffering was immeasurable. Yet, I have read about an immeasurable strength in the midst of their pain.
Then, other times in American history of mothers and babies dying during childbirth, loved ones dying with illnesses and diseases we now have medicine for, young men as young as 16 going off to war and never experiencing a future.
Then, the Holocaust. I recently finished a book based on a true story, The Girl from the Channel Islands, about a Jewish girl trapped on the island of Jersey occupied by the Germans during WWII.
Consider this passage:
No fat reserves, she’d recenlty discovered, meant that sitting for long periods, even with a cushion, was a painful experience. She had spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly from room to empty room, searching for the balance between warming up and burning calories, but last night even climbing the stairs to the attic, had left her panting and dizzy, Her weakness frightened her …
… for seven days, they had between them two ounces of margarine, seven ounces of flour, three ounces of sugar, four ounces of meat … for a few moments they rejoiced as they devoured an acceptable lunch – perhaps a slice of tongue to go with a crust of tasteless Occupation bread.
Lastly, Hebrews 11, found in the Bible, records the heroes of faith. It begins with this:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
People of faith who had amazing victories:
who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
Yet, at the end of the chapter:
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Not so victorious, were they? At least not our definition of victorious.
But God commends all of these people:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
I have determined, only this satisifes the questions we have about suffering. We might call our perseverance the human spirit, but even that comes from God.
We don’t have all of the story now. We don’t have a complete explanation now.
But through faith, through trust, we believe.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
There are many views within churches about suffering.
Over the years, I have found it is human nature to gravitate to a particular view found in the scripture and stay there.
Naturally, those who have faced difficult situations and needed a miracle – whether physical healing, a financial breakthrough, or a relationship restored – tend to see what prayer and faith have done for them. This is their message and they, with good intentions, tell others through encouraging, teaching, or preaching.
My church background wasn’t word-of-faith (Kenneth Copeland, et al) but we did see the healing and restoration Jesus displayed and therefore this was presented with confidence.
In my personal suffering of trying to make ends meet financially, loss of a business, loss of relationships, and more, I often sat wondering at those in my church who stood and testified of what God did for them. I suffered more when I wondered why I was left out of these wonderful answers to prayer. But it didn’t stop with me. I wondered about many others, too.
When we stand up in church and say God healed me, or God spared my loved one from death, the next question is: what about me? Doesn’t God care?
These aren’t only church goers who think this. More importantly, these are people we want to reach with the gospel. People who don’t go to church.
Is our message to them that through faith, every sickness will be healed? Every one we love will be protected? Spared from death? We know this isn’t true so why aren’t we addressing this honestly?
A biblical principal that worked for us can make us inadequate in helping people who are suffering. We think it’s a simple solution to stand on the word of God and have that ever important quality of faith.
Yes, the Bible says much about the importance of faith. But it also says much about suffering.
Problem is, those who have had good outcomes with their faith preach it, as if it is all that is needed. It is an injustice to people to not address the other side of things. Whether it is a small church or a big name preacher on television, people are being misled.
I get it. The Jesus movement of the 70’s ushered in a fresh, vibrant faith in a personal God who is not sitting on a throne somewhere watching the world go by. The Bible came alive, no longer rote prayers or passages that didn’t touch our hearts and minds. Worship took a new expression and one could feel the presence of God. Church wasn’t just for Sundays or Easter. Faith became a life style; a real connection with God.
Denominational churches were felt to be lacking and non-denominational churches sprung up in living rooms across the country. Of course, the denominational churches, if they preached Jesus Christ and him crucified, were our brothers and sisters, too, and not to be dismissed. Yet, I wonder, if in our desire for “God doing a new thing” which is always exciting, some threw the baby out with the bath water; forgot the richness of those hymns and the value of liturgy and ceremony.
Fortunately, there are churches that have learned to combine both. That is because the Church is an ongoing masterpiece referred to as the Bride of Christ. Over the centuries, with each church age, we walk in more light as our eyes are opened to wonderous truths from the scripture.
Yet, there are certainly some, and perhaps there will always be, remnants of pushing faith and exluding suffering, as if it is something God never allows. Hearing that Jesus took our infirmities on the cross and by his stripes we are healed is one scripture often quoted in prayer.
This is a truth. Thing is, I think far too many are left without an explanation when they or their loved one was not healed. There is silence. Then they continue on with their sword of the spirit and the shield of faith because God wants us to be victorious.
Have we thought about how God wants us to be victorious in our pain and suffering? When we didn’t have a good outcome?
The fact that we trust him, find comfort in him, and are able to endure is victorious.
If we are not telling both, we are setting people up for disappointment, disallusionment, and more suffering.
Up next: suffering part 2.
I watched a news program today about the Christian baker who will not bake a cake for a transgender. He was the baker who was in the news some time ago who did not want to bake a cake for a gay couple getting married. He said it went against his Christian faith.
During the program, a woman who was part of a panel said she used to be a Christian. She left Christianity because of this very thing and she did not “find Christ among the Christians”. She brought up the women who was accused by the Pharisees of sexual sin and how Jesus defended her. He who is without sin cast the first stone. That was loving your neighbor and clearly, the baker was not loving his neighbor.
It’s a shame, isn’t it? And I completely understand.
Without Jesus there is no Christianity. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength; and the second commandment is love your neighbor as yourself.
There are no excuses. I have grown to dislike the statement, “well, there is no perfect church”. It sounds too “get-over-it” when, in the name of love (1 Corinthians 13 – love is patient and kind) people who are angry or hurt at an injustice they see deserve care.
Love is supposed to be the core of Christianity. It is the essence of who God is. He loved the world, knowing our desperation without atonement for sin, that he came down to earth in the form of a man and took the bullet for the rest of us.
It’s sad when people leave Christianity having “not found Christ in Christians” because it’s not God’s fault.
I know what it’s like to feel the disappointment, betrayal, and pain of being hurt in a faith that should be loving.
Yet, God tells us to forgive.
When we don’t forgive, then aren’t we not loving our neighbor?
The Church has been advancing throughout the centuries. The Bible refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ and says that Jesus cleanses with the washing of his word, to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish … she will be holy and without fault.
We are not there yet.
After seeing many Jews stop following him, Jesus asked his twelve disciples: Are you also going to leave?
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Is there any other place to go? If so, where will it ultimatley lead you?
If you did not see Christ in Christians, then see Christ in the Bible.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”
“Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
“The most important one is, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
When I was a young adult, I had no problem stepping up and jumping in when I saw an injustice.
I remember boycotting General Mills and other brands who donated to pro-choice organizations. I remember going to a pro-life rally 70 miles from my home.
But it wasn’t only big causes. Plenty of times I found myself protecting anyone who I thought was being treated unkind or unjustly. This included someone I knew and someone I did not know.
And sometimes, I had to swallow hard, because I couldn’t protect the kids who were being yelled at by their mother in the store.
Growing up, for various reasons, I was not able to cultivate my strengths of leadership, perseverance, and productivity. I was not confident whatsoever and typically deferred and trusted what others thought. I retreated, content to be quiet and do what I was told.
Throughout the years, I have been allowed to mature in what had been dormant; who I was and how I was wired. Not with be-true-to-yourself memes or singing Everybody is a Star. with Sly and the Family Stone.
But finding worthiness in the strengths I had through knowing what God thought about me. When life threw some serious curve balls, and I said, “this is how you love me God?” – I still knew I had to trust him. Just like the disciples who once said, where else could I go? You have the words of eternal life.
We all grow and mature apart from God. But will we allow sanctification? It is a process one has to want. Our strength can be our weakness. Books and such are great tools, but God’s ways are not our ways. He uses life to not just tweak our strengths but clean them up and make them solid.
While this sanctification process is occurring (which ebbs and flows throughout life; some seasons more challenging than others), it’s the loving hand of God our father who is guiding us.
Just like a child who wants his/her own way, a loving parent will set up the boundaries.
Why? Because of love. Because of protection. Because it is ultimately for the child’s good.
The Bible is not a list of do’s and don’ts. It is crafted by the Creator of the universe, a loving God, who left us, for now, with his presence and guidance. If you see it only as commandments and rules, you miss the love God has for you.
The Bible is parental guidance to help us in this frustrating, painful, confusing, difficult world.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
When I was a young Christian, book smart and knowledgeable, I had misplaced zeal.
Don’t misunderstand. God never, ever forgets our labor of love. A toddler who picks a bouquet of long awaited perennial flowers from your garden and hands them to you is rewarded with a smile.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t teach your child what is allowable and what is not.
Peter resonates with me when he cut off the centurion’s ear prior to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. He thought he was protecting Jesus when in fact, he did not understand.
It took Peter three situations to bring him face to face with what he really thought: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”
Jesus did not rebuke Peter. He did not disown him. He did not reject him.
God loves us and is patient with us.
Yet, he will teach us what is allowable and what is not.
God’s heart is not to harm you but to give you hope and a future. It will not always look the way you thought or the way you want.
We all have a light we depend on guiding us through life.
What is your light?
I’m not going to say we will get through this together. Although we will.
I’m not going to say just trust God. Although we should.
I’m not going to give you tips, memes, or anything else to distract you from the truth.
Truth is a principle. In other words, whether you believe in a certain truth about a certain something, it doesn’t change the fact that it is true.
Truth is as sure as the law of gravity. Try to defy it, and maybe you can, but ultimately, like the law of gravity, truth will prevail.
Truth sets us free from wrong or misdirected thinking.
The reason we often get either angry at God or become completely disillusioned is because we are not accepting the truth.
Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.
Our lives are interrupted by the pandemic of Covid-19.
We are all affected. Some worse than others.
The truth is: it hurts.
It is not enough to be positive.
It is not enough to be optimistic.
That may suffice for a day or two. But then you are back to square 1 of feeling the pain.
Whatever emotions you are experiencing, there is only one way to anchor yourself.
Think of a tree. In fact, Psalm 1 uses a tree as an example in terms of those who trust God:
…but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither and
whatever they do prospers.
Some Christians would define “prosper” as monetary. That a miracle is waiting for you.
That happens sometimes.
Yet, I have discovered the times I was waiting for something tangible to get me out of the problem and make me feel better, make me “prosper” the way I wanted, God was developing something unseen inside of me that would prosper me.
I had to accept it.
I had to trust him.
Just like the roots of a tree which are unseen, we can become anchored to something unseen. No matter the wind, the blight, the drought, or any storm, you can stand strong.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to feel the effects of the wind, the blight, the drought, or the storm.
It just won’t consume you. That is prospering.
God doesn’t always remedy a situation the way we want.
Difficult situations often do not turn out the way we thought, planned, or prayed.
For every person who receives an answer to prayer, perhaps there are 50+ people who do not.
But he will give us peace, comfort, and strength to manage.
Truth exists from a source beyond our human capabilities.
Truth, and where we find it, is what will sustain us.
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
No feeling is final.
Our lives are filled with beauty and terror, joy and sorrow.
Some of us have more joy. Some of us have more sorrow.
Yet, those feelings are not final.
We can be sure that when we breathe our last breath, there is more.
Christianity gives us the promise of eternity with God. God created eternity. God put it in our hearts.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
We have emotions. Those feelings can overtake us and hide the truth from us. When you are ready, when you are able, step away from feelings, even for just a moment, and the truth will be illuminated.
Truth is what holds us up. It is the foundation of all things.
Jesus had emotions. He felt what we feel.
Joy at pleasing his Father.
Exhaustion through ministering to people.
Anger at the prideful, religious leaders and the money changers and merchants selling livestock and doves in the temple.
Peace through accepting God’s will.
Love for the rich, young ruler, his disciples, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the whole world.
Sorrow, grief, and agony of the impending suffering he would experience on the cross.
Yet, the Bible says He endured the cross because of the joy waiting for Him: the promise of what is true, the promise of eternity, and the promise of making a way for eternity to be ours, too.
Truth says, the last feeling is this: everlasting joy. The joy Jesus felt when he accepted beauty and terror.
The joy Jesus felt because He knew – no feeling here on earth is final.
Slowly, her eyes open as she lays silently, watching the light slip through the window, turning the night darkness into shadows of gray.
Another day to face. Another day to be thankful. Another day to trust the Lord.
Reaching for her phone, she sighs softly. She is familiar with facing the day with disappointments.
No texts. Check the weather. Open Facebook.
Inspiring memes, adorable animal videos, current events, and everyone’s opinions.
But it’s the “perfect” children and “perfect” marriages her eyes are drawn to.
And then the familiar heaviness in the pit of her stomach.
Being left out, being left behind, being different.
Those among us, especially Christians, who often post their happy lives on social media, should remember those who are in difficult situations.
We know who they are.
With good intentions, we celebrate our lives. Pictures speak a thousand words. Words have power. In our sharing, we should remember those we know who are suffering.
Since God says he is near to those who have broken hearts, shouldn’t they be close to our hearts, too?
Just about everyone has some form of social media. As Christians, we should check our heart when we share something. We could become prideful in our accomplishments and project our way of doing things as being the right way.
Sometimes, we should say your life might be different. Be you.
Everyone should celebrate with you, be encouraged and inspired by you, and most of all, be happy for you.
But we should also, always keep others close in our hearts and minds when we share our lives.
And you, who are not experiencing the preconceived perfect life, take heart.
Be happy for those who are enjoying good. Rejoice with them.
Don’t get bitter.
If it’s too hard to see, limit your friends’ list through unfollowing or create a smaller social media platform with limited friends during this time in your life.
It’s not all on you. You are protecting yourself.
More than anything, trust in the Lord with all of your heart, don’t interpret your life through your own understanding of it, acknowledge God’s understanding of it all, and trust that He knows all things and will guide and direct your life.
When you trust God, He trusts you, too. He knows who can and who will carry the light through the darkness of disappointments you face each day …
… to show others the way.
For years, years, I have been troubled with people who prayed and “believed God” for a miracle, got healed, and proclaimed their experience for others to believe, too.
Don’t misunderstand. I was happy for them. I understood their thankfulness and desire to make known what prayer can do.
I was not troubled with them.
I was troubled with the people who believed God, too, and did not get healed.
In my 40 years of being surrounded and involved with understanding faith and prayer, I can count on one hand how many people have been healed.
We have to do something with this. Because there are a whole lot of people who are confused and discouraged. And I think God cares about this.
I believe in prayer simply because the scriptures are clear.
Yet, I think we should be careful about isolating a scripture and building so much upon it that we have created inaccuracy. Because God cares about those people who were not healed and are broken-hearted.
It only poses questions such as, “Doesn’t God love me?”, “Didn’t I have enough faith?”
I don’t believe God wants that for anyone.
I have struck a balance in my life of praying for good but accepting the bad. Too much either way causes problems.
Many contemporary churches emphasize Bible believing Christians doing greater works than Jesus.
Hmm. If that were the case, where are all the miracles, healing, and deliverance?
If some can proclaim what they see, some should be able to proclaim what they don’t see. This is not a lack of faith. In fact, I think it reflects a very deep kind of faith which is not based on personal experience, but acknowledges that we do not see and understand everything.
Faith isn’t always visible. Faith can weather many disappointments and still rest firmly on God’s promises, and ultimately, the last chapter of the book when everything concludes:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.
I often think about the people who endured suffering throughout the centuries. Read their biographies. Sing their hymns. They still speak to us today, “the great cloud of witnesses”. What truths did they build their life on that contemporary Christian thinking has all but ignored?
What ever you are facing, let your faith find its place. And while I cannot promise a miracle, I can promise wherever you plant yourself, your roots will go deep and sustain you for the rest of your life…
until God fixes everything in eternity.