Tag Archives: suffering

Is God still Good?

We see the announcement of a pregnancy, and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

God hears our prayers and a job opportunity arrives and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

We recover from the disease. We heal from the surgery. A care package arrives and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

He is good to us, isn’t he? We see the sun and the moon and the stars and we rejoice. We taste the apricot and the wine and the olive oil and we say, “God is so good!”

But what happens when you are on hour number eight- again – in the Emergency Room, fully expecting, “All your tests were normal. Follow up with your regular doctor tomorrow.”

What happens when the specialist that your wife REALLY needs to see as soon as possible can possibly squeeze you in in October?

What happens when you spend year after year watching the one that you love suffer so much and there is nothing anyone can do about it?

What happens when your friend is dying from cancer?

Is God still good then?

Is God still good when the baby is born blind?

Is God still good when your children turn their backs on God?

Is God still good when your friends are suffering and you can’t help at all?

When you are outside the wall of the best health care in the world but you can’t get access?

Is God still good then?

And all you can say is “Lord, save me!” and you know above all that God is good.

It goes deeper than “he has a plan”. That too often just seems trite.

I think it is more like silver in a furnace. Like a launderer’s soap.

Even then, though – that doesn’t really speak of the goodness of God.

What language shall I borrow? What words can I stammer? When “Lord save me” doesn’t quite cover everything, what else can I say?

And yet, there he is. In the bottom of the well. In the depths where I cry. There he is, because he is good.

And if I didn’t spend hour after hour in the emergency room, if I we didn’t suffer together, we wouldn’t have seen it. We would have thought that the goodness of God is the same as oil and wine and bread and new babies.

They are great gifts of God. But they are not God. And when we suffer in the depths, that is where we most often meet him.

He is there when the dross is burning away, where the last remnants of self-help and our arrogant pride and self-assurance are being burned away in the fire, when we are exhausted from the race, and just want to throw in the towel….there he is.

In the valley of the shadow of death. He takes us through because he knows it is the only way to the green pastures.

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Perspective

I wonder…

Some days are rougher than other days. Some days I don’t know if I can handle one more thing. I then God gives me one more thing. And another.

I asked my wife if maybe we live on an old nuclear testing site, or a sacred burial ground. If I listed every health issue that my family and I have gone through, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Most people don’t. Most of what I do in Emergency Rooms is try to convince the doctor that, yes, we really do have these rare disorders. It was much, much harder to do before everything was computerized. Now if we can only get them to look at charts….but I digress.

And I wonder. Why yet another thing? Why do I spend hours at the doctor’s? It seems to me that there is  so much more I could be doing. I have people to visit, books to read, sermons to prepare, writing to do, communities to be involved in…

But I am sitting in another doctor’s office.

As a disclaimer, I don’t at all begrudge my family for this. I love sitting with my wife and daughter when yet another thing strikes. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I know that if I am not there to advocate for them, they would be ignored or not believed.

A broken arm or a nail in the head is believable. You can see it. Doctors are good at things like that. We, my family,  never get those. Our are the diseases that they tell you about in medical school. One doctor said that he spent 6 hours in a seminar on it, and then they said, “But you won’t ever find anyone with that, so don’t worry about it.” But I digress.

My father used to tell me that my business is always with God. And that is where I wonder. I have questions and I want answers and I wonder.

I don’t resent my family. They suffer more that I do, and my heart goes right out to them and I want to just take all of this away. But I can’t. I see other people running and swimming, camping and biking. I see other people traveling and golfing and hiking. And I think those days are over for us. (This isn’t about fitness and essential oils, by the way…)

But why does God continue to inflict? Why is it one massive thing right after another?

So I cry out to him. I beg him for mercy. I want answers. But it seems as if he is so silent.

And then I remember that he isn’t silent. He answers the curse that is on the world with the cross of Jesus. God became flesh and took all of this on Himself. He laid it on his only-begotten son (these two sentences do not contradict. They resolve in the mystery of the Trinity. “The word was with God and the word was God”).

There is a curse on the world. By man, death entered and reigned over all. But by Man came the resurrection from the dead. United with Christ in resurrection doesn’t come without union with his sufferings. We are only just tasting that in our family.

Why? I don’t know. I know that we all are one aneurism away from the grave.

We are one virus away from death. One aortic rupture. One spontaneous colon rupture (which I’ve had, by the way – but God spared my life).

And then I remember that this world isn’t our home. This world is “under the sun”, what our forefather called “the valley of tears.”

So I stop. I look up. I remember.

(My daughter lost her ability to smell. She said, “That’s OK, Daddy. I’ll smell things in heaven…”).

I try to remember that but my heart hurts for her.

I try to remember that we will run and hike and stand and walk and sing in the new heaven and the new earth; I try to remember that I will run hand in hand with my wife through the hills in the new earth when our bodies are made new, and that gives me peace for another day.

And I try to remember that God’s grace is not promised to be sufficient today for everything he will bring on me tomorrow, but it is promised to be sufficient for whatever trial he brings me at the time.

My father told me once that worrying is useless. He said that everything he ever worried about never came about. I agree that worrying is useless. But it is a bit different for me. Everything I have ever worried about actually did happen, and worse. But worrying is useless because of the sufficiency of God’s grace and the fact that I am a creature, and do not hold the world in the palm of my hand.

I am still anxious though. I still fear. I still wonder. I still want answers.

And He responds as he always has, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And it is.

I used to think that this meant that he won’t give me more than I can handle. But that isn’t true at all. I have had more than I can handle over and over and over again.

And when I get another blow that I can’t handle, I want an answer. I cry out. I have no idea how to take a step or what step I should take or if this is the right way to go, or if I should just stay, or if I go the the ER again knowing that they most likely won’t be able to help or if I should not go and perhaps watch a loved one decline until it is too late and I could have fixed it but I trusted the wrong guy and what do I do now and I just don’t know………..

And then I stop. Breathe. I try to understand that it is actually too much. My life is not held in my hands. My wife’s life is not held in my hands. My daughter’s life is not held in my hands.

We are all one aneurism away from death, and that won’t change by any decision I make or fail to make. All I can do is the best that I can, which usually isn’t all that great.

There is so much I don’t know. And far more weeping ahead. I know that ahead there will be more suffering and more death and more pain and many, many more questions.

So here is what I’ll try to do.

  • I’ll try not to get involved in disputes that aren’t mine. I have too much already, and God hasn’t promised me grace to get involved in other people’s disputes.
  • I’ll try to remember that today has its own worries. The amount of emotional energy I have been given is limited. It is enough for my day today, my circle today, my family today, my congregation today. God will replenish that for tomorrow, for his grace is sufficient for me.
  • I’ll try to remember that “I will smell things in heaven.”
  • I’ll try to remember that there is not one person who cried out to God for mercy who did not receive mercy.
  • I’ll try to remember that God still sends rainbows.
  • I’ll try to remember that I’m human, and when it is all too much for me, that is OK. I wasn’t made to be a god. I was made to rest in the arms of another.
  • I will try to remember that the day will come when I will again say goodbye to someone I love and it will wrench my heart again.

And then I will breathe. I will eat some pie – but sugar free, my body still won’t cooperate with what I want to eat. But I will have great pie in heaven.

I will listen to some music and maybe find something new.

And I will continue to cry out, and continue to wonder, and continue to want answers.

But I will try to remember that God hasn’t promised me to answer all my questions. He has promised much tribulation, but after that we inherit the kingdom.

Until then,

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.
  13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.
  (Eccl. 12:12-13)

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The goodness of God

17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
  19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (Hab 3:17-19).

God’s people were suffering under tremendous injustice. The kings were wicked. The princes were wicked. The judges were wicked. But God is still good.

God is about to punish the wickedness of the nation with the invasion of Chaldeans. It would be brutal, harsh, deadly. Most would not live. But God is still good.

Some times fig trees don’t blossom. But God is still good.

Some times the grapes don’t grow. But God is still good.

Sometimes the wheat fields fail. Sometimes the flocks die. Sometimes plague takes away the cattle. But God is still good.

God is sovereign over sickness, cattle, fig trees, olive trees. If they don’t blossom, it is by God’s decree. If they die in the field, it is by God’s decree. When children get sick, it is by God’s decree. A God who has no power over sickness and health is not a God to worship at all.

God is beyond easy answers, mindless platitudes, memes with pretty pictures, and viral sloganeering. He doesn’t fit into your boxes. But he is still good.

We only see part of the tapestry. He sees the “end from the beginning”. And he is still good.

We see only a little bit of the tapestry and we are inside of it. We are a part of created order, creatures of time and space and limits. But he is outside seeing the whole – and it fits into his perfect decree. Not one fallen hair out of place. And he is still good.

His goodness is seen in the beauty of the fig tree, the joy of the olives, the delights of good wine. In the perfectly cooked roast and the wondrously spicy curried lamb.

His goodness is in the children around the table like shoots of an olive tree. In full larders and green meadows and the sound of surf on a spring morning in Oregon.

But he is beyond easy answers. Because sometimes the fig tree fails. Sometimes the olives don’t blossom. And he is still good. He prepares a table for me, but I am still in the presence of enemies. God’s goodness is seen even in suffering, if we have the eyes to see.

I suppose that certain theological persuasions are trying to be helpful when they tell me that it is not God’s will for people to be sick. But it really isn’t helpful because it isn’t true, and lies are never comforting. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always better than a lie.

Who’s will is it, then, that there is sickness? Is there something outside of God’s decree? Is there something outside of God’s control? Is there someone or something that is in charge of illness that isn’t good? Of course not. There is only one God, only one Lord, only one Creator. Only one sovereign.

But the hard truth is this:

Crops fail, and God is still good.

Children suffer, and God is still good.

Death still happens, and God is still good.

He isn’t ignoring suffering. He isn’t delighting in the suffering of his people. But he isn’t out of control either.

Not one hair falls, not one sparrow falls, apart from God’s decree. But hairs and sparrows still fall.

And God is still good. And I can’t sort all of that out, but I can cry out to him. I can’t sort it out because I am in the tapestry of creation and I don’t see everything. But I know he does.

And here is what I know. He hears me when I cry to him. He loves me and receives me as his child in Christ. He has washed away my sin.

I will walk on high places and my feet will one day leap and dance like an antelope.

And until that day, even in suffering, I know I can trust him.

Because he is still good.

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Meditation on the Passion

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.
2 And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
(Jn. 18:1-6 KJV)

The night that Jesus was betrayed, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He is about to be arrested, mocked, spat on, scourged and crucified.

It will be a time of tremendous trial for the disciples, who are still expecting the Messiah to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem. Luke tells us they were expecting the one who would redeem Israel. But the redemption that Christ would bring would not be what they were expecting.

It would appear that the Messiah, the prince, the heir to David’s throne, the Son of God, is about to be overwhelmed, overpowered,  and overthrown. It would appear as if Jesus the Son of God would be weak and defeated in death.

The disciples are about to watch him dragged away bound. But before this happens, Jesus gives a glimpse into what is really going on.

Judas appears with a “band of soldiers”. This is a Roman cohort of around 600 men. Overkill, perhaps? But they have heard the stories about how Jesus works miracles, so they don’t want to take chances. “He’s really strong, so we are going to need a whole bunch of soldiers!”

Jesus asks them, “Whom do you seek?”

They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth”.

In our English versions, he responds, “I am he”, which sounds harmless enough. But in the Greek he answers “Ego eimi”, which is translated “I am.”

It is the same phrase that God spoke to Moses when Moses asked his name. “I am”. The name Jehovah is a form of that word. Jesus is answering the question, “Are you Jesus of Nazareth?” But he is showing us that he is far, far more than simply “Jesus of Nazareth”.

He is the eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth. The one who at no time ever sleeps, ever slumbers, ever loses control. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the eternal One, of infinite power, might, wisdom.

And when he speaks the name “I am” the entire cohort of soldiers falls flat on their faces before Almighty God.

At no time will Jesus every be weak, out of control, or overpowered. He gave himself. He himself said,

17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (Jn. 10:17-18 KJV)

This is worth thinking on.

When a man is being hurt, it is an instinctual reaction to pull away, to avoid the hitting or spitting. Jesus, of infinite power, did not have to be tied in place for the scourging. He did not have to be nailed to the cross to keep him in place. At any point, he could have stopped the whole thing with merely a word. He showed us that power in the garden. 600 soldiers would not have been enough had not Jesus given himself for our sins. One word, and they all fall flat.

But he remained obedient to the Father, even to death. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He gave his back to the whip and his face to spitting.

The one who stumbled under the cross on his way to Golgotha is the very same one who gave the law from Sinai, who spoke to Moses from the bush, who destroyed the firstborn of Egypt.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. What the world views as weakness was nothing other than the strength of almighty God, tearing down the strongholds of sin and misery and shame.

And Jesus of Nazareth is still the one, true eternal God. He is still on the throne, reigning over all things. And he still is conquering. His sword comes from his mouth and his word still defeats the world. Take courage! His strength is made perfect in weakness.

What God considers strong is not the same as what the world thinks as strong. The greatest act of strength the world has ever seen was the suffering servant – arrested, scourged, ridiculed, crucified – and through those sufferings Satan is bound, and his kingdom is plundered.

Satan’s kingdom is still plundered the same way: through the word of Christ.

So beloved people of God,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
(Col. 3:16 KJV)

It is hard for us to believe that this word – sung, spoken, taught, preached – has the power over sin and shame and misery. But again, God’s ways are not our ways.

When the devil attacks, attack back with the word of Christ. Watch the armies of the enemy fall backwards to the ground.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1 KJV)

Take just a minute today to think about it. Run it through your mind. Picture the Son of God at the moment of his arrest. But right before, he speaks, “I AM.”

This is whom we worship. And when we worship the Lamb who is the Lion of Judah, what do we have to fear?

What army can overthrow this one? What power could remove us from his hand? What have we to fear.

Let the word dwell in you, and do not be afraid. It is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

Everything is going exactly as he planned it. How can it not? He said, “I AM” and 600 troops fell down flat, and that was BEFORE he rose from the dead and was exalted to the right hand of God.

What then can take us from his hand? Who can stop his kingdom?

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.

THIS is whom we worship. Blessed are all they who put their trust in him (Psalm 2) .

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On Suffering and Bruised Heels

I recently read again God’s curse upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).

This verse is known in theology as the “protoevangelium” – the first proclamation of the gospel. In the context, the serpent has beguiled Eve and she gave the fruit of the forbidden tree to Adam, and he ate of it contrary to God’s word. In separating himself from God, mankind made a covenant with death. He chose fellowship with the devil rather than fellowship with God.

In this first proclamation of the gospel, one thing sticks out at you. The gospel was first spoken as a curse upon the serpent. Men and women were not created originals. they were created to be image bearers of God. When they disobeyed God, they made a league with the devil and became enslaved to the kingdom of the devil and all the sin, misery and death that are operative in this kingdom. Being in bondage, man cannot free himself. In order for there to be good news for man, the power of the devil must be broken. God promises the serpent that his kingdom will not last; his head will be bruised; there will always be a remnant – a “seed” – who will be at war with the serpent’s seed.

We know, having the complete revelation of God, that this defeat of Satan came at the hands of the True Seed of the Woman, our Lord Jesus. But how was this victory achieved? Jesus defeated the devil, not with armies and weapons, but by suffering the death of the cross. The covenant with death must be broken, and it could only be broken when it was carried out. So the Son of God tasted death for man that the power of death might be broken.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The crushing of the head of the devil bruises the heel of the Warrior. Notice what Hebrews says. Through suffering the death of the cross – seemingly the defeat of the Seed – the warrior destroyed the devil (him who had the power of death).

This is central to our faith. We do not pity the One on the Cross, we marvel at His love for us! We wonder at the power of the one who entered into battle with death and conquered it! Jesus was not a passive victim on the cross, carried away by circumstances out of His control. Rather He was a conquering hero, waging war against the kingdom of the devil, casting out the Strong Man, and ushering in the kingdom of Heaven. And He will reign until He has put all enemies under His feet!

This is also the same Lord who says to each one of us, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Being united to Christ, we also do battle with the kingdom of the devil. Being united to Christ, we are assured victory. And being united to Christ, the war will also bruise our heels.

This changes how we should view suffering. We too often ask the wrong questions and miss the point. We ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “If God loves me, why are there so many difficulties in life?” “Does God have a purpose in suffering? What is that purpose?”

When we suffer – chronic, unrelenting pain; reproach and insults; doubts; illness; battles with our sinful nature; persecution – it is natural to wonder why.

Why do Christians suffer so much in this world?

Because they are doing battle with the devil. Because they belong to Jesus Christ. Because they are conquering heroes in Christ. Because the devil never lets go of his kingdom without bruising the heel. When the heel is bruised, Satan’s head is crushed.

What a wonderful thought! Our suffering is not simply meaningless. It isn’t because God is angry with us. It isn’t because God won’t interfere with man’s free will (what hogwash!). It is because we are doing battle with the devil and we are winning.

The devil was in his greatest danger when Jesus was in his greatest pain. When Jesus gave up the ghost, the devil’s power was destroyed. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of our faith. Jesus defeated the greatest created power by becoming weak, hungry, tired, despised. He crushed Satan’s head by obedience to the death of the cross as a common criminal.

He calls us, as Christians, to take up that cross and follow. As the hymn says, “We are soldiers of the cross.” As “little Christs” (Christians) we follow our Lord. The path to resurrection and victory is through suffering and death, for from the very beginning, God purposed to destroy the kingdom of Satan by bruising the heel of the Seed of the Woman, and we are all partakers with Christ in His death as well as His victory.

For this reason, God promises the church in Rome that He will bruise Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). The church was suffering, as it always had. But God promised them that something far greater was going on. Satan was being put under their feet!

Why did their feet hurt? Because they were crushing Satan’s head.

Why do we suffer on this earth? Because in our suffering we are destroying the power of the devil.

Don’t view your hard times as signs of God’s displeasure. Instead view them as opportunities to crush Satan’s head. You are doing battle with an ancient enemy and you WILL prevail by the power of Jesus, who has already assured the victory.

But it will bruise your heel. You will walk with an uplifted head, a song in your heart, a glitter in the eye, and a limp in the feet.

And the God of Peace will bruise Satan’s head under that bruised heel. It’s a promise.

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