In The Face Of Suffering, Courage
June 10, 2016
Three people I’ve loved and cared about passed from this earth over the last seven days. The first (Evie) was a missionary woman who was 101 years old and had lived her whole life doing wonderful work for the Lord. We went to her funeral yesterday.
The other was a childhood friend (Becky) who, though she was two years older than me, was always so sweet to me. When my parents were dorm parents for nine months at the southern mission center when I was in third grade, she was in 5th grade, and I remember playing Barbie dolls with her and I remember how kind she was. She also visited our jungle village the next summer, and though we later lost contact, in the last few years, we reconnected and emailed a bit. A few days ago I found out she died of a heart attack.
Now today, I found out that a classmate (Danny) from the all-mission school in Manila, died two days ago, also of a heart attack. As I write this, there is a funeral for him going on two hours away. I am shocked and sad. My husband and I used to hang out with him and his wife as they were courting and after they got married. It was a big blessing because Danny, who had been in the wild crowd in high school, had been gloriously born anew and I got to see him totally on fire for Christ. He came to the church we were going to (and had been married in) and there courted his very sweet wife who he seemed to know immediately that he was going to marry. It was beautiful to see how changed a person can be and how God favored him. Though we drifted apart, I hear they’ve been loving the Lord all these years. I’m truly grieving for his family.
So, death. Yeah, it’s not a nice thing. Even though it ushers Jesus-followers into His presence, it is still not pretty and it is still a loss for family and friends and co-workers. May all of us be ready to meet the Righteous Judge who has seen and heard everything that has gone on in our lives, our hearts, our minds, our words…
The funeral yesterday –well, I was going to write about something the pastor said. She, and yes, the pastor of Evie’s church is a woman, made a statement in her moving sermon that really struck me. It’s a statement most of us think at least one time in our lives, whether we actually voice it or not. It’s this: “Something terrible happened; and Jesus didn’t show up.” The way she said it, and how she correlated it with grief-filled situations, made a tear form in my eye and a lump in my throat. Though this was a funeral, I hadn’t shed any tears yet, because we were all prepared for Evie’s passing and we were together to honor her life more than grieve. I had visited her last month, my parents had visited her almost every week for years, her children had visited often, and she had lived an exceptional life alongside her husband who, having passed some years before, had contributed famously to Bible translation, as had she.
But I was thinking of others… who live heart-broken, grief-stricken, pain-filled, rejected, bewildered…
So the statement: “Something terrible happened; and Jesus didn’t show up.” Isn’t this how many people have felt as they’ve watched their dreams crumble, as they’ve felt disappointment solidify, as they’ve experienced or seen terrible things happen?
Why, Lord? Why do You allow, or even sometimes cause, pain, and even to those who love You? We’ve probably all asked our Lord such a question. And this even though we know that suffering produces good things like perseverance, character, maturity, wisdom, faith, hope, righteousness, Christ-likeness, peace, and reward. (Rom. 5:3,4 // Heb. 12:11 // Ja. 1:2-5) We know we are called to suffer (1 Pe. 2:21) for these reasons, as well as for the sake of others. (2 Cor. 1:3-7 // Col. 1:24) Moreover, Phil. 1:29 tells us, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” So we suffer, also, for the sake of the Lord–! For His glory and His purposes.
I was thinking about these reasons God allows us to suffer as the pastor spoke, though she was using John chapter 11. There we read that Martha, and a bit later Mary, when they went out to meet Jesus after their brother, Lazarus, had died, both greeted Him with, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v. 21,32) Yes, why didn’t Jesus show up in time? Why, when He heard that Lazarus was sick, did He intentionally stay where He was two more days? (v. 6) Well, we’re told why. Jesus says that it was for the sake of the disciples and others –to increase their faith in Him (v. 15,42)– and that the glory of God could be seen. (v. 40) Thus He called Lazarus back from the dead and a fantastic miracle was seen (v. 43,44) which caused many to put their faith in the Lord. (v. 45) But, incredibly, some who witnessed the miracle merely hardened their hearts to the obvious, and so much so, that they were party to those who plotted Christ’s murder. (v. 46-53) How true it is that we have many these days who do such a thing! –Hardening their hearts and deliberately blinding their minds to the Truth in spite of all the glaring evidence!
So, although we grieve with those who say, whether it be with a hollow and hopeless tone or with a loud sob, “Something terrible happened! And Jesus didn’t show up!”, we can comfort them with this: Jesus does show up. In fact, He is there the whole time. And He does not let one bit more happen than the suffering one is able to endure. And He does turn it around for much good, even extreme reward.
May we, then, who believe God’s Word, be courageous in the face of suffering. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17)