Rock Mills had a tough week. We buried three people, two were rushed to the hospital for serious falls, two were hospitalized for strokes. One of them was 27 year old Keaton McCarley. His mother is my dear friend. Frank and I happened to be at West Georgia when we got the call about the two strokes. We were on the fifth floor visiting Mrs. Josie. We rushed downstairs to find both people across the hall from each other. One turned out to be Bell’s Palsey….the other one was a stroke with a brain bleed in critical condition. He was going to be airlifted to Emory Midtown. We waited with the family until the helicopter took off, returned to Rock Mills just in time to do Bible School….we waited…..we prayed. This young man is the father of Kash, Kruze, and Jett. They spent over four months in UAB with the babies…..and now this. Life had thrown Magen a huge curve ball…..and through it all…..she claimed Isaiah 41:10.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I don’t know why life throws us some curve balls, but it does. Why on earth God ever decided to create tornados, hurricanes, gnats, flies or even mosquitoes is beyond me, but He did. Life can hurt some times! I have asked the same questions of God that you have asked; “WHY?” “Why do you allow suffering and pain?” Why don’t you just take it away and help us?” “Where are you God when life doesn’t make sense?” We believe that God is all powerful – so therefore He could stop all evil and suffering. And we believe that God is all loving – so therefore He would stop all evil and suffering. So we believe God could and should, but don’t, you and I sometimes think that He doesn’t care.
I personally have had a tough time preparing for today when my daughter and son in law would board a plane to move to Moldova and answer God’s call to be missionaries. So let me ask you….Has your faith been under fire lately because of the trials, struggles and suffering you have experienced? I can’t answer all of the questions of life, but there are some realities that we need to come to grips with regarding the question of suffering.
I. Reality #1 The gift of life allows us the capacity to hurt!
A. freedom comes with consequences!
1. It is true that sometimes we do suffer because of the sins in our life -the consequences of our actions. The person who has smoked all of his or her life can be saddened by the diagnosis of lung cancer but he/she is not necessarily surprised. The absent husband who pursued his career at the expense of his marriage can be devastated by his wife who is not home when he returns from work one day, but he should not be shocked.
2. God gave humankind freedom. We are not creatures who are void of choice. We do not serve God and live in His created world as robots without free choice and decision making.
3. Jesus is present and He is involved in our lives even when we cannot understand why we do not hear from Him or where He may be as a result of the suffering we are going through.
4. God encourages us to ask the tough questions. He is not insecure – He is God. He is not afraid of our questions. He has the answers. God knows that the hardships and cruelties of life will raise tough questions in our minds and, unlike some of His insecure servants, He does not demand blind, unquestioning obedience.
5. Sometimes we just have to wrestle with what is and hold on to what we know - but that does not mean we have to like it.
How many of you have seen the movie Soul Surfer. It is one of my favorites. Bethany Hamilton was born to surf. A natural talent who took to the waves at a young age, she was leading an idyllic, sun-drenched, surfer girl’s life on the Kauai Coast and competing in national competitions when everything changed in a heartbeat. On Halloween morning, Bethany was on a typical ocean outing when a 14-foot tiger shark came out of nowhere and seemed to shatter all her dreams. Why did this happen?”
6. Have you ever asked, “God why did this happen ?” Have you ever questioned God because of the circumstances and situations – the suffering and pain in your life? “It’s a bloody awful mess and that’s all there is to it.”
7. The Bible is full of questions. “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do times of trouble happen? How long will you hide you’re your face from me?
When the communist countries of Eastern Europe were finally liberated the following words were found penned on the wall of a prison cell in one of those countries, “I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.”
B. Perception is our enemy, not God.
1. We must not assume God’s silence or apparent inactivity is evidence of His disinterest. How we feel about God as a result of our suffering in no way changes who God really is.
2. Loving God and growing in faith with Him does not guarantee a happy, carefree life. Just because someone may be going through tough times and hurting does not mean that God is not at work!
3. In John 16:33 Jesus told his disciples that they should anticipate suffering. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”
4. With God, even when nothing is happening, something is happening. Believe the truth, not what you feel! He has a plan in all things even when we struggle and hurt. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.
II. Reality #2 The healing we want for our pain and suffering is not usually easy.
A. Because we can’t always find God in our situation. It is not to say He is absent. It is to say however that sometimes we don’t see Him or feel him.
1. As John the Baptist lay imprisoned for his faith he did what any one of us would have done. He questioned where he was at and what was going on. In Matthew 11:3 John sends a message to Jesus from his prison cell and asks, “Are you the one or should we expect someone else?”
2. He had not given up on Jesus by any means, but if you are going to lose you head over something, first check out the questions that are swirling inside of it.
3. In John 9: 6 we read where Jesus spits on the ground and makes clay. Then he applies it to the eyes of the blind man and told him to go wash it off. The mud pack was hardly the healing I would have preferred. We find ourselves thinking, Just touch my eyes and heal me Jesus - What’s with the spit and mud! Maybe that is why the duration of our suffering is extended - we are looking for another way, another alternative. Maybe we are resisting God’s present interaction because it is not what we expected.
4. Some questions just don’t have the answers we hope for. In the story from John 9:25 when the man was questioned a second time about who Jesus was and how He enabled the man to see, the man responds, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know; One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!” Talk about Amazing Grace!
5. Pain and suffering doesn’t always have explanations, but they do come with a promise “I am with you! Trust me” In Jeremiah 29:11 we find, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
6. Those who know the path to God can find it in the dark. And sometimes it takes the rocky hard path with many bumps and bruises, some pain and turmoil in order to meet Jesus.
III. Reality #3 You can’t go through your pain alone. Share it with others
A. The way through suffering to find our healing is to allow others to help us.
1. The man was born blind. He lived as a beggar. Yet after Jesus applied the mud pack to his eyes, He tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Now how do you think a blind man with mud on his eyes could physically move from where he was to where he was told to go - the Pool? This man had some help! The Christian faith is a helping hand. We are in it together. One of the great truths of the church is that we are all members of one body and if one member hurts, we all hurt.
2. Tornados and hurricanes have torn apart many cities in the United States and there is much pain and devastation but they are not alone. We hurt for them as well and as Christians, we will stand beside them and help get them back to their feet.
3. I take nothing away from the difficulties they are going through but I must say that there is no worse pain and suffering than when you go through it alone.
B. As difficult times arise, it is sometimes hard for us to accept help isn’t it?
1. Solo suffering may eventually see you through to healing, but just think of how much care, love and help you missed by not sharing with those around you.
2. The person who does not share his/her pain with others, who isolates him or herself often becomes a critical and cynical individual. They soon turn on the world and begin to blame it for all of the hypocrisy they see and much of the pain they experience.
3. If God does not seem to make sense in your life right now because of what you are going through, I would like to invite you to reach out to others and allow them to help you.
Suffering is not God’s way to punish us. Through suffering we can discover God’s love for us in a way we never thought possible. I don’t think that we have to like suffering and I personally pray that I don’t have to experience it, but this is my hope and my prayer, When it does come, and come it will, “help me God to hold on to you when everything I believe and feel is being questioned.”
How about you? Have you wondered where God has been in your life lately? Have your hurts and sufferings separated you from the God you know and love, and put your belief system in question? Let Go….and Let God.