WALKING WITH GOD THROUGH PAIN & SUFFERING
The reality of pain and suffering is prevalent in the life of every human being. Everyone is impacted indirectly and will one day be impacted directly with the difficulty of pain and suffering most likely sooner rather than later. Even a casual glance at the news reminds us of those who are dealing with tragedy on a daily basis while at the same time we’re aware that it was only by God’s grace we ourselves or a loved one were not the featured victim of a senseless crime, natural disaster or succumbed to a life ending disease. Inevitably we are going to come back around to one essential question that no single person has escaped asking others or at the very least asking themselves at some point in their life. That is the question of “Why?”.Why is this pain or suffering happening to me? Why did this tragedy happen to my loved one or friend? Why is God allowing me or someone I care about to die of cancer rather than provide a miracle of healing? The question of “Why” is perhaps the oldest question of mankind in times of suffering or illness and there are often intense emotions that accompany it.
In the midst of pain and suffering our tendency is to see nothing but our own pain and circumstances and it is important that we have a firm foundation and theology of suffering in our Biblical worldview prior to when it strikes our lives. The best time to think through these issues is BEFORE they occur. However, no matter what you may be going through today, there is hope and it is not too late to consider Christ’s role and presence in the midst of your storm, your tragedy, your pain and your suffering.I have found that it’s helpful to take a few steps back from the granular view we tend to have during times of suffering for better understanding. It is important to do this so that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and what God may be trying to show us in the process.Here are three steps that I have defined and desire to follow in every difficult time from the most trivial to the most tragic I may face in this lifetime. I would like to share them with you in hopes they may provide encouragement and hope in your own life as we continually pursue a God honoring Biblically grounded worldview.
1. No matter how difficult my suffering or pain may be, Jesus has not abandoned me.
The Bible provides us ample examples of God’s people enduring through extremely difficult times in their lives and being sustained by the strength of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, it’s often only during our most difficult times that we truly seek the Lord and it’s often not until we feel completely helpless that we will truly seek Him in humility. I love how C.S. Lewis put it when he said that pain is “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world” and this certainly applies to our hearts as well. Pain and suffering alerts us to our desperate need for Christ’s salvation, love, and strength for our life. The question always comes down to “how are we going to respond to our awareness of needing God?”. The Bible tells us in James chapter 1 that when we face trials and difficulty in life it is to “perfect” (which in the Greek means to “mature”) our faith through endurance and grow us to maturity in Him (James 1:1-27). We see that the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, shipwrecked, left for dead twice after being stoned by religious leaders, lost everything he had, and suffered intense persecution wherever he went to preach the Gospel. Yet, despite all of this and writing from prison, he encouraged the church of Philippi to remain steadfast in perseverance of obeying God because no matter the pain and suffering he was going through, he too could persevere and do all things through Christ because it was Christ who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13).Paul was communicating that it is only when we live each day abiding in Christ (which means in fellowship/prayer, study of His word, etc ) that we can experience the sustaining strength of His love and power through ANY circumstance we will face. Paul had seen it all,been through it all and could continue pressing forward because of his empowering relationship with God. The key to remember is this; God never left him even while he was enduring all of the hardship and suffering that he faced. We are a child of God through trusting solely in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins. From the moment that we repent of (turn from) our sins and turn to Christ and follow Him, we can from that very moment walk daily in the confidence of being saved by His grace through our faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s because of His love, strength, and grace that we can face every trial and difficulty of life even to the point of death, knowing without a doubt that He is with us through all of it and will never leave us.
2. No matter how difficult my suffering or problem, it can never come close to the pain and suffering that Christ bore for the world and for me.
This is a grounding truth that when honestly pondered and applied to our lives will help us maintain a proper perspective of suffering and pain. Jesus himself endured the most violent and torturous death possible in the first century through flogging and crucifixion while being completely innocent of ANY wrong doing. We have a natural tendency to view our lives through the lens of the good things we’ve done throughout the years and when compared to many others (murderers, rapists, thieves, etc) we can appear to be really good people. However, when I consider Jesus and the cross it forces me to view myself for who I really am and not the image of who my mind and heart tries to deceive me into thinking I am. When comparing myself to other people I can always find my “goodness” in life because someone else has always done something worse than me; but when I compare myself to Jesus who is the only true standard of goodness and holiness, I see my wickedness, selfishness, and sin that I struggle with every single day of my life. It forces me to remember that I am still a sinner who cannot make it through one day without falling short of God’s standard of goodness,righteousness, and holiness. Jesus was sinless in every way and yet died a horrific death that was reserved for only the most violent offenders of that time. Crucifixion was so barbaric that Roman citizens were not even permitted to be crucified. Moreover, it was not only how He died, but the fact THAT He died for us which puts the suffering we have endured and will endure, in its proper perspective. Nothing we can endure will ever compare to what Jesus Christ endured for us. Because of his death and resurrection we can have the confidence and peace of knowing that no matter how much suffering may come our way, it is only a speck in the course of time when compared to eternity. Salvation through Christ ensures an eternity with Him where we will not be inclined to sin anymore, will not have disease in our bodies anymore, and will never again experience the pain of losing a loved one.
3. Pain, suffering, and death ARE going to occur in life.
Therefore, the question I must ask is not “Why is this happening to me?” but rather “How I am going to choose to respond to what is happening to me?” – This is crucial in those times when life gets especially hard. One of the biggest misconceptions among Christians that I regularly see is the idea that because we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and surrendered our life to Him; we are no longer going to have to endure trials, pain, suffering, and persecution. I personally believe this is a much bigger misconception in the West and particularly in America because there are many countries where you can still be executed for merely owning a Bible so the idea of exemption from suffering as a Christian is a foreign concept to many. Having said that, I do however completely understand the initial response to wanting to know why a tragedy, illness, or painful event has occurred in our lives. I remember just as if it were today when I got the phone call from my father. My wife and I were visiting our family in Illinois for Christmas in 2006. It was the day after Christmas when my cell phone rang and it was my dad.He had not been feeling well for over a month and after extensive testing the test results had finally come back from M.D. Anderson cancer center in Houston. He told me that they had diagnosed him with stage 4 melanoma cancer which was very aggressive and had already spread to multiple organs and his lymph nodes. The nurse told my father that it was too far gone in his body and it was not curable.Only eight weeks later I was holding my father’s hand as he passed away.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I found myself sitting and asking myself “Why?”. Asking the Lord“Why?”. I began my long list of reasons why it was not the right time for Dad to have died. My wife and I had not yet had a child and I was so looking forward to them knowing their Grandpa, Dad was too young for this to happen, he had just recently discussed many plans for traveling and playing music for the purpose of ministering to others. Dad was an ordained pastor with a genuine pastor’s heart and I never once saw my father be hateful to anyone my entire life. Moreover, he remains to this day, the most compassionate and caring man I have ever known. Of all the people to get such a destructive disease, WHY my father? I wrestled with this in my mind over and over again and desired nothing more than for this question of “WHY” to be answered.I’m thankful to tell you that I learned the answer and it was in front of me the entire time but I could not see it until weeks after God called dad home.
The answer is really twofold:
1. Some Things We Will Never Fully Understand This Side Of Heaven; To think we will ever fully understand in our lifetime on earth, every aspect of God’s plan and why He chooses to move in certain ways rather than others is a false assumption. The Bible tells us that our ways are not His ways, our thoughts are not His thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). No matter how much we want to fully understand everything right now in this life, we are limited in our capacity of knowledge and understanding of God who is all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing and at all places at all times. He is God and by His very nature He is the only one qualified TO BE God. So, the first part of the answer for why this happened to my father is simply this, I will never fully know on this side of heaven all the reasons why this happened when it did and how it did. What I do know is that God knows, and I can trust Him. I will know the whole picture one day when I am standing in His very presence, face to face. If God were ANY less than who He is, I would not be able to find peace in what happened. But God reminds us and has demonstrated in His word that He is sovereign, just, holy, and He loves us. God never changes and my father’s passing did not change God’s sovereignty, character, nature or plan. PERIOD. There is peace and rest in the arms of Jesus that cannot be found anywhere else or by anyone else.
2. Every Person Is Going To Die; Every one of us is going to die a physical death in this life. No one can escape it or run from it. The Bible tells us that it is appointed once for every man to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). This means that all of us are going to die in this body of either a disease, injury, or decay. It is inevitable and God’s word has been very upfront with us that it IS going to happen at some point in time. The real question I was missing in relation to my father passing away was not the“why” but was the “how?”. How was I going to choose to respond to my father’s illness and eventual death? This was going to be the moment in my life where I would either allow it to be a wall between God and me OR I would allow this pain and suffering to be the door I would enter through to cling to Christ. I had to make the choice for myself how I was going to react to all that had happened and I praise God that I made the right decision. As my world was shaken to it’s very core after my Dad passed away, I was broken in spirit and I laid down at the feet of Christ and poured myself out before Him. I knew that I did not have the strength within me to overcome the pain of losing my Dad and my mom within 2 years of each other and so suddenly. I had the loving support of my wife and family but I knew that for me to overcome the pain, the questions, and the brokenness, I would have to rely on the strength, love, and sovereignty of Jesus Christ which ONLY He could provide. I began to cry out to Him daily in prayer and Bible study. I desired to have such a real relationship with Him that He would literally change my heart and renew my mind to be more and more like Him.
It’s been over 11 years since God called Dad home and I have never been closer in my relationship with Christ in my entire life. It took the loss of my parents for me to be at a place that I would fully surrender my life and will to Christ and what His plan and purpose is for my life in pastoral ministry. What I could not see during the midst of the pain was that God was STILL God. He was still there, He still loved me, He was still in control, and He was still waiting on ME to come before Him in humility and brokenness and say to Him, I trust you and surrender all to you. It was only when I arrived at that place in my life that I truly sought him with all of my heart. So, two paths were laid out before me and they will also be laid before you when tragedy strikes in your life. One path was with closed fists, hardened heart, and anger towards God in my pain over what had happened. The other path before me was with open arms,a broken heart, and humility before God, in my pain over what happened. The first path would have lead to my destruction, the second path to my redemption.I cannot express how thankful I am and how blessed I am to have chosen the only right path to take. The path of redemption through Jesus Christ.
We know as followers of Jesus Christ that no matter the pain or suffering experienced in this life over all the generations,there is coming a day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” - (Revelation 21:4). God understands your pain, your hurting and your anxiety. Christ sees every tear and every worry. He knows everything YOU are going through and experiencing right now and everything you will experience in the future. His hand is held out to you and He wants nothing more than for you to reach out and take hold of Him. His grace is sufficient, his love is everlasting and he will never leave you or forsake you.
What If I Have Not Put My Trust In Jesus For My Forgiveness & Salvation?
There is not a more important question to ask or decision to make in life than whether you truly believe and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation and forgiveness of sins. Why is this the most important decision? As I mentioned earlier, Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed every man to die once and then the judgment. That judgment occurs immediately upon death and the only means by which we will enter into the presence of God is the decision we each make for ourselves to believe and follow Christ. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life,no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). That means that upon our death God will not look at our deeds, our giving, our helping others or any works we’ve done to determine if we are accepted into Heaven. The only criteria He will use to determine if we enter as a resident of Heaven is this, “Did you believe in my son, do you know me personally?”. Our faith in Christ is the means by which God’s grace is applied to our lives and he then accepts us as His children. Without that sincere faith and trust in Christ, we are literally children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and if we die in this life before surrendering to Christ we will be forever separated from God’s presence. There are no “do-overs” or second chances once we die. We have this life and this life alone to accept Christ, repent of our sins, and follow Him.
If you’re reading this and have not made the decision to trust in Jesus Christ for your forgiveness and salvation, I encourage you to not wait another day to begin living the rest of your life right now and for all eternity. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to discuss this more in depth.I would love to answer any questions you may have or celebrate with you in your decision to follow Christ!