Before I got sick, I was a self proclaimed theology nerd. Dork to the core, I was eagerly eating up sermons by different theologians, listened to apologetic debates, and loved early Christian literature. My favourite books at the time were “The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan and The Foxes Book of Martyrs. I also loved studying the topic on the sovereignty of God. I often battled with questions such as, “If God is sovereign, why do we pray, or evangelize?”
Little did I know that my biggest question would become about the question of suffering, in all of it’s complexities. Why, if God is sovereign, does he permit suffering when He has the ability to heal? Or why does he let a situation persist if he could stop it in the blink of an eye? Persecution? Loss? Grief? Where is God in it all?
Here are some things I am learning from my own personal journey of sorrow in dealing with chronic illness.
We should not fear suffering.
Scriptural or biblical truths are things that stand firm when our emotions want to crumble under sorrow and anguish. For example, If we want to say that something is true, that truth can’t change, if it is really true. So if “God is good” is a ‘true’ statement, then my hardships don’t negate from the fact that God is good. In fact God is good because he uses bad situations to work things out for our good in the end. They make us better, stronger and better equipped to minister to broken hearts.
In other words, there is purpose in our pain. This means that none of it, is in vein. One of the reasons why I think that bible study is so important (and even theology/apologetics) is because it prepares
us for life by grounding us with truth during times when our emotions would want to dictate otherwise. And when I say bible study prepares us for life, I mean real life. Life like the early Christian writers, and Puritans experienced (Oh how different their lives were from the modern prosperity gospel). Charles Spurgeon is known as the father of the faith, and his life was filled with much sorrow and sickness. He said in one of his sermons, “When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou art my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’ … so I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: ‘I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.’ I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.” I can honestly say that I’ve cried out to God with similar prayers like Spurgeon, pleading for God to take the pain away, or even my life. And it’s not something you can understand unless you’ve walked that road. If the father of the Chriatian faith suffered with depression and sickness, why should we be immune to suffering and desire prosperity? If we go back further, John Bunyan, a puritan minister and author of several books, also went through a horrible illness at the height of his ministry and died. We could go further back and relive the different historical accounts of Christian Marytrs throughout history who died from different persecutions. Oh, and I did I mention, that even Jesus (Yeshua) our Lord suffered immensely and was called a man of many sorrows. With all of that said, I do not think that as Christians, we should expect a comfortable life. Rather, Jesus tells us that we should not fear suffering, because it is coming.
-And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt:10:28)
-For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:9)
-But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, (1Peter 3:14)
-Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)
We should expect to suffer.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, (Phillippians 1:29)
There is a stigma attached with Christianity, it goes something like this: “Become a Christian and all of your troubles will go away, you will have health wealth and prosperity, if you suffer you must have done something to deserve it!” (Sounds like Job’s friends right?) With that said, if Christ himself told us that we will be hated for his names sake, shouldn’t we believe him? I mean, if that’s a true statement, this means that so many brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering greatly for the gospel. And, they are: In Asia, many are persecuted and imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Churches are burned down, pastors are killed, families become homeless, children become orphans but in North America we are too blind to let that affect us, because we are focused on living “our best life now”. We give financially to megachurch- coorporations and forget to seize every opportunity possible to help those around us who are suffering. We are so consumed with health wealth and prosperity in North America, that we live in our own little unrealistic security bubble. We don’t focus on or invest in the plights of the sick, poor, and dying because that is not where the focus is in mainstream TV evangelism or even society at large. But, we see and hear a different story from Jesus. He came to serve (Matt 20:28). Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves and talks repeatedly about being a servant. But here’s the kicker, we can love or serve our neighbours so much more, during their suffering. (Luke 5:31) There is always a purpose in suffering (Romans 8:28), yes it can help an individual grow in so many ways, but, it also forces the church to be…well, the church to people suffering anguish. Could it be that the church is the response God created to help mend and fix the brokenness in the world? We should not fear suffering, in fact we should expect it to happen. If suffering isn’t a visitor at your household, do you know someone that is suffering. Do you weep with them, encourage them, pray for them and do what you can to aid your brother or sister? Today is a great day to start.
After all, you are not immune remember?
If I did not have a foundation in some sort of biblical history, I don’t think I would have been well equipped for my current journey in life battling disease and depression. Because here’s the truth, my emotions are fragile, they change like menopausal hot flashes. And because of this, I can’t base my truth on my emotions. Rather, I can grieve in my heart, with sorrow, knowing that in the midst of the sadness I feel, God will use it for a greater story. Someday and some way. It’s also comforting to know that Jesus suffered himself. How encouraging is it to know that God is not distant and immune to our pain, but he actually came here, in the flesh (the incarnation of Christ) and experienced extreme amounts of pain that he didn’t have to, for our sake. The biblical truths that I talked about earlier help ease myself when my heart is troubled. They make not take the pain away, but they give me hope knowing that a sovereign God has my good in mind, with the suffering I face and that above all, he also relates.
He is soverign and good and He does care. Those are two truths that have helped me greatly the past few years.
Because he is soverign and good, I want to embark on a journey to fight for joy in the midst of pain.
Will you join me?