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Finding Hope in Suffering

I moved in with my sister’s family when she was already five months pregnant. She said these last few months felt more difficult than her first pregnancy. I wasn’t around the first time, but for this one, I had a front-row view of the restless nights, the back pains, the swollen ankles. Almost every day had its own challenge to endure. By the last month, she felt ready to be done. Instead, the pain continued to increase as the baby grew.

The contractions began two days before her due date. At first she wasn’t sure if the pain was part of labor or only false signs. We took a walk around the neighborhood, putting my niece in a stroller. When we returned home, the pains had gotten worse. She timed the lapse between each wave. Some made her halt in place, braced against the kitchen counter or couch back.

All the while, I stayed nearby and kept my niece distracted, wondering what else I could do to make my sister feel better. It gave me a new understanding of Romans 8:18-24. Paul writes about the groaning of creation, like an expectant mother, anticipating relief from its present pain.

“The midwife said that the hardest contractions are the ones that do the most good,” my sister told me.

That didn’t make it easier to watch her in pain. As the birth drew closer, the contractions magnified. They grew more painful and more frequent. My sister could do little more than shuffle restlessly around the house. But good was happening, even though it didn’t feel good at the time. When it came time to push, her groans rose to the crescendo of screams. Nothing less could express her agony. And in the end, the pain was overcome with joy when her second daughter took her first breaths. My sister glowed in euphoria, hugging the precious baby to her chest. The pain had been worth it for this gift. There were no more utterances for how much she hurt, only for how beautiful her daughter looked.

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Credit: David J Laporte (https://flic.kr/p/9jYqvc)

In Romans, Paul pictured childbirth to describe all of creation’s suffering. He wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I don’t know if Paul was ever close to a woman about to give birth, but after seeing my sister’s experience, I’m inclined to agree with him. Paul was thinking about the corruption of everything that was once good, which started with the original fall of Adam and Eve. Since then, nothing has been the same. God’s creation was damaged beyond healing. It was true in Paul’s day and it’s true now.

But like any childbirth, the pain is getting worse. We’re seeing widespread suffering and crises on a magnitude that Paul never experienced. Any regular reader of my blog knows that I don’t normally comment on trending issues. However, I wonder if current events like ISIS attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, even the polarization of Americans, are all part of birth pains just like Paul said.

Agonizing events like the Paris bombings last week shock us all, not just because of what it means for particular people but its ultimate impact on all humanity. The state of this world isn’t looking good. Where can we find hope?

Paul wrote, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Thankfully, we’re promised that redemption is coming (or in process already). Joy will overtake pain. Good will conquer in the end. This is what we cling to; this is what creation longs for in groaning.

I don’t often write on issues under debate, the “timely” or “relevant” news, because I’d much rather focus on the One who will end suffering. If I only have a number of words to use in my life, I want to dedicate them to Our Savior, the only good news that is always timely and always relevant because he came to redeem all people. I’m called to tell the good news until my last breath. Why water down that message with trendy arguments and debates? They may tempt temporary relief, but what else sustains a mother like the expectation of seeing her labor’s result? If we must argue, let us argue Christ.

“And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. … Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Matt. 13:7-8, 33).

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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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It’s Not About Me: Part 2

If you didn’t catch the previous post, read It’s Not About Me: Part 1.

Max Lucado’s book It’s Not About Me calls into question the human tendency to believe the universe revolves around us. “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy,” Lucado writes. “Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness? I want a spouse who makes me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion. I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me.” 

The book demands honest re-evaluation of both self and God, but what particularly spoke to my heart was the chapter on life’s struggles. Lucado makes the case that even our sufferings are not about us.

When his friend Lazarus fell ill, Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Instead of immediately going to his friend’s aid, Jesus waited. He stayed where he was until Lazarus died. How could he allow such suffering? Because he knew it would bring greater glory to God if Lazarus not only recovered from illness, but returned to life.

At another point, Jesus and his disciples came across a man who had been blind since birth. The disciples assumed his blindness was punishment for sin. Jesus then replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

If Jesus could use the suffering of Lazarus and the blind man, then Lucado asks, “What about your struggles? Is there any chance, any possibility, that you have been selected to struggle for God’s glory? Have you ‘been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1:29)?”

By Rennett Stowe from USA (His Light Shines on Us Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons

One of the most difficult arguments against Christian faith is: If a good God exists, then why does pain? Suffering leads us to question God’s character. If God is loving, then he must not be almighty, otherwise he would prevent tragedy. Or if God is almighty, then he must not be all-knowing, because only ignorance can explain his blind eye to grief. Or if God is both almighty and all-knowing, then he must be indifferent. 

Lucado responds, “Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end–the glory of God.”

It may appear like the world is full of senseless pain, but God uses it, bringing good out of evil. He does not waste it. Sometimes it’s used for God’s discipline. Sometimes he’s teaching you to rely on him and not your own strength or ability. And other times the testimony of his people under suffering brings more children to him than could have been saved by a prosperity gospel.

Lucado encourages his readers to discover how their problems can be used for God and his glory. But I would add that we should not be content with saying, “It is God’s will.” I don’t believe it is God’s will for anyone to suffer. Pain is a derivative of evil. We suffer because we are separated from God and live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. Jesus won over evil at the cross, but the war wages on with the world caught in the crossfire. Because suffering will continue until Jesus vanquishes over all, we should turn suffering in God’s favor, as an opportunity to reveal him ever more to this world. At a funeral of a loved one, we can show other people our assured hope of life after this one. When bed-ridden by illness, we can display how we trust God for his comfort and control.

What sacrifice are our temporary sufferings when we have an eternity to look forward to when there will no longer be grief or pain? Revelation promises, when God is finally reunited with his people, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4). The Apostle Paul adds, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

As long as we have God with us through these painful days, what more can we ask of him? Contrary to popular belief, he owes us nothing. The reverse is true; we are the ones who are indebted. What right do we have to complain when life really isn’t about us?

We are like the child who just begins to feel the hunger pangs before dinnertime. He complains to his father, crying that he will die of hunger. The father knows better. Can anyone blame the father for making his child wait half an hour until dinner is served? The child may at first think the father is cruel. But if the child trusts his father, he might go outside to play with the neighbor kid while he waits. And he might tell that kid, “I’m hungry now, but I know Dad will call me for dinner soon.”

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Books

 

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