Loss-cancer · Loss-child · Loss-flood · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

Suffering

There is a core question that most grievers ask at some point: Why does suffering exist? Why do some suffer greatly and others do not?

In the past I would have answered: to help you grow (John 15), to grow your character (Heb. 12), to show you where you misplaced your hope (1 Peter 1:13-14), to make you stronger, more persevering (James 1). And, this can absolutely be true. But, now I realize that there is MORE to this answer–that there are some kinds of suffering that will never have answers. 

Sometimes suffering comes from our own sin or others’ choices to sin. Other times, we do not know why we are suffering. Sometimes it is a combination of the two.

John 9: 1-3-As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So, when Jesus was asked if the blind man’s suffering was caused by sin, he answered that there was a greater purpose. 

Sometimes things happen in heaven that humans know nothing about and that can’t be explained. Sometimes very difficult things happen to faithful people. It is simplistic to think that sin is always the cause of suffering. 

In the book of Job, one day in heaven, the angels and Satan gathered. Satan accused Job of following God because of the protection and blessings. Job was described as blameless, upright, one who feared God. His family was close-knit. God, then, allowed Satan to test Job within certain limitations. The Lord allowed Satan to remove his blessings, but protected Job’s life.  God could have prevented the suffering, but He did not.

There were two tests: In the first test, Job lost his 10 children, servants, all possessions. 10 children.

In the second, he lost his health.

In the first test, he answered, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In the second test, he answered, “Shall  we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job’s answer was both humble and even grateful. He had been completely broken, yet he maintained faith. He understood that a faith-filled life did not guarantee a life free of pain and sorrow. If faith only mattered in good times, it did not matter at all.

Job also grieved: he fell to the ground, his heart was heavy (6:1), he felt punished and mocked (6:4-6, 23), he lost his appetite (6:7), he was in massive pain, with little hope (6:8), he had nights of misery and tossed in the night (7:4), he thought he would never see good again (7:7), he asked hard questions like why even try (6:29-30) and wondered if God was fair (6:22), yet, he appealed to God for mercy (6:15) and saw Him as holy, wise, strong (9:4-10). All of these are very normal in severe grief. Reading Job can be a relief to a griever–seeing a faithful person experience the same emotions, questions, and yet still have faith.

John Stuart Mill and others claim that God cannot be omnipotent AND good at the same time. However, in Job, it is seen that God is in control and is good. He also allows suffering for a purpose and has a relationship with Job through it. What is the good-this is not fully answered, but partly that Job would continue in his faith regardless of the most severe circumstances. But, Job knew nothing of the events and conversations in heaven. This is the humbling of man-he does not know everything or the reasons for everything.

Martin Luther King, Jr. explains that God’s goodness is a high and fixed purpose aiming at the supreme good of man, and that accomplishing His purpose reveals His true power. And, His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).

Job never knew about the scene in heaven. He never had answers for the reason for his losses. And, for some kinds of losses this is the case. The believer will have to learn how to keep living and have faith WITHOUT answers.

Job, also, could not make the connection of his own sin and the atrocities that happened. Yes, he was a sinner, and he confessed this, but the severity of the losses did not match the sins he committed. He understood that any bit of mercy from God was a gift, but this degree of suffering did not make sense.

In the case of suicide, it is true that the victim sinned (in great pain and darkness); but for the survivor, the question is-why did God allow this? The survivor will have to learn to live without the full answer and this is super hard, but doable.

God allows the suffering of His children. God is sovereign over all that we experience: our grief, our physical ailments, our humiliation. Our suffering does not take God by surprise (Hebrews 12:5-6; 1 Peter 1:6; John 15:2). God gives us grace in our suffering (2 Peter 1:3). In the middle of suffering, it is important for the believer to remember that God is at His core, good. In the end, what did Job cling to? He had his faith in God’s goodness and the hope of his salvation. 

Contributor-L. Vincent

Photo-L. Vincent

Loss-cancer

Salons, Scissors & Seeking

God still works miracles! I remember the day I decided to shave my head. I didn’t want to have to deal with seeing big strands of my hair fall off due to chemo. I woke up early that morning and got in the shower, thinking to myself that I would make an appointment at the hair salon and drive over. I was determined to be radical in my brave decision to cut it ALL off! 

In my younger years, I had watched the movie GI Jane and the actress Demi Moore just looked SO COOL!!! I had even thought, if I lived in Europe, I could probably pull it off and get the look.  

As I was getting dressed and thinking of where and who could do the job, my phone rang unexpectedly. Amanda’s Salon, one of the high-end beauty salons in the city, was on the other end of the phone line.

Amanda’s soft voice greeted, “A friend at church told me you might be needing a haircut.” I could not believe what I heard! I told her I was just about to grab the phone and make an appointment to get my head shaved off. She told me I didn’t have to go anywhere, because she wanted to come over and help me out.  

Instantly, I thought how awesome and amazing God is. He knows our desires and always shows us that He IS WORKING THINGS OUT that we can’t see!  

She ended up coming over, and even prayed for me before starting the process. This moment in time reminds me of God’s LOVE and MERCY. He is in the smallest of details. Sometimes His miracles are in the middle of the hardest, most painful things that we go through in life. And, in the painful, fearful place, He shows up with a miracle, and it is the very same place that we worship Him. PAIN/FEAR to MIRACLE to WORSHIP. 

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7 

Contributor-Ivette Menendez

Photo-Kadir Celep

Loss-cancer · Loss-flood

Joy Found

Sometimes you smell something, but you don’t know what it is or where it is.

Summer of 2017, I was on a hiking vacation with my family when my best friend from college called me to pray for her, as she was having a biopsy for breast cancer.  We prayed for wisdom for her and she was quickly diagnosed with Triple Negative IDC, a very aggressive form. I smelled something.

The thought of losing my dear friend was terrifying – but constantly reminding myself of the truth that God is sovereign over every detail in our day brought comfort. 

When we returned home, on my to do list was that mammogram that I kept putting off, thinking it was a box to check off my long running late summer list before school starts – four days later I was sitting in front of my OBGYN hearing “You have cancer” in disbelief and uncertainty of what lay ahead. It was serious smoke for sure.  

In a whirlwind of daily appointments, scans, etc. – we had to make decisions and fast.  The Lord was so gracious to provide wisdom and establish a team of doctors and nurses that we felt confident to take this on.  God provided generously when we were not sure how to meet all the bills pouring in. God protected us when days before our major surgery, Harvey hit, as well as an outlet that caught fire AS WE WERE LEAVING home – we smelled smoke and could not pinpoint where – the Fire Department came, and found an outdoor outlet that the GFCI did not work.  Our entire house would have burnt down had we left!  

Despite all of this, God ‘s goodness poured out on us through supportive family, friends, and church community.  God gives wisdom as we continue on a preventative path to get to the root causes of my weak immune system.  God also gives healing in allowing me opportunities to be a vessel to share in my sufferings with newly diagnosed breast cancer friends. The smoke dissipated.

God brings trials into our lives to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith – so what will you do when your trial comes?  Will you embrace it as an opportunity to grow?  Or be angry and bitter?  You have a choice! Count it all JOY. Trials are an opportunity to test your faith into a deeper communion with God and greater trust in Christ. Now, there was another scent–a sweet fragrance.

While we don’t know if a recurrence is in my future – we do know that we have a God who loves and cares for us and wants to be in our midst – whether the days are certain or not – He is unchangeable and we can rest in His constant unchangeable character! “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”  (James 1:2-4).

Contributor-Heather Harbuck

Photo credit-Dawid Labno

Loss-cancer · Loss-child · Loss-parent · loss-suicide

Breathing Time

Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. Sometimes when you experience the same activity done with your deceased child with a different person, you can have a physical reaction as you experience the emotions. When this happens, I immediately ask friends to please pray for me.  It happened this week. As I breathed through my grief, I decided to listen to music on an errand.

As I drove, the Holy Spirit prompted the thought-Matt Redman lost his father to suicide. I read his story a few months ago. As I relistened to his famous song, “10,000 Reasons”, I had a completely new view. I imagined his pain and how that pain must propel him to worship God and encourage others to do so. I recalled my daughter: a few years back, playing this song on the piano to a group of cancer patients at the Ballard House. She came home telling how her group had gently sang this song together with the residents; I was so moved that she and her friends could bring lasting truth and hope to the hurting, suffering. I thought how they (facing the possibility of death) must have sighed deeply as they vocalized, “And on that day, when my strength is failing, the end draws near, and my time has come, still my soul will sing your praise unending…” I teared up thinking about the sweetness of this moment for all involved.

Now, I listened to this song again, and I took a deep breath as I continued the tune, “ten thousand years and then forevermore, forevermore.” This is the part that I thought about for days. My son is gone. That is the reality. I cannot bring him back. It hit me that I will have 10,000 years and forevermore with him and the Lord. That is a such a wonderfully big number!!!! Infinite.

The sermon in my head started: I need to be present while on the earth. I want to have 50 more years on this earth (I just turned 50)…so that I can support my husband, my daughter, my son, their spouses, their children, and their children and to share the hope of this God who is “slow to anger” and whose “heart is kind.” Each day I wake up claiming the promise that a friend, Mary Kay, gave me on a frame, “His mercies are new every morning…great is thy faithfulness, oh God!” Each day is a new day of mercy…a “new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again…whatever may pass and whatever lies before me”—we have no idea what will happen within each day, but we can still “be singing when the evening comes.” Our “life is a vapor” (James 4) and we “endure momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4) compared to the eternity waiting for us. Doing our “drop in the ocean” (Mother Teresa).

Contributor-Liana Vincent