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-child · Loss-pandemic

How Long, O Lord

This is a New Year. Over the past year, I have listened to many sermons. Many focused on the disappointments of Covid. Changes, cancellations, job loss, death-all unexpected & unwelcome. 

We are not used to suffering. We are not used to death. Understandabily. It hurts.

In the middle of unforeseen tragedies, there is groaning deep inside: HOW LONG, O LORD? 

Maranatha means, “Come, Lord Jesus!” I whisper this more often these days when I hear news of another strand of the virus, or of a neighbor dying from Covid, or a friend’s friend losing their child to suicide. I wonder–how long, O Lord? How long until Covid is gone? How long until You come back?

It reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years asking the same question. But, I also think of how they persevered in great trouble. Generations of people in history have withstood massive suffering: the Roman Empire brutality, the Black Death, religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, slavery, potato famines, the Holocaust, the French Revolution, corrupt kings, the Russians under Stalin, the Italians under Mussolini, wars, wars, and more wars.

Paul David Tripp comforts that “Scripture never looks down on the sufferer, it never mocks his pain, it never turns a deaf ear to his cries, and it never condemns him for his struggle.”

Lam. 3:22-23 states “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” Lovingkindness means loyal love, faithfulness based on a promise, not on performance. Since the death of my son, this verse has woken me up every morning. I awake and don’t plan to say it, but I do. I rely heavily on its promise.

How long? God’s answer: I am faithful. No time given. This year, take one day at a time. Each day with new mercy, focusing on God’s character. A challenge-choose to remember, think, speak, sing of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

We aren’t the only ones who have asked this question. This is David speaking in Ps. 13  likely during the time that his own son tried to stage a coup to overtake him:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?

How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul,

Having sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Contributor-L. Vincent

Loss-child · Loss-pandemic · loss-suicide

A-Bomb

In the introduction to the book, 1984, a revolutionary book revealing the atrocities of Stalin’s regime and communism in Russia, which was released in 1945, it likens its release to the world with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski at the end of World War II, saying that it would change the face of the earth. Indeed. The book did and these bombs would kill and wound over 200,000+ people. As a point of reference, 500,000+ have died at the time of writing from Coronavirus. Another type of bomb.

What were the effects: some vaporized instantly, others felt the effects for days, months, years. Some were close to the bombing and some were at a distance. Keloid scars from burns, A-bomb cataract, trauma, disfiguration, bleeding, diarrhea, leukemia, cancer, radiation injury penetrates deeply into human body and injures cells. Deep painful effects.

An atomic bomb. This is how I picture the effects of suicide. According to the World Health Organization, despite efforts toward suicide awareness, a suicide occurs every 40 seconds. So, an atomic bomb drops on a family and community every 40 seconds. I think about this silent bombing often. Sometimes I will count 1, 2, 3…and realize this is happening—sometimes secretly and sometimes we read it in the newspaper. I pray for the unseen families and for the families I know impacted by suicide. I pray Isaiah 60:18, “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” That there will be NO MORE VIOLENCE IN THE LAND (within a family, within a school, within a community), but instead that the same people will find salvation and will praise God for His unexplainable mercy and grace and will seek help at all costs for themselves and others.

According to a 2016 study, it is estimated that 115 people are exposed to a single suicide. These people are called Suicide Survivors. Just as atomic bomb survivors must seek help, so must those who survive a suicide. Counseling, Bible studies, GriefShare texts, talking to friends/family, books, medication, listening to sermons or podcasts, helping others, educating oneself, problem solving, drawing near to the healer (Jesus)—healthy coping. There is help and depression can get better with help. Fight for life!! National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Contributor-L. Vincent