*Originally written on 4/27/15
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
There is so much I would like to say about this subject, as it is a topic that is close to my heart. Not experientially, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had much empathy towards people who face the struggle of suffering, but as time went by, I learned to hear these cries of the heart from a new perspective. If you have faced, or are facing, such emotional struggle, I pray this letter will be some form of encouragement and strength as you learn to trust the Lord each day.
An African American preacher and lecturer by the name of Charles once gave his testimony at a meeting in the Moody Bible Institute. He told the audience that he had been very successful in his ministry and contented with his work, and later on he had gotten married to the girl of his dreams. He said that he had waited so long to find a person like her, and he loved her.
Four months after they were married, his wife was coming back from a business trip, and he and his mother-in-law were waiting at the airport to meet her. As her plane was pulling up in the jet way, he looked out the window and saw hurried activity, with police cars and ambulances. Then he saw a stretcher being carried down the back steps, with a cloth laid over what was obviously a body. Someone must have died, he thought.
Then he saw his wife’s purse dangling from the stretcher.
Charles and his mother-in-law were told that his wife had a massive heart attack and died on board before the plane had even touched down. As he related this story to the audience before him, Charles said that the sorrow he felt was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He said that there was only one thing that kept him going: it was an undoubting confidence in the character of God.
Listen to that! An undoubting confidence in the character of God. Confidence that in Him there are no lies. Confidence that in Him there is no manipulation. Confidence that He Himself, in essence, is love.
When Jesus visited Lazarus’ grave and met the mourning Mary and Martha, he wept. Jesus, our Lord, the God and Creator of the universe, wept. When we cry at the loss of a loved one, we cry because of what death has taken from us, and because we are not able to restore that life. When Jesus wept, he did not cry because he was unable to restore the life that death had claimed. He cried because he was relating to the pains of His creation, of which He had become a part. Professor John Lennox, a Christian mathematician and scientist, reflected on Christ’s crucifixion and said that if Jesus Christ was God, the next logical question would be “What was God doing on a cross?” Then he said, “At the very least, that shows me that God has not remained distant from human suffering but has become part of it.”
Whatever pains we face in life, we can rest assured that our Lord knows and understands what we go through. When we suffer hunger and thirst, we can remember that He suffered hunger and thirst in the desert. When we feel lonely, we can remember that He felt alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. When we feel betrayed, we can remember that Jesus felt betrayed by a man whom He had called to follow Him. When we suffer physical pain, we can remember that His pain on the cross was indescribable. When we are heartbroken because of the loss of a relationship with a loved one, we can remember that He was heartbroken when the Father turned away from Him because of the sin He was bearing. Whatever pain we go through, Christ had been there.
Just recently, on the 25th of April this year, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck the country of Nepal, killing over a thousand. Just a day after, an aftershock estimated at 6.7 raged through the already stricken country, claiming the lives of more than 2,000 people. The quakes set off avalanches on Mount Everest, where more people were reported to have been killed. Pain is everywhere, and people are asking “Why?”
God has His own purposes and plans that we often do not see, until we emerge at the end of the struggle and, looking back, see His hand on our lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when the five missionaries who attempted to evangelize to the Huaorani/Auca people in 1956 were martyred, people around the world were asking “Why?” It seemed like a waste of life. But now, looking back across history, we see that the incident galvanized missionary efforts and resulted in significant increases in donations for evangelization. Some of the wives of the martyred men, who had every right to resent the Auca tribe, became missionaries themselves to the very people who had taken their husbands from them. The result was the conversion of many in the tribe, including some of those who had killed the missionary men. This story has been an inspiration to countless people all over the world. Here we see that God used what seemed to be a defeat to bring about a victory. He turned the loss into gain.
God may also allow suffering to wake us up to certain things that we were not aware of previously. This is how we grow. God sometimes uses pain to get our attention. When we cannot find strength in ourselves, we will search for it elsewhere, and God will have more opportunities to reveal Himself to us.
A girl by the name of Ashlyn Blocker has a rare genetic disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), which renders her incapable of feeling pain. She could put her hand on a hot stove and not know that her hand is burning. And her mother’s earnest prayer is that she would be able to feel pain. She said, “Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.”
Think about that for a moment. Some people think that it is good to not be capable of experiencing pain, but here, someone is in that condition and her parents wish that she could. You see, pain is a signal to us that something is not right, that something is not what it should be, and it urges us to seek a solution. In the same way, the pains and sufferings of this world, act as signals to us that things are not what they should be, and they drive us to search for a solution to the problem.
And I believe that the solution we seek is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Annie Johnson Flint was orphaned, arthritic, cancerous, blind, and practically an invalid. Covered in sores as a result of lying in bed for so long, she would be surrounded with cushions to help lessen the pain. And in the midst of all this suffering, she penned these words:
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labours increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
We cannot be certain why God did the things He did, and allowed the things He allowed. We can only speculate. However, we can see, throughout history, how God has worked through suffering, causing all things to work together for good for those who love Him and for His glory. And so I urge you, my brothers and sisters: do not doubt the character of God in your suffering.
Blessings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Nathanael Chong (19) is a staff writer at Changing Lives Ministry. He is a sophomore at Asbury University in Whitmore, Kentucky