Posts

Chester Bennington’s death: Numbing the pain is not the same as healing it

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

It was just one of many suicides among celebrities. But the death of Chester Bennington, the frontman of American rock band Linkin Park, struck a chord among many fans of my generation.

The 41-year-old was found dead in his home two days ago (July 20), on the birthday of his close friend Chris Cornell. Media reports say Bennington’s suicide is similar to that of Cornell, the former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman, who also hanged himself two months ago.

The news triggered memories of the rasp in Bennington’s voice on songs like “Numb” and “Somewhere I Belong”, which captured the angst I felt as a teenager. Millions of people felt the same way—the music video of “Numb” has had more than 560 million views since it was posted in 2007.

I remember particularly liking that song, which is about the frustration of failing to meet people’s expectations, when I was 14 years old.

I was a head prefect in my primary school when I was 12, and I was very disappointed when I failed the probation to become a (normal) prefect in my secondary school. Becoming a little more rebellious seemed like a cool idea, although I was really more of a closet rebel with angst that I kept to myself. The “Numb” lyrics also expressed how I felt towards my father, whose words typically came in the form of scoldings or instructions instead of encouragement or concern.

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there / Become so tired, so much more aware / I’m becoming this, all I want to do / Is be more like me and be less like you”. I thought of my father’s weaknesses as I sang that last line, about wanting to “be more like me and be less like you”.

But all the times I screamed out the chorus could not drown out the voice of God in my heart. Towards the end of that year, I rededicated my life to Jesus.

Shortly after, I stopped listening to Linkin Park’s songs, because I grew to realize that the message in many of their songs did not align with Christian values. The last line in the “Numb” chorus suggests self-centeredness, pride and an attitude of ‘I am better than you’ towards authority figures whom we disrespect. The song’s suggestion to numb emotional hurts is also not helpful.

To numb something is to ‘deprive of feeling or responsiveness’. But to be able to feel pain is to be able to sense that something is wrong, and that ability is important. Without pain sensors in our body, a person’s hand on a stove could be burning without him even realizing it. As American Christian author Philip Yancey, writes in his book, Where is God When It Hurts?: “By definition, pain is unpleasant, enough so to force us to withdraw our fingers from a stove. Yet that very quality saves us from destruction. Unless the warning signal demands response, we might not heed it.”

Having read about Bennington’s life from media reports, I see a man who was in pain. My own experiences cannot begin to compare with his, but it seems that he didn’t deal with it in the best way.

From the age of seven or eight, he was frequently molested by an older friend till he was 13. His parents divorced when he was 11. His first marriage ended in divorce in 2005. His struggles with drug and alcohol addiction inspired some of Linkin Park’s top hits, but did not end despite the band’s success.

Bennington said in an interview in 2009: “I have been able to tap into all the negative things that can happen to me throughout my life by numbing myself to the pain, so to speak, and kind of being able to vent it through my music.” Bennington added earlier this year: “If it wasn’t for music, I’d be dead. 100 per cent.”

While venting negative emotions through music or other avenues (such as drawing, poetry, or running) may be better than bottling all the feelings inside, it doesn’t result in a complete healing of emotional wounds.

Numbing pain is like using fingers to plug the holes in a leaking water bottle: the leaks stop temporarily, but it is pressurizing (literally) to keep plugging those holes, and all this does not address the ultimate problem.

If you are feeling broken, know that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). Broken cisterns that cannot hold water will not help, but the fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13) will. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

I pray that you will find the true source of comfort and joy.

 

Photo credit: Kristina_Servant via Foter.com / CC BY

Why Should I Still Believe in God?

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

I don’t see, hear, or feel God anymore. Why love God then? Why go to church then? Why believe then?

Recently, a friend whom I had led to Christ seemed to have such thoughts. And they were the same thoughts that went through my mind about a decade ago.

Back then, it was very tempting to give it all up. Doing so would free up all my Sunday mornings and some weekday nights spent at cell group sessions or meeting mentors. I might lose some church friends, but I still had other friends, I thought to myself. The church friends might get disappointed, but I figured they’d get over it in a matter of time.

But I knew it was immature to give up on something just because I didn’t have “the feeling”. I knew that I should love God even when I didn’t feel like it. This not only applied to my relationship with God; it applied to other human relationships and work too. This world would be in a mess if people fulfilled their responsibilities only when they “felt like it”.

I also knew—even with my limited knowledge of the Bible back then—that “without faith, it is impossible to please God”.

And yet, my love for God and faith in Him got weaker as the drought of feelings dragged on. I wasn’t sure how to get out of this dry state even if I wanted to.

And I wanted to. I wanted to go back to better times in my relationship with God. God’s presence had been real to me before; I had felt touched by Him—both at altar calls and in my own bedroom. I had gone through times when I felt comforted and filled by the Holy Spirit, times when tears just flowed beyond my control, times which I knew were not the result of some contemporary music psyching me up but simply, the result of God’s supernatural work.

I remembered those times. I missed those times. And that’s when I realized: to give it all up and stop believing would be akin to saying that all those times with God were a lie.

So, back then, and for every similar “desert season” since, I ended up doing the following:

 

Remember what God did

Many times, we forget what God did for us. When the Israelites left Egypt, they complained about various inconveniences in the desert and said they would rather die in Egypt where they were slaves (Exo 16:2-3). They focused on the immediate problems and failed to remember the miracles that God had performed (Neh 9:17).

This is probably why Moses, in his first address to the Israelites before they entered the promised land, reviewed the entire history of how God had cared for them (Deut 1-4) and told them repeatedly to remember how God led them out of Egypt (Deut 5:15, 7:18, 8:2, 15:15, 24:18).

Remembering what God did helps us to not take Him for granted, and to remember truths which we may have lost sight of in the midst of busyness or trials.

Whenever I have a conflict with someone, I remember what we’ve been through as friends and I remember the good that he has done. This enables me to trust that his intentions are good even if I’m upset about something he did or said. Similarly, if I’m upset about not feeling God or not having prayers answered, I remember the good that He has done in my life and trust that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living (Psa 27:13).

Some ways to remember His goodness include writing about it in a journal or sharing a testimony with your friends. Count your blessings and name them one by one!

 

Seek God

Recalling God’s goodness in the past helped me to see the importance of my relationship with God and convinced me that this effort to seek God would be worth it.

If I believe a school lecture to be important but feel sleepy, I’ll try to get over this feeling. I’ll eat a sweet or drink coffee and fight to stay awake. Similarly, it helps to make the effort to overcome the emptiness you feel, and fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12).

To be sure, faith is a gift from God. But the Bible also says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). Salvation is a gift of God, but we’re called to work out—not work for—that salvation.

This fight starts with admitting that we need help. Have you met people who needed help with directions but are reluctant to ask for help? Sometimes, when we are caught up with problems, we try to fix things ourselves instead of seeking help.

When I eventually came out of that desert season in my life, I felt convicted that I had not sought the Lord earlier. There was a lot of self-talk—“I’m not feeling God”, “I don’t feel like I’m receiving from the church service”, “This is not working out”—but not much of actually talking to God about how I felt.

Psalms has records of people lamenting that they felt distant from God. They were honest with God about how they felt (Psa 27:9, 88:14, 102:2), and I tried to do the same.

I sought the Lord as I continued going to church, hearing the preaching of God’s Word, and singing songs of praise with whatever little faith I had left. It was like visiting the doctor’s: I did not know what exactly was going wrong in my relationship with God or why things turned out this way, but I prayed to God; I was honest with Him (the doctor) about how I felt (my symptoms) and I was open to receiving help (medicine). And I gave God and myself time for the situation to improve (even medicine takes time for its effects to be seen).

Seek God and you will find Him (Matt 7:7). Call to Him and He will answer you (Jer 33:3). Finding Him or hearing His answers may not happen instantaneously, but it will happen, in God’s timing. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

 

Trust God’s Promises and Persevere

I held on to the promise that God would never leave me or forsake me (Heb 13:5). I also held that promise up to God and asked: “You said you won’t leave me or forsake me, but somehow you don’t seem close. Why must you hide when I need you the most?”

Over time, I felt His assurance that He had never left me, and that this desert season was a time to refine my faith in Him, so that our relationship would not be based solely on feelings (important as they were).

I even composed a song (the tune sounds rather amateur to me now and it’s the only one I’ve ever composed to date) but it has served as a personal reminder that His love never fails even when I stray.

While waiting, it’s important that we do not close our hearts to God. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:38-39), but sometimes we ourselves are not opening our hands (and hearts) to receive His gift.

God is a speaking God and still speaks today, but do we have the ears to hear His voice (Matt 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23)?

“So do not throw away your confidence; it holds a great reward. You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.” (Heb 10:35-36)

When Good People Suffer

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

Ever regretted giving a testimony?

When I was 19 years old, I prayed really hard to get into a scholars programme at a local university. Only three per cent of the undergraduate cohort was accepted into the programme each year. Eventually, I was accepted despite not having straight As in my examination results. So I gave a testimony at a cell group meeting, thanking God for opening the door of opportunity.

But later, in my first and second semesters, my grades were not good enough and I was sent warning letters—twice. Essentially, the message was: buck up or you could be kicked out of the programme. I reasoned that I had not adjusted to university life in the first semester.

I reflected on my study approach and tried to work harder and smarter. This included not selecting university modules in which the exam dates were very close to one another and trying to better manage my time. I thought the situation would improve.

But that did not happen, and the second warning letter came as a huge blow. I had never received any warning letter in my entire schooling life; now I’d received two.

To the best of my knowledge, I had done whatever I could and had put in my best effort to get better grades in the second semester. So I was genuinely baffled by my final grades after the examinations.

I failed to understand why my grades turned out the way they did, despite all I had done. Sure, I was not expecting a perfect score, but I expected to do relatively well. I searched my heart and was convinced I had done my best. I tried blaming professors—I even asked for a marking review for one of my exam scripts, but the grade did not change. Eventually, I blamed God, the one whom I had prayed to for good results.

At the time, I regretted giving my testimony earlier. And I struggled to make sense of my situation. I had not taken His gift—the opportunity of entering the scholars programme—for granted. So why would God take away something He gave? And unlike the lyrics in the song “Blessed Be Your Name”, my heart chose not to bless God’s name.

Admittedly, neither the Bible nor the church was the first place I turned to for answers. I wasn’t sure how people would respond when I said I was blaming God. So I turned to Google, typed “disappointment with God”, and discovered a book of the same title by American Christian author Philip Yancey.

After reading the book, in which Yancey delved into the book of Job, as well as other Old Testament books where prophets cried out to God, I gained a greater appreciation of God’s ways.

1. Upright people suffer too

Yancey writes that the book of Job “portrays the very worst things happening to the very best person”. Job was blameless and upright, and he feared God and shunned evil (1:1). God said so himself, and said there was no one on earth like Job (1:8, 2:3).

But within a day, Job lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and all his children (1:14-19). On another day, he suffered painful sores all over his body, from head to toe (2:7).

His three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar suggested that his suffering was because of some sin he committed, but God rebuked them for speaking wrongly (42:7). God also did not mention any specific sin as a reason for Job’s suffering.

Not all suffering we go through is because of our sin. For some of us, the reminder we need is: “it’s not your fault”.

People sometimes fare badly at school or work because they did not work hard enough, but that’s not always the case. Perhaps you have had a similar experience to mine: you thought you studied hard, spotted the right topics, did everything you could, but it still wasn’t enough to meet the grade. Even in schoolwork, the formula for success does not always look like this: more revision time (or assessment books or tuition) equals better grades.

2. Our response to suffering is important

Job’s suffering started because of a conversation between God and Satan. Yancey writes that the conversation resembled a wager, a bet.

Satan claimed Job was loyal to God as he had been blessed, and accused Job of being a fair-weather believer (1:10-11). Satan’s challenge to God: destroy everything Job has, and he will surely curse you (1:11, 2:5). God’s response: challenge accepted, but spare his life (1:12, 2:6).

And that’s when Job lost everything. “Job was unknowingly performing in a cosmic showdown before spectators in the unseen world,” writes Yancey.

The Bible records other examples of human actions having an impact on the unseen world: a mission trip by the disciples causes Satan to “fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:1-18); a sinner’s repentance is cause for celebration in heaven (Luke 15:7).

It’s hard to imagine that a single person’s response would matter in the spiritual realm, but that’s what the book of Job shows. Our response to testing matters. Job’s test was to trust God in spite of all that happened, to keep the faith.

In my case, I believe my test was facing the risk of being kicked out of the scholars programme that I wanted so much to be a part of. Would I still be faithful? Or would it show that I was just a fair-weather believer?

I do not know if my response to the testing of my faith affected the spiritual realm, but I believe that it pleased God (Hebrews 11:6). I believe my response also mattered to Him because it refined my faith and deepened my relationship with God.

Today, years after this incident, I can say I have been less shaken when faced with other times of suffering, when it seemed as if God had taken away what He gave. I still cried for nights when my church mentor (whom God placed in my life) strayed away from the faith and left church. I also cried when my family member suffered a miscarriage after God gave a young life in her womb. If my faith were to be likened to a house, it shook when faced with these tough times, but it did not collapse, because my foundational belief in the goodness of God was now stronger.

3. There are some issues we can never comprehend

God did not answer Job’s “why me” question. Instead, God asked Job many questions, using Job’s ignorance of the natural order of the earth God created, to reveal his ignorance of God’s moral order (Job 38-41).

Job’s reply: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3).

R.C. Sproul, in his book Surprised by Suffering, writes: “Ultimately the only answer God gave to Job was a revelation of himself. It was as if God said to him, ‘Job, I am your answer.’ Job was not asked to trust a plan but a person, a personal God who is sovereign, wise, and good.”

So I learned to confess my disappointment, doubts, and questions to God, like what Job did (e.g. 7:11-21, 10:2-18). I chose to continue taking on added responsibilities in church, while admitting my fears to God about how this would affect my time to study and my grades. By God’s grace, my grades miraculously improved in my third semester at university, a semester in which I walked through my disappointment with God.

The truth is, we are humans, not God. Our perception of time and space is different from that of an omnipresent God who views time as eternity, a never-ending present.

Yancey writes: “No matter how we rationalize, God will sometimes seem unfair from the perspective of a person trapped in time . . . Not until history has run its course, will we understand how ‘all things work together for good’ (Rom. 8:28).”

 

By God’s grace, I gave another testimony after my third semester, not just of the material blessing of an improvement in grades, but also of God sustaining and refining my faith through it all.