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4 Reminders When God Seems Silent in Our Suffering

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

2019 did not start well. I wept with my New Zealand friends when mosques in Christchurch were attacked and almost 50 people lost their lives. Then I cried in disbelief when my sister nearly lost her home in terrible floods in a province in Papua, Indonesia, where hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands of people were rendered homeless.

My heart continues to break for the persecuted Christians and people of minority religions who face a constant threat of violence, rape, imprisonment and even death all over the world. Their stories are heartbreaking, and the needs seem overwhelming. If thousands of innocent people suffer at the hands of a crazed killer or a sudden change in the earth’s atmosphere, why does God seem to remain silent? How is that right or fair?

C.S. Lewis argued that the issue of suffering does not lie with who God is, but with who we are as beings created in His image. In The Problem of Pain, he explains, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

The Bible clearly affirms God’s goodness—He is “compassionate and gracious . . . slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6); He “loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5); there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). But while God is good, we are not. God gives us choices, and the consequences of those choices can, unfortunately, end up affecting both good and bad people. Our sin has corrupted the world itself, and illness, accidents and natural disasters are consequences that every living creature is susceptible to.

What can we do to overcome the pain? How do we worship God in the storms of life? Here are four things I’ve discovered that help me to focus on God’s unchanging goodness:

 

1. Be real with God

I used to think that I had to come to God in prayer only after I’d figured things out on my own. But God asks us to call on His name when we need help. It’s when I share my anger and pain with Him that I’ve noticed a real change occurring in my heart.

My relationship with my own dad has helped me better understand how I can approach my heavenly father. My dad has always been there for me. When I share my struggles with him it helps draw us closer. This helps me see that if  I can be real with my earthly father, I need to be real with my heavenly Father, too.

The Bible has many examples of people being open with our heavenly Father. In one of his many psalms, King David urges us to pour out our hearts to God in all situations (Psalm 62:8). In 1 Samuel 1:15, Hannah cries to the Lord about the pain of her barrenness. We may not understand why painful things happen, but God wants us to share them with Him. We are His children, and He cares about our pain.

 

2. Recognize that trials can help us grow

It is a precious gift to be able to put our faith in Christ, but the Bible does not promise that our lives would then be easy. Paul even says that we will face greater trials when we follow Jesus, but that we are to count them all a blessing for the sake of the gospel (Romans 8:17). After all, pain and trials can serve to strengthen our character.

In my teenage years, I experienced chronic illness and bullying, and I believe that these experiences helped me develop a deep sense of empathy for others who are vulnerable and weakened. Looking back, I recognize that it was during some of the darkest times in my life that my relationship with Jesus has grown. Recognizing that I can’t do life on my own helped forge a deep sense of trust in God—that I can lean on Him and that He will guide me.

As Paul says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

 

3. Look beyond our own pain and help others

As Christians, what should our response to acts of violence be? How should we respond to God when bad things happen to good people? Jesus calls us to love one another and to love our neighbors (John 13:34, Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t end there. We are even called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-46).

Responses to the New Zealand shootings from churches, politicians, and community groups are a good example of love in action. People prayed with their Muslim friends and showed them love regardless of their faith or culture. Similarly, when my sister’s town was flooded, she was brought to tears by the acts of loving-kindness the community showed for one another. Churches, schools, police officers, and community leaders banded together to care for those who needed help. Despite the fact that many of these people lost possessions and homes of their own, they looked beyond their own situation to see how they could be a force for good in someone else’s life.

These beautiful acts of grace challenge me to consider my own heart in greater detail, and to seek ways to love those around me even in times of difficulty.

 

4. Jesus understands and can comfort us in our pain

God understands suffering more than any of us ever will. Jesus was the suffering servant who endured mocking, shame, slander, pain, violence, and the weight of the world’s sins as He died on the cross for our redemption (Isaiah 53:3). It is a great comfort to know that the Creator of the universe not only hears us when we cry to Him, but knows our pain intimately. When we are hurting, He is hurting with us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can in turn comfort others who are hurting. When I was grieving the loss of two young friends and struggling with my own health scare, I felt like giving up. I had no way to see through the darkness, so all I could do was cry out to God and give Him my pain. It wasn’t an instant fix, but I can honestly say that I felt “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” as I was held in the loving arms of God (Philippians 4:7). This peace enabled me to offer comfort in turn to a friend who had lost someone close to them.

 

Pain and suffering rarely make sense. When we’re in the midst of suffering, it can be easy to blame God or assume He doesn’t care. But don’t lose heart! We can tell God how we’re feeling. We can remember that He is always with us, through the good times and the bad. We can also be there to help others in their pain.

We know that God is good because He loves us so much that He suffered in our place. We may not always understand why some things happen, but it helps to know that God cares, and He is with us in our pain. Suffering will not last forever, and even if our pain stays with us for many years, we can still look forward to the hope of eternal glory with Christ, one that far outweighs any present suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Learning to Love God in the Midst of Grief

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

The church was full: full of faces, food, color and noise. And yet, it somehow felt empty. To an outsider, it may have looked like a party . . . but the one person we were there to honor wasn’t able to celebrate with us.

As I stood to sing a worship song, I immediately broke down in tears. Seeing the casket in the center of the room, it instantly dawned on me: I would never see my friend’s beautiful smile again.

Suz passed away last week after suffering from a sudden and very unexpected stroke. When I heard the news, the only words I could muster were, “Why, God?” Here was a young woman in the prime of her lifea 29-year-old with an amazing intellect and dreams to transform the world. She had so much left to live for. Why did she have to die so young?

I never imagined I would be losing any of my friends or peers at this age. But this was my third friend under the age of 40 who has died in the past three years. I had just been dealing with the sudden death of my good friend Amy and didn’t expect that yet another friend would leave the world so soon.

I’ve grieved the loss of all four of my grandparents. I’ve had to bid farewell to church leaders, family friends, and teachers. Yet, when a young person dies, there’s a different kind of grief that opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions. Why would a good God allow this kind of suffering? How can a healthy young person be taken from us so soon? What about all the life events they never got to experience? If I’m being honest, it also brings me face-to-face with my own mortality. What would I be missing if God chose to call me home too?

It’s almost easier to justify when someone we love is involved in an accident or conflict. As tragic and heartbreaking as those situations may be, there is often a person or circumstance to direct our anger, fear, and frustration towards. But a healthy, young person dying out of the blue? The only one left to shake our fists at is the One who gave them life and then decided to take it away so soon.

Perhaps it’s not the issue of God’s goodness but our fear of suffering which so often drives us to think this way. We struggle to deal with death and suffering because we’re conditioned to focus on being happy . . . all the time. We live in an age where death, illness and suffering are taboo concepts we like to sweep under the carpet. So how do we handle this kind of grief?

The one thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s no magical formula for dealing with this kind of loss. But there are opportunities to use the situation to help shape our faith and care for those who are struggling. Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way:

 

1. We can grieve with those who grieve

Don’t avoid talking about the deceased—celebrate their memory. When someone we care about is upset, it might be tempting to ignore the problem and try to focus on something else. But all that does is minimize the pain and encourage the idea that death and suffering are taboo topics that can’t be talked about.

It might be uncomfortable but don’t tiptoe around the pain. Step into that cavern of sadness and grieve with them. Romans 12:15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. We’ve been created to be a community for a reason.

 

2. Don’t live in fear—anticipate the hope of resurrection

Suz’s father read an excerpt from her diary at her celebration service. In it, she had shared about her earthly struggles and how eagerly she awaited reunion with Christ. She poured her heart into praying for a revival so that many more people across the nation would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior as she did. In the words of the minister, she “believed, lived and shared the hope of the resurrection”, knowing that death is not just a departure from a transient world but an arrival to life everlasting.

We can be consumed by the fear of the unknown. We can worry about what others think. We can go about our days in constant pursuit of earthly success. Or we can live out the hope we have in Christ now, knowing that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

 

3. Turn your narrow gaze from the worries of this world to the big picture of eternity

Every time one of my friends has died or taken their own life, it’s been a wake-up call for me to take stock of my own heart and ask whether I am actively living out my faith or getting caught up in the daily grind. When heaven and earth unite, will it really matter whether I managed to find a husband? Will it matter that I don’t own my own house? Does it matter that I’m not financially secure? Will I regret not buying that cute skirt or getting a good grade on an exam?

The only regret I think I would have when looking into the eyes of Jesus is not sharing the message of His love with others. As we’re encouraged in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

I don’t know why God chose to call my friends home to Him at such a so young age. I don’t have any answers to give their families about the purpose of it all. I may never understand the bigger picture. But I’m learning to walk closer with God through all of my questions.

In working through my heartache and grief, I’ve come to experience the love of my heavenly Father on a far deeper level. There is so much sin, suffering, and brokenness in the world. But we live with the glorious hope that death will one day be swallowed up in victory:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on learning to love God in the midst of life’s challenges. Click here to read about how another contributor learned to love God through a series of crises in her life.

5 Things To Look For In A Mentor

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

I wasn’t born when The Karate Kid was first released, but I’m thankful for the many opportunities I’ve had to watch it growing up. It taught me the importance of listening to the wisdom and advice of those who were older and more experienced. The seasoned sensei, Mr Miyagi, uses repetitive, everyday tasks—like painting the fence and waxing the car—to prepare his young protege, Daniel, with the skills he needed for his first karate tournament. It took time and incredible patience, but eventually the training paid off.

In a similar way, Christian mentoring is about allowing the skills and experience of those who have gone before us to help us grow more into the people God created us to be. Mentors are advisors we can look up to and trust.

I have been meeting with my mentor, Sarah, once a month, and it has not been the intimidating process I once feared it to be. You see, I used to have this idea that Christian mentoring would demand a high level of time and effort that would leave me mentally and emotionally exhausted. But that hasn’t been my experience at all.

When Sarah and I meet, we catch up in one other’s homes or at a local cafe. Over a coffee and a few laughs, we discuss how I’m doing with my health, job, family, and walk with God. We’ve also been reading through the book of Ruth together and looking at how the stories of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz shape their identities. Growing in my understanding of who I am in Christ is something I would like to work on, and I’m so grateful Sarah is helping me on that journey.

Mentoring relationships may look quite different for other people. But for the most part, a mentor is a guide who can disciple you as you draw closer to God. There’s a different level of respect and trust than those of family or friends. Mentors encourage you to grow into the person God is calling you to be. They’re not your counselor or teacher, but their wisdom and experience in life and faith can help shape your journey as a follower of Christ. They encourage you and walk alongside you as you develop spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with God.

One of the best examples of mentoring in the Bible is the relationship between Paul and Timothy. They traveled together, and Paul recognized Timothy’s passion for the gospel and gift of leadership. Paul shares his own experiences with Timothy, being vulnerable with his young protege to model humility and grace (1 Timothy 1:15-16). He also encourages him to hold firm to his faith and keep doing the work he was called to despite being young (1 Timothy 4:11). Paul knew that, by training Timothy in spiritual maturity, he could help others to do the same. We all need a mentor like Paul to guide us in our walk with God and become mature disciples.

So what should you look for in a mentor? Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way which might help you in your search:

 

1. Mutual Trust and Confidentiality

Journeying with another person requires sharing some of the deepest parts of your life—sharing your struggles, fears, and dreams. You need to have confidence in one another and mutual respect.

I had this in mind when I approached Sarah. We served together on the same Sunday School team, and I got the opportunity to know her as a more mature follower of Jesus. She shared her story with me and I was amazed by how many similar struggles we’d both experienced.

When my church encouraged everyone to seek a mentor, Sarah was an obvious choice for me. She understood me, and I knew I could trust her implicitly. Similarly, when Sarah shares personal things about her life with me, she knows that I will always keep our discussions in confidence.

 

2. Spiritual Maturity

It almost goes without saying, but you need to seek out a mentor who practices what they preach.

Hebrew 13:7 says to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” If you are to model yourself on someone else’s actions, you need to agree with the example they are setting. Do they attend a Bible study? Are they living with integrity? Do they put God first in the decisions they make? Are they generous, loving, and passionate about the gospel? Are the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control evident in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23)?

If your potential mentors are not actively living out the faith they proclaim, cross them off your list. Sarah is someone I want to emulate. She shines the light of Christ by the way she lives, and it makes me want to improve my own faith.

 

3. Relationship Boundaries

It’s important to like and admire someone you spend one-on-one time with, but boundaries are important when it comes to choosing a mentor.

Years ago, a woman I worked with offered to mentor me. She wasn’t much older than me, and we had a number of mutual friends we would hang out with. While I enjoyed catching up with her, it was difficult to maintain an easy-going friendship while simultaneously being mentored by her. We also tended to fall into the trap of gossiping about people we both knew, and I would come away from our time together feeling like I had more issues to work through than when we first began.

Just like the relationship between Paul and Timothy, I would recommend choosing an older mentor removed from your regular friend groups, someone who is able to look objectively into your life and provide sound advice. If you feel like your relationship limits how much you can share with them, don’t chose them as your mentor.

 

4. A Good Listener

There is a well-known saying that God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). While your mentor will no doubt have good advice for you along the way, it is also important that they listen to you and that you feel comfortable opening up to them. When someone understands where you’re coming from, they can offer you the best kind of support.

As someone being mentored, you also need to hone your listening skills and be willing to take on advice to improve. And know that your mentor’s advice comes from a place of love.

However, bear in mind that a mentor is not necessarily an expert. They may provide helpful advice and feedback, but they’re not infallible. A good mentor will be aware of this and be open to rebuke. You may also find that your mentor is able to learn new insights from spending time with you.

 

5. Someone Who Will Both Encourage and Challenge You

As disciples of Jesus, our faith cannot stay in a state of infancy. We need to keep growing and developing as we expand our knowledge of God’s Word and deepen our walk with Him. We are encouraged to move from spiritual milk onto solid food—an active faith of substance (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). Having a mentor has helped me to see how I was neglecting my regular quiet time with God. I’m now making a conscious effort to block out time each day to be still and talk with my heavenly Father. This has brought to light aspects of my character I would like to improve, but has also given me confidence to use the unique gifts God has given me for His glory.

 

Having someone help me navigate through life from a Christian perspective has been invaluable. Are there areas of your faith you would like to grow in? Why not consider finding a mentor? There may be people within your church or workplace you could approach. Youth leaders may know some older people in the congregation you could connect with. You might like to meet someone for a coffee and get to know them a bit better first, before you decide whether you want to pursue an ongoing mentor/mentee relationship.

Jesus’ call in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) is not to make lukewarm fans, but disciples who actively imitate the life and teaching of Christ. The training of disciples also creates a multiplication effect as they are then able to train and invest in the lives of others. Like it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Finding a mentor may be one of the best decisions you make as you grow in spiritual maturity and help others to do the same.

God Uses Our Brokenness For His Glory

Written by Deborah Fox, Australia

I was rummaging through a collection of papers and knick-knacks on my bedside dresser when I noticed a card from my sister. She had given it to me several months ago to encourage me to keep trusting in God throughout a difficult period in my life. These words stuck out to me in particular: “God uses everything in our lives for His glory. None of your trials are ever wasted.”

Over the years, I have suffered from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Since I was a teenager, I had been taking antidepressants to help me cope with unwanted thoughts and resist the overwhelming compulsion to clean. The medication I was on helped me remain calm and optimistic.

But last year, my immune system was weakened during some health struggles and showed no signs of improving. My haematologist (blood doctor) suspected that my antidepressants were suppressing my already depleted platelet levels and suggested I slowly wean myself off them.

Talk about a shock to the system. I realized I had been basically numb to the pain for most of my adult life. Now, it seemed that all my feelings were magnified a thousand times over.

I thought I was managing alright. It was difficult in the beginning but I was getting through each day without my thoughts getting in the way of my daily routine too much. Then I was faced with the sudden deaths of two friends within the space of just a few months.

The shock and grief sparked a massive peak in my anxiety levels. My OCD also became much worse. My lengthier shower routines meant often being late for work, missing meetings, having to cancel plans with friends and ultimately feeling like I was letting people down all the time. I found it difficult to cope without any medication to help block out the intrusive thoughts. Panic attacks were more commonplace. While my friends and family seemed to have it all together, I wondered whether I would ever make it out the front door, let alone be used by God.

 

God Chooses the Imperfect

Those concerns have lessened over time but it’s been a tough journey. My battles are ongoing, but my sister’s words still ring true—God uses our brokenness for His glory. We often think about the things we need to fix in order to be used by Him. But He uses the meek, the mild, the weak, the young, the broken, the shamed and the hurting. He chooses to use what the world deems as inferior for His superior purposes.

Consider the type of people called by God in the Bible. Moses had a terrible stutter, yet he was used by God to approach the mighty Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Rahab was a prostitute, yet she was used to save God’s people and was even recognized in the lineage of Jesus. King David was chosen as the one who would rule Israel even though he was the youngest among a poor sheep herding family.

I used to feel ashamed of my weaknesses. I thought my anxiety and OCD were things Christians shouldn’t experience, so therefore I should never speak of them. We’re often taught that we need to surrender every anxious thought to God—so why was it so hard for me?

My anxious thoughts have prevented me from speaking on a number of occasions. They have also stopped me from putting my hand up to be a mentor to young girls because I thought I wasn’t a good enough example for them to follow. There have been overseas mission trips I’ve desperately wanted to attend but have had to decline, knowing how bad my mental health would be in unhygienic situations.

I thought that I was somehow unworthy of serving God because I wasn’t the “perfect Christian”, one who never doubted, never worried, never messed up. But the reality is that none of us are perfect. The Church is made up of fallible human beings. We need to resist the urge to present ourselves as perfect to the outside world, because it’s a false representation of who we are.

 

God Shines Through The Cracks of Our Lives

We are in the process of being made whole, but we are still a long way from perfect. Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). We need to show other broken people that freedom and acceptance can be found in the One who made them and loves them just as they are. We don’t need to have it all together. We just need to place our trust in the One who does. I can try my best but I will still fall. But even in my moments of weakness, I know God is still with me. He is there to wipe away my tears and give me strength.

I was recently able to share my testimony with a friend, which included my struggles with mental illness. I didn’t share the sanitized version of “my life was a mess. . . then I heard the gospel. . . now my life is perfect.” Instead, I shared that I still battle my demons, but that God is able to give me peace amid trials and hope when I feel hopeless. This helped her to open up about the recent difficulties she had been facing.

For some reason my friend had always thought that Christians were perfect people and that she would never be “good enough” for God. However, God used my struggles to show her that none of us are perfect, but we have a perfect God who loves us anyway. I was able to share the gospel with her and it opened up opportunities I never thought possible.

God doesn’t use me despite my weaknesses, He uses me through them. I was able to share the gospel with my friend because of my struggles. My weaknesses have also helped me gain a greater empathy for others who are suffering. My illness has enabled me to depend on God more than ever before. Just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We all have our own unique struggles. But God can turn the ugliness of our pain and weakness into the beauty of His victory. A Japanese friend once shared with me the art of “Kintsugi.” This is when gold is used to repair breaks in earthenware. The breaks are appreciated as part of the history of the object, rather than thought of as something to hide or disguise. And through the repairs, a common piece of pottery becomes an exquisite piece of art. How much more can God repair and shine through the cracks in our lives!

What battles are you facing? God can turn them around for His glory. He is sovereign and He is able to bring change in any situation. Praise God that He can create gold from our brokenness!