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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).

Sri Lanka Easter Bombings: How Should We Respond?

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

 

I was at my packed church on Easter Sunday (Apr 21) in the central hills of Sri Lanka when a friend told me that bombs were going off at church services around the country. Upon returning home, I watched the news in disbelief as it reported scores of people killed in the bombs that went off in three hotels and three churches around the country.

To date, more than 250 people have lost their lives in the explosions and close to 500 have been injured. These figures include the sister of a ministry leader I know who suffered serious head injuries and is currently fighting for her life. A former member of the same ministry died in the bombings. Another youth who attends my organization’s sports ministry lost a leg.

As I reflected on the tragedy that hit the church and our nation as a whole, these two thoughts struck me about how we as believers should respond:

 

1. Embrace the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ

As many who died were church-goers, I had to pause and reflect on the spiritual oneness I shared with the suffering. One of the great marks of being a Christian is that we are part of a family in whom the resurrected Christ dwells (Ephesians 3:17). This may give the impression that we are all living in isolated places as Christ dwells in us. But the Bible says that we are together in Christ too!

A great miracle that took place on the cross apart from our salvation was that God was bringing together a body of people who as a result of the cross will be made irreversibly “one”. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:21b “. . . That they may also be in us”. Paul, in Romans 12:5 says “we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (ESV). The NIV renders it as “belonging to one another”. Isn’t that the language of married couples? We were never saved to live in isolation but saved into a oneness that we together share in Christ. The New Testament shows that we are incorporated into Christ’s body. In a wonderfully spiritual way not visible to our eyes, the Bible says that we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), buried with him (Colossians 2:12), baptized into Christ and his death (Romans 6:3), united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). We are now together one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)!

As a result of this glorious truth, the Bible commands us to avoid identity markers as we see Christians from another race, color, nation, social standing, gender etc. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). By the use of the words “neither” and “nor”, Paul, in his writing to the Galatians, says that the primary way we see another Christian is as someone who is clothed with Christ!

As someone from the Sinhalese race, this means that I would see a Christian who is Tamil, not as a “Tamil Christian” but someone who is “clothed with Christ”. While the Bible elsewhere does ask us to celebrate our various identities that make us unique, as we see here, we are to hold lightly to them because of the greater identity we have as those who are clothed with Christ.

All this goes to show the extent of the oneness we share with the body of Christ regardless of where we are in the world. It is because of this oneness that when one part of the body is suffering, we suffer together with it. This would mean that regardless of where we are in the world, as believers, we should pause from our busy schedules, get rid of all distractions (especially the digital ones) and cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

 

2. Reach out to those of other faiths

As the aftermath of the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, the question on everyone’s minds was who was behind it. It was confirmed 24 hours later that the bombers were those influenced by extremists Muslim ideologies.

Romans 12-13 makes it clear that justice will be meted out on the perpetrators. God is serious about punishing wrong and has given earthly rulers the authority to execute judgement (His wrath) on wrongdoers. As Christians, we must condemn evil, and even urge the authorities to act justly. We can also be certain that regardless of what happens in this life, He has also set a day to judge the world.

At the same time, because of the actions of some, the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka has suffered severe shame and are overcome by deep sadness, fear, and anxiety as they move in public places. I know this is a reality for Muslims in western countries too.

The moment the identity of the perpetrators was revealed, I wrote to my high school Muslim friends assuring them of my love for them. Later on, I also visited the home of a Muslim youth living in Kandy (my city) who is very dear to me. I spent several hours with him, wanting him to be affirmed that my love for him had not changed.

We must do all we can to be close to the those of other faiths who are suffering. If we have not learned to look at them through the eyes of grace, then perhaps we have not fully appreciated all that God has done for us (Romans 5:10). May God open our eyes to see His great love for them and how much He desires for them to know Christ.

 

While we mourn over the lives lost after a horrific tragedy like this, we must keep our two-fold commitment to the body of Christ and to the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ. May we be filled with the Spirit to carry our cross for the glory of God in every season.

Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury: From “Why Me?” to “Why Not Me?”

Written By Matthew Job Tan, Singapore

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Most Christians have probably heard this famous Bible verse at some point or another. That being said, knowing is one thing, to experience it is another. Unless it is experienced, this idea remains a mere abstract belief.

 

The trial

“For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.” (Job 5:6, ESV)

When I was 16, everything in life was going well. I excelled in academics and sports (Judo), and I had a promising future ahead of me. Yet, my triumphant days came to a cruel and abrupt halt on April 20, 2010. I was in the semi-finals of a Judo competition—this close to my first gold medal—when I landed unsafely while receiving an attack from my opponent. This resulted in me sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The injury put me in a two-month-long coma, which caused muscle deterioration in addition to the brain trauma. These combined factors rendered me incapable of virtually every human function. I was given nourishment through the UV-drip (for water) and the rouse tube (for food). My core muscles were too weak to keep my head or body upright. Speaking and moving were impossible for me. In a split second, my life fell into ruins.

The journey to recovery and reintegration into society was nothing less than tumultuous. In the initial days of rehabilitation, getting my functions back was a nightmare. Reduced to an invalid who could neither speak nor move, I dreaded waking up every morning to face my broken body.

One year later, I returned to my previous secondary school on a wheelchair, only to encounter more difficulties. Apart from having to attend weekly outpatient therapy sessions, I struggled to focus and keep up during lessons because of my limited mental stamina and delayed thought processes. That was when I discovered the irreversible damage the TBI brought upon my cognition.

I could not keep up with my peers in school even though I was taking a reduced number of subjects. I took only five subjects while my classmates had nine. From my repeated flunking at exams, it was evident that I was no longer the achiever I once was.

Moving on to polytechnic, not only did I continue to struggle with my academics, I toiled to fit in socially. This was due to my awkward demeanor caused by my delayed mental processes. Despite consolation from those around me, I felt alone and disliked myself.

Yet, of all the difficulties I faced, the worst was questioning God’s purpose in allowing the disaster to befall me. If God’s plans for my life were meant to prosper me, and give me a hope and a future, I simply could not fathom why God did not stop the accident from happening.

“Did I commit any grave sins to deserve such a great punishment? Why does He still keep me here to suffer? Wouldn’t it be better if I had just died on that fateful day? Why me?” These were questions that hurled me into the pits of despair. At one point, I even considered ending my life. The storms were simply too overwhelming. Nobody would blame me had I given up.

 

Understanding the “why”

“You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (Job 10:12)

My distrust of God’s perfect plans did not diminish His love for me. Through my family, teachers, friends, mentors and even strangers, God provided His support, encouragement and miracles to tide me through the times. As I look back today, all I see are His fingerprints in my life: it must have been His Grace that has sustained me and gave me strength to bear my cross.

Though a failure when I returned to secondary school, I strove hard with tremendous support from my teachers, and I did so well in my ‘O’ levels that I achieved a scholarship to further my studies in a polytechnic.

The use of alternative methods like acupuncture, swimming, and meditation were introduced to me along the way. Coupled with intense daily exercises, I finally regained my ability to walk after two years, and went on to complete many long distance races, including a 10 kilometre run in 2016.

Despite being hit with the reality that I would be unable to handle an educational or work industry for normal functioning persons during polytechnic, I did manage to obtain employment as a music therapy therapist assistant in a faith-based nursing home that was willing to invest in me with unconditional support.

My occupation has enabled me to improve in terms of my rehabilitation and in my professional work competencies. For one, the immense nursing home compound requires a lot of footwork, giving me plenty of practice for my walking. And I am proud to say that my gait has improved!

I am also challenged to think of ways to add value to the tasks I am given at work, and to suggest these ideas to my co-workers. Daily clinical hours with the residents has allowed me to develop in my rapport building and people skills. Furthermore, the need to juggle duties like preparation, execution, and clean-up of group and individual sessions has given me opportunities to work on my time management. Apart from tangible professional growth, I am beginning to see a fragment of why God allowed me to go through my devastating experiences.

 

Experiencing God’s redemptive purpose

At work, I interact with those who have approached the eventide of their existence on a daily basis. I journey with persons who have, either gradually or suddenly, lost control of their lives and who are basically counting on people around them for their own survival—those who show me a reflection of my past.

Utilizing the power of music, I get to bring joy and comfort to these people I can relate to the most. Of course, my pain and suffering cannot be compared to theirs, but the Lord has given me this history of hopelessness, helplessness, hurt, and loss for me to empathize more deeply with the residents of this nursing home.

With this empathy, I have become more patient and sensitive to them during my engagement sessions, and I persist in journeying even with difficult or unresponsive residents. My awareness of the loneliness within the confines of institutionalized care has prompted me to reach out and visit residents on a daily basis even if there are no scheduled engagement sessions.

To be sure, my extra dedication to work means that I am not spared from substantial fatigue at the end of every day, but I am content to head home from work with no regrets. I stand in awe of God’s love for me, for my unique circumstances has certainly magnified the meaning and joy I find in my work.

As time goes by, I am starting to see God’s purpose for my life revealing itself. He must have known that I would suffer, and yet He gave me adequate support to survive this TBI in order to prepare me for my current beautiful vocation. By the mercy of God, I have successfully turned my greatest trial into what may be potentially the best thing that ever happened to me.

Having experienced the truth and beauty of God’s promises, I cannot begin to imagine what the future holds. Had I given up on life back then, I would not have been able to see His works in my life and enjoy this walk with the Lord today. My prior question of “Why me?” has turned into “Why not me?”, and it was only made possible because I persevered through my temporal sufferings.

God never promised an easy life, but just as He walked with the Israelites through their period of exile, He has also promised that He will never leave us or abandon us in the midst of our trials and sufferings.

God’s plans may sometimes involve pain and suffering, but He will be there to see us through (Isaiah 41:10). Whatever you may be going through now, I invite you to hang in there, for when you “Let perseverance finish its work”, you will emerge “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). That vision of being perfected in Him will be what gives us hope for our future. Amen.

Episode 5: How Can I keep My Faith During Suffering?