Lonely-man
Lonely-man

Pain, Suffering and Evil Part 2: Preparing For And Responding To Pain And Suffering

 

It seems that when it comes to pain and suffering, I think our natural first response is, how do I get this out of my life? Because, you say, we’re more concerned, or most concerned, with how things are going to turn out, with what the future is going to be, but God is more concerned with how we’re going to turn out. That’s His focus.

So, today, we’re going to consider how do you prepare for the storms of life, and how do you respond to them when they come into your life? And I want to start by sharing with you some very powerful words by the famous orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Brand. I’ll probably quote him a couple of times today. He wrote kind of a classic book called, Pain: The Gift That Nobody Wants, and he starts off the book with these words. He says, “My professional life has revolved around the theme of pain, and by living in different cultures, I’ve observed at close hand diverse attitudes towards it. My life divides roughly into thirds, 27 years in India, 25 years in England, and more than 27 years in the United States, and from each society, I’ve learned something new about pain. I served my medical internship in London during the most harrowing days and nights of the Blitz when the Luftwaffe was pounding a proud city into rubble. Hardship was a constant companion, the focal point of nearly every conversation and front-page headline, yet, I have never lived among people so buoyant. Now, I read that 60% of Londoners who lived through the Blitz remember it as the happiest period of their lives. After the war I moved to India just as Partition was tearing the nation apart. In that land of poverty and omnipresent suffering, I learned that pain can be born with dignity and calm acceptance. It was there, too, that I began treating leprosy patients, social pariahs whose tragedy stems from the absence of physical pain. And then later, in the United States, a nation whose war for independence was fought in part to guarantee a right to the pursuit of happiness, I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering. Pain relief in the United States is now a 63 billion dollar a year industry,” and this was written 20 years ago, “and television commercials proclaim better and faster pain remedies. Each of these groups of people, Londoners who suffered gladly for a cause, Indians who expected suffering and learned not to fear it, and Americans who suffered less but feared it more, helped to form my outlook on the mysterious fact of human existence.” And then he says this, “Most of us will one day face severe pain. I am convinced that the attitude we cultivate in advance may well determine how suffering affects us when it does come.”

Back in 1990, PBS had a documentary called, Dying. It was produced by a guy by the name of Michael Roemer and in the film, he had obtained permission from the patients’ families and spent time with several terminally ill cancer victims during the last months of their life, and he made this observation after the filming was complete. He said, “People die in the way they have lived. Death becomes the expression of everything you are, and you can bring to it only what you have brought to life.” And, as the documentary ended, it revealed that those who have prepared for death discover that their final days can be some of life’s great moments, and if you think about it, this should be something that we all desire. I think Philip Yancey was right on target when he said, “The best way to prepare for suffering is to work on a strong supportive life when you’re healthy. You cannot suddenly fabricate foundations of strength. They must have been building all along as you live your life.”

So, how do you prepare yourselves for the storms of life? How do you build a strong foundation? Well, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7. He says, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against the house and yet, it did not fall, for it been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act upon them will be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and slammed against that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”

One of the things that we can pick up here is that Jesus is telling us in advance that all of us are going to experience the storms of life, and the question is, how do you build your life on the rock? And what does it mean when it says, “He who hears these words of mine and acts upon them is like a wise man who builds his house on a rock?” What does that mean? Well, first, it means you have to expose your mind and your heart to the spiritual truth that God has given us in the scriptures, and I’m not talking about in a cursory way. I mean, it needs to be foundational in your life, and in your thinking, and you have to apply it, and live it out, but ultimately, it means to take God’s truth and integrate it into your life because the central truths of the Bible can serve as a very powerful comfort and resource to those who are suffering. But, do you know that truth, because if you can know and grasp this before adversity comes, they can provide real comfort and be a real source of strength in your life.

Tim Keller says, “Once you’re in a crisis, there’s no time to sit down to give substantive study and attention to parts of the Bible. As a working pastor for nearly four decades, I have often sat beside people who were going through terrible troubles and silently wished they had taken the time to learn more about their faith before the tidal wave of trouble had engulfed them.”

As we have seen, the main reasons of the heart that help us endure suffering are the foundational doctrines of the faith, creation and fall, atonement and resurrection, these are profound and rich truths we need to grasp before we suffer, or we will be unprepared for it. And many of these lessons are very difficult to learn on the job when we are in the midst of adversity. A great deal of preparation for suffering is simple, but crucial. It means developing a deep enough knowledge of the Bible and a strong and vital enough prayer life that you will neither be surprised by, nor overthrown by, affliction.

And I think a good question that we all should confront ourselves with is, do I have that foundation that will enable me to withstand the storms of life when they do come, or have we just merely built our lives on the sand?

Theologian Michael Horton says this is serious business, guys. He says, it’s not just a head game. He says, ultimately, it’s a matter of life and death, it’s about living well, and it’s about dying well, and on a side note, this is why The Center for Executive Leadership exists. I mean, we seek to help men establish a strong spiritual foundation, to help you live well, and to die with the peace of eternal security. Now, as we get into the next portion of this presentation, I’m going to give you some specific scripture that will help you kind of develop this foundation.

But, I do want to move now to responding to the storms of life as they enter into our existence. You know, almost all of the passages that you read in the Bible that’s related to suffering emphasize the importance of our response to it and though we can’t always grasp God’s plan for the universe, which does allow, clearly, for pain and suffering, the one thing we can control is how we respond to it.

If you’ve ever read the book of Job, one of the things that you learn is that Job had to be concerned with only one thing, how he responded to all the negative circumstances that entered his life. God never explained the origin of Job’s suffering. All he had, Job had to do, was focus on the future. What will you do now Job? Jobs responsibility was his response, because it’s the one area that he did have control over. The highly influential Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier believed that a positive active creative response to life’s challenges will develop us, while a negative angry one will only debilitate us and stunt our growth. In fact, Tournier believed that the right response, listen to this, “the right response, at the right moment, might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life.” He found that quite often humans are presented with rare opportunities to develop and grow only through hardship and trial. He says, “That, in fact, was why I moved away from the traditional pattern of diagnosis and treatment, and began to address my patients’ emotional and spiritual needs as well.” But, he makes an interesting statement, and something that we ought to stop and think about, “could my response to the storms of life determine the future course of the rest of my life?” I think it probably could, so this is a crucial issue. My response, which I have control over, to the storms of life.

Philip Yancey had a conversation with Paul Brand on this very issue and Yancey said, he and I were discussing individual Christians who had undergone great suffering. He said, “After that, Dr. Brand related several personal stories, and I asked whether the pain had turned those people towards God or away from God, and he stepped back and thought at length, and concluded that there was no common response among all the people that he’d seen suffer over the years. He said, some grew closer to God, some drifted bitterly away. The main difference seemed to lie in their focus of attention. Those who were obsessed with questions about cause, why do I deserve this, what is God trying to do to me, am I being punished, often turned these people away from God. He said, in contrast, the triumphant sufferers took individual responsibility for their own responses, and trusted God, despite their pain,” and then Yancey goes on to say, “God doesn’t need our good responses for Himself to satisfy some jealous parental hunger. God directs our attention from cause to response for our sake, not His,” and then he says this, and this kind of introduced us to the first aspect of response, he says, “Indeed, the path of humble acceptance begins a process of healing.” And this is a really good place to start. How to respond to the pain and suffering of life, and it starts, in everything that I’ve read, by accepting the circumstances, not blaming, not complaining, not questioning God in His goodness, but accepting that this is in my life.

That’s where it all starts, and a great example of this in the Scripture is the Virgin Mary. Do you remember, first chapter of Luke? Here’s this young teenage woman, very Godly woman, engaged to be married to Joseph, and then an angel comes to her and says, Mary, you’re going to be pregnant, and you’re going to have a child before you’re even married, and Joseph’s not going to be the father. I don’t know if you realize this, but those are very brutal circumstances to be thrust into in that Jewish culture. You remember her response? The first thing she says, well, how can this be? I’ve never even been with a man. I’ve never had sexual relations with a man, and the angel explains, it will be the Holy Spirit, and I love her response. I mean, you know, we see the whole story, she was told all this news, and her response was, I am a bondservant of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word. What you see there is a picture of humble acceptance, but you also see in that acceptance, real trust, and this is a great place to start when the storms of life come your way.

Now the second thing that I would say to you is this and that would be the importance of looking for purpose in suffering. You know, we may not know why it’s there, but you can be sure that God will somehow use it purposely in your life. It will not be wasted. If you’re familiar with second Corinthians chapter 12, the Apostle Paul speaks of some thorn in his flesh that he can’t get rid of. It doesn’t tell us what that thorn is. We don’t know how painful it is, but he prayed and asked God on three separate occasions, please remove this from me, but what you learn is Paul says, I realized that this thorn was given me, he says it twice, to keep me from exalting myself. Paul was acknowledging, I struggle with pride, and God is using this to keep me from exalting myself. There was purpose in it. Tim Keller, in his wonderful book on suffering, says that God uses suffering in four different ways, so real briefly, let me share these with you. He says, first, it transforms our attitude towards ourselves. It humbles us, and he says, and this is really powerful, this is particularly directed, I think, towards men, but he says, “It removes unrealistic self-regard and pride that we possess.” It’s the thought, and I see this so often in the lives of young men, this thought that I am bulletproof. He says, “That we here in the Western world have extremely unrealistic ideas of how much in control I really am. The good news: suffering removes those blinders.” Secondly, he says, “Suffering will profoundly change your relationship with the things in life that have become too important to you.”

I have a friend who, this was a number of years ago, struggled with cancer. I remember having lunch with him, and he says, I’ve got a 50-50 chance of survival, and he shared this with me, and he did survive, but he shared this with me, not knowing what the future was, and this is what he said. “It’s through this battle with cancer that I have come to understand that suffering is good for us.” Suffering is good for us. He says, “There’s purpose in it. It makes you focus on what really is important in life.” Third, he says, “Suffering is almost a prerequisite if we’re going to be of much use to other people. Adversity makes us more compassionate that we would have been otherwise.” And it does. You know what that word compassion literally means? Compassion means to suffer with, and Keller says, “Our own personal suffering makes us more tender-hearted and therefore able to help others in their suffering.” And fourth, and finally, and not surprisingly, he says, “Suffering can strengthen our relationship with God as nothing else can.”

Now, if you think about it, guys, in times when everything is going well, everything is going well, you have good health, you have prosperity, you know, it’s easy to think, you know, I really have a great relationship with God, and you know, I probably believe that my religious duties are paying off for me, because everything is going so well, and I couldn’t, when I as I was preparing this and writing these words down, I couldn’t help but think of God’s words in Jeremiah 2:21. He says, “I tried to speak to you in the midst of your prosperity, but you wouldn’t listen.” You know, that’s kind of the way we are, unfortunately, it’s kind of our condition. It says if we put him to the side when everything’s going so well, but you see suffering drives us towards God in ways that never happens when all is going well and therefore, some of life’s most sacred truths can only be learned as we walk through our own individual storms in life.

Once you see the potential purposes in what you’re going through is it can transform the pain you’re experiencing. There was a Dr. Henry Beecher who worked for years at Harvard Medical School, and he made this interesting observation among 215 wounded men from the Anzio beachhead during World War II. He said, “Only one in four soldiers with serious injuries, and a serious injury was a fracture, amputation, penetrated chest, or cerebrum. Only one in four asked for morphine, though it was freely available. They simply did not need help with the pain and indeed, many of them denied feeling pain at all.” Beecher, an anesthesiologist, contrasted the soldiers’ reaction to what he had seen in private practice, he says, where 80% of patients recovering from surgical wounds begged for morphine and other narcotics. And this is the point he makes. Here you have two different groups of people, suffering from the exact same injuries. The soldiers’ response to pain, he says, was impacted by the fact that their injuries carried with them a sense of meaning, a result of being involved in a significant mission for their country. They also had a sense of gratitude that they had survived, and they were still alive. He said, “Yet, the civilian patients, with the same exact wounds, saw their injuries as being depressing, and calamitous, and thus they begged for morphine and other narcotics.” In other words, when you see meaning, and you see purpose in your suffering, it will transform the suffering.

So, you have acceptance, you have the issue of purpose, and now I’m going to move on to something that I think is, obviously, quite important, and I’m going to read to you some powerful words. I’m going to read it twice, because it’s so important and I want you to really think about what I’m reading.

“In the midst of the storms of life, we will either allow what we are experiencing to influence our view of God, or we will allow our view of God to influence what we are experiencing. In the midst of the storms of life, we will either allow what we are experiencing to influence our view of God,” which is what so many people do, or, “we allow our view of God to influence what we are experiencing.”

And so, what I think is so crucial to know is that if we view the storms of life through the lens of God’s truth, these storms can be transforming. Which leads to the big question well what is it I need to know about God that will enable me to properly interpret what I’m experiencing when the storms of life come? What do I need to know? And so I want to share with you four truths from Scripture that I think is critical to note and needs to be foundational as we seek to look at the storms of life through the lens of God’s truth instead of making certain conclusions about God when we’re going through pain and suffering. And the first thing I would share comes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6. In verse 25, Jesus tells us, don’t be worried, or don’t be fearful about your life and your circumstances. And then in the next verse, He tells us why. He says look at the birds of the air. They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns and yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. He says, are you not worth much more than they? You know what he’s saying? Jesus is saying, God cares for the birds in the air. Aren’t you worth much more than they?  In Jeremiah 31:3 we see God says, I have loved you with an everlasting love, and then in Psalm 56, we see how God views us in the midst of our trials, as the Psalmist says, “You have taken account of my wonderings. You have put my tears in your bottle; are they not in your book? This I know, that God is for me, in God whose word I praise, in the Lord whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust, and I shall not be afraid.”

So, this is this is a truth that we have to grasp, in the midst of whatever we’re going through, that God loves us, and He is committed to us and He is committed to our well-being, and we are of incredible value to Him. Now, a second important truth involves God’s sovereignty. And this is in Matthew 10:29, when Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent and not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father?” And the Amplified version says, “Apart from your Father’s notice and consent?”

What we need to know: if there is a storm in your life, clearly God has allowed it to come. He never stopped it. He could have prevented it, couldn’t He? But He didn’t. Then, number three, in Jeremiah 32:27 God says, “Behold I’m the Lord, the God of all flesh, is there anything that’s too difficult for Me?”

In other words, God can remove any storm when He so chooses, and, of course, our natural inclination is to ask, well, why wouldn’t He do it right now if He really loved me? Well, there must be a good reason. There must be some type of purpose even though we often will never see it when we’re in the midst of it. That’s why we need to look for it and just trust that there is purpose in this, because God could remove it. He’s got the power to remove it.

And then, finally, and this is a significant verse, but I want to make a couple of comments about it, but, it’s meant a lot to me, and it’s Romans 8:28 and for you here in the groups that I teach, I refer to this verse often. It says that we know that God is causing all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Well, we need to be careful with this verse, Keller tells us. Listen what he says. “Romans 8:28 must not be read in a saccharine way. It does not say that every bad thing has a silver lining, or that every terrible thing that can happen is somehow actually a good thing if we learn to look at it properly. No, Paul says in Romans 8:28 that all things, even bad things, even evil things, will ultimately together be overruled by God in such a way that the intended evil will, in the end, only accomplish the opposite of its designs, a greater good and glory than would otherwise have come to pass, only God now has that eternal perspective and vantage point which we don’t have, from which He can see all things working together for our good and for His glory, but, eventually, He says, we will occupy that place and we’ll be able to see it too.” But, it does say that God is causing all things, whatever those things are, to work together for good. For my good.

Now, we’ve got to stop here guys and go back to what I said last week. Remember, I asked the question, what is the ultimate good of life? And for modern man, it is pleasure, it’s comfort, it’s happiness, it’s feeling good, and therefore, if that’s the ultimate good in life, as we said, the pain and suffering in Romans 8:28 don’t really mean too much, but if the ultimate good in life is being reconciled to God, if it’s being in a relationship with God, and if it’s me becoming more Christ-like, being transformed, then because of God’s great love for us, He’s committed to seeing that come to pass, and He may, in fact, use the storms in life to see that become a reality.

So, what I’ve laid out for us is a foundation to help us think correctly in difficult times. It’s a lens that we can look through to help us properly interpret the storms of life. But I need to stop and say this, because this could easily sound like, Richard, you just given us something that’s real, a formula, that’s a pat answer, but what I’ve given you is some significant truth to see through the lens of life, but we do need to remember this, and I think Yancey said it. He said, “You know, 98% of the storms in life that you go through, are eventually going to be resolved. I mean, we’ll get through them, and you’ll move on with your life, it may be a couple years, but you’re going to move on. It might be a divorce, it might be a loss of a job, it might be a business failure, maybe problems with your kids, it could be an injury, you might lose an elderly parent, but you know, there does seem to be certain suffering that’s very difficult to get through, to get our arms around, and it takes a long time to recover, and some people never do, and that’s generally when you lose a child, or you lose say, a spouse in the prime of their life. I mean, you have to wonder, what is the purpose of that? Why would God allow that to happen? You know, they seem kind of senseless, but they happen.

I did a series on this issue 10 or 11 years ago, and there was a guy that was there, I believe, or listened to him, I can’t really remember, and some of you may know his name. His name is Randy Thomas. Randy’s in the commercial real estate business here. He’s worked in Birmingham and Huntsville, and he took a real interest in this topic, because he had a son, Logan, who was 13 or 14 at the time, who had contracted bone cancer and, over the next few years, I had a chance to meet with Randy a couple of times. And we would meet, I think we might pray together, and I just I remember, they had a lot of joy because the cancer went into remission, and then a year or two later, as he put it, it came back with a vengeance, and Logan died at the age of 16 and a half. But Randy said Logan had a very strong faith, and in the weeks leading up to his death, he knew he was dying. Sixteen and a half, he knew he was dying, and Randy said, he was ready. And I did not realize he passed away until a week or so after it happened, and about a month after he had died, I don’t know if I’d sent Randy an email or if he contacted me, I think he contacted me and he said, you know, I really would like to come see you. And, as I was waiting for him to come to my office, I was really kind of nervous because I thought, what can I do, what can I say to encourage this man who had gone through so much? And I was kind of at a loss for words. But I was shocked when he came into my office and started talking to me. I didn’t encourage him; he encouraged me. He told me about the last few days of Logan’s life, and then he said this, and I’ve never forgotten it. He said, “I would give anything to have my son Logan back, but I would not trade anything for what our family has experienced together over these last three years.” You know, you could almost have picked me up off the floor when he said that, because I was so stunned, and today, here we are, eight years later, and Randy lives a very joyful life with his wife and other children. But I called him on Monday of this week because I wanted to get his permission to share this with you guys, and I also want to make sure I got my facts right, as far as, you know, ages and times and things like that, and he said, Richard, it’s ironic that you called me today. Then my wife said, I don’t know if it was ironic. He said it’s ironic you called me today, because just this morning, I got an email from a friend of mine named Jim, and he says, Jim has a friend who’s really struggling, you see, Jim’s friend had lost his son to cancer and the man and his wife had lost their faith and were angry and bitter people. And Jim was really concerned about them, so Randy says, I have sent him an email back, kind of sharing my story, and I asked him, and he said I could. I’m going to read you the email that he sent on Monday to Jim.

He said, “Jim, I just finished reading your email and, as you know, I too lived a similar story that you’ve spoken about here. What do you say to someone having lost a child?” And I realize there are several of you in here in the room who have lost children. “Well, let me share my thoughts, if I may. When my son Logan was battling cancer I prayed every morning, afternoon, and evening, sometimes over him while he slept. I prayed for healing, strength and the will to continue to fight this evil disease. There were days when we were very high, thinking he would survive, and there were other days we were at an all-time low, knowing, and being forced to accept. his death that was imminent. Through all our days of challenge, up and downs, tears and laughter, I finally came to a realization as to what was the message from our Savior Jesus Christ and the Father, our God in Heaven. First, the word ‘acceptance’ came into play. Once we accepted what our future had in store, it made the outcome tolerable. Suddenly the verse in the Lord’s Prayer that says, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,’ suddenly, now, made sense. You see, at that point, I understood no matter how much I prayed asking for healing of my son, it wasn’t going to happen. God had a bigger plan, I realized. His will be done, not mine, and I started thinking about His will, and what that meant. If God loved me, He knew how much I loved my son, He wouldn’t hurt me or my son, so there had to be a bigger plan at work here. Then a startling thought hit me which opened my eyes wide open. God loved His own Son much like I loved mine, yet God allowed Himself to stand by and watch His Son be tortured, nailed to a cross, and die before the very people He was sent to save. The death of Jesus Christ had purpose, to save us from our sins. I realized that God was in control of my son’s life and death, and therefore I realized that Logan’s death had purpose. After Logan passed away, I began looking around and making a note of all the miracles that had occurred during Logan’s life, and especially during the three and a half years he battled cancer. I noticed those people’s souls that were saved and brought to Christ. I saw within myself a deeper love and understanding for God. Yes, Logan’s life and death had purpose. Now, how do we go on after the loss of a child since we’re still here on earth to pick up the pieces? At this point again, God opened my eyes.  I realized that Heaven and earth are seamless. They exist side by side. The grand picture of Earth is only a temporary home, a place we live for a short period of time. Heaven is our real home, our place of eternity, a place where Logan and I, once again, will share time, hopefully hunting, playing golf, and just laughing and loving, so again, what do you say to someone who’s lost a child? You say, your child lived on this earth for a short time to accomplish a mission for God. You say, look at your child’s life, past the suffering, and find purpose in that life. You say, your life here on earth is only a temporary separation. Be patient. Help others who’ve shared your pain. Find peace, knowing that one day you’ll walk again with your child in Heaven. You say, trust in God that this outcome in your life is truly God’s plan. Work with God’s plan and stop trying to instill your own plans into God’s plan. And finally, you say, this might be kind of difficult, you say, stop feeling sorry for yourself. God has chosen you to carry this torch for Him while you’re here on earth. Be a good soldier. Carry out the message He’s given you. You have been deemed someone special among men because of what God has laid upon your heart. It’s only for a short time and you can withstand any pain you may endure because God will not lay a burden on you that you cannot withstand. God bless you, my friend. Randy”

Now, Randy Thomas, and what I just read, spoke of what we’ve covered this morning. He talked about acceptance. He talked about purpose, and he talked about looking to God, trusting Him with your life, and with your circumstances, but the one thing that I really grasped from Randy is that he recognized that Logan, his son had been a gift to him, a gift that he enjoyed for 16 and 1/2 years, and therefore he was so grateful for those 16 and a half years. And I think this is a final component of responding to suffering, and that is to have a grateful heart, which is so counter intuitive.

Dr. Hans Selye, who was the first true pioneer in discovering the impact of emotion on a person’s health, this guy wrote 30 books on the subject and at the end of his life, he was coming in, and he summarized everything he’d learned in all of his years of research, and he said this. “Vengeance and bitterness are, as the emotional responses to our circumstances that will do us the most harm,” and he says that “gratitude is the single most nourishing attitude for a person’s good health and well-being.” So how in the world do you have a grateful heart in the midst of pain and suffering? Well, maybe you can approach it with this attitude and approach God with this attitude. Lord, I have no idea what You’re doing in my life. I have no idea what You’re doing in my circumstances or why You’ve allowed these painful issues or these painful circumstances to come into my life, but I thank You for how You’re going to use them in my life. Lord whatever objectives that You have for my life, know that I am with You. I desire Your will to be done in my life, and finally, I pray that what I’m experiencing will lead to spiritual growth, to inner transformation, and to a deeper relationship with You, and I thank You that You’re going to bring that to pass.

Now, guys, this is what it means to walk by faith. You are putting faith and trust in Him and what He’s doing in your life, and because you’re trusting Him with your circumstances and the ultimate outcome, when you begin to do this, that’s when He will really begin to move in your life, and, you know what? He might also move in the circumstances that you’re experiencing, because the Bible is very clear. God always responds to people when they walk by faith and trust Him.

And you know, I would just say this, when you’ve lost someone that you really love, you thank God for that, for the gift that person was in your life. I don’t know how many of ya’ll remember John Claypool who was here in Birmingham for a number of years. He lost his ten-year-old daughter to leukemia and he wrote a book called, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, and he says, “Even though it is very, very hard, I am doing my best to learn the discipline of thanksgiving. Everywhere I turn, I’m surrounded by reminders of her, things we did together, things she said, things she loved. In the presence of the reminders, I have two alternatives, drawing on the fact that she’s been taken away, and I can then dissolve in remorse and anger and bitterness, that all of this has gone forever, or I can focus on the wonder that she was given to us at all. I can learn to be grateful that we shared life, even for an all-too short ten years.”

And I think Claypool will tell you that this was the key to him experiencing real healing over the loss of his daughter. I have other things that I could share in this series, talk about hope, which is so important, talk about the importance of having people in your life, or you being someone in someone else’s life who is suffering, that’s crucial, but I want to close with this, because we’re out of time. Pain, suffering, and ultimately, death, is truly meaningless without the cross of Christ, and without the Resurrection, it really is. Because the cross, in one sense, tells us that God has not just given us words and theories about pain and suffering. He’s been through it Himself. The cross offers proof that God cares about our suffering and pain because He laid aside his immunity to pain and has gone through the whole of human existence and human experience. And then the Resurrection, I mean, where would we be without the Resurrection? See, that’s what gives us our hope, which is absolutely essential to live this life. You cannot live without hope in the future. In fact, I tell people, over the years I’ve met a number, met with a number of men who are very depressed, and every time I meet with them, I ask them, how do you view the future, and it’s never an exception, hopeless. It’s hopeless. So, we have to have hope. In II Corinthians 1:9, Paul speaks of living with the sentence of death hanging over me every day. Everybody wanted to kill him, and he says, but I’m learning, this is in verse 9 and 10, I’m learning to trust God, excuse me, I’m learning to trust in the God who raises the dead. It’s his words. The God who raises the dead. He says, it’s on Him we have set our hope. We have set our hope, not on just any God, not on just any spiritual being, but a God who raises the dead, and this is the great question we all should ask.

What have I set my hope on? What is my hope on in this life? What do I trust in? You see, in the 23rd Psalm, we’re told God our Shepherd, He says, I will walk with you through life. I will walk with you through suffering. I will even walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

So, I’ll leave you with this thought guys. In this world of pain, death, and suffering, this is what we’re faced with, we can walk with Him or we can walk alone. That’s our choice, but we should remember, Jesus, just hours before being taken and crucified, gave these, some of His final words to the disciples, who were going to face horrible suffering and persecution. This is the words He leaves them with. He says, this is John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me, you will have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, you will have suffering, but take courage, because I have overcome the world.”

Let me close in prayer. Father, we are so grateful that You have not just left us alone to walk through this life, to walk through pain and suffering alone, that You’re there for us, and you tell us in Hebrews, that You’ll never forsake us, You’ll never leave us, You’ll never abandon us, but we also recognize our response is everything. That’s what you’ve given us responsibility for, and so, we do thank You that You’ve given us these truths, to walk through the storms of life. We are grateful. In Christ’s name that we pray. Amen.

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Reflections on the Existence of God

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