In his book Lessons From a Hospital Bed, John Piper says, “My complaining contradicts all that I believe about God. It makes Him look weak or foolish or inattentive or uncaring or helpless. He is none of these. And so my complaining tells lies about Him.” What he says is painstakingly piercing, but it is also profoundly true.
Growing up, we all have expectations of what our lives are going to be. These expectations are shaped by our culture, families, education, and interests, all the while being bombarded by a host of other influences that we may or may not even be aware of. For most of our lives so far we have planned and prepared: set aside money for future endeavors, store up vacation time at work, plan out our ideal number of children – all with the expectation that life will continue to progress into more happiness, health, and plenty. The naivety of youth breeds romanticism that flows into visions of invincibility.
Everyone must face their theology when they meet pain and suffering.
Then something happens. Maybe it has already happened to you, maybe not yet. Something happens that shows us that our lives are not guaranteed to continue on some idealistic road of worldly happiness. You are forced into a new world of realism. The newly experienced pain testifies that the innocence you had can never return. And then the reality assaults your mind: jobs don’t last forever, children aren’t always healthy, homes are destroyed, and then eventually, everyone dies. Whether it’s in utero or in high school or in your twenties with young children or in hospice at eighty, everyone dies. Whether we are materially poor or wealthy, whether our lives are easy or hard, we are like grass that is scorched when the sun comes up (James 1.10-11). Everyone encounters this truth and each person deals with it in their own unique ways. Everyone must face their theology when they meet pain and suffering. C.S. Lewis once said that pain “plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”
Each person tries to acclimate to this new worldview in their own ways. If we believe Scripture then we know that, outside of God opening their eyes, people search in vain for the answer to death’s impending demand on their lives. Some live with reckless abandon, flying the banner of “YOLO” above their selfish and careless deeds. Others are locked in self-designed prisons of fear and worry, trying to control and protect every aspect of their lives. Each end of the spectrum is right on some points and wrong on others in relation to the truth displayed in Scripture. The same apostle who said, “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away” also said “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The goal is not an “either/or” view of life, rather the aim is a missional life built upon the assurance of God’s promise of a resurrection and eternal life that fights against frivolity and wasted time on one hand and crippling apprehension and angst on the other.
The aim is a missional life built upon the assurance of God’s promise of a resurrection and eternal life that fights against frivolity and wasted time on one hand and crippling apprehension and angst on the other.
“Band of Brothers” shows a soldier confessing that he hid in a ditch and didn’t try to find his fellow soldiers because he was scared of dying. The officer listening to him replies, “We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function.” Paul, nearing the end of his life wrote to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim 2.1-4).
I recently accepted a position at Parkview for the 2016 school year. I plan to begin teaching there this August. I am envisioning how I want my classroom to run and the people I will meet. I want to coach tennis again. I am also balancing those thoughts with the realization that it only takes one moment, one phone call, one doctor’s visit for my life to radically change directions. Jesus called the rich man a “fool” who tore down his barns to build huge granaries (Luke 12.19-21). He was a fool because he was “not rich towards God.” What does it look to be “rich towards God?” The next passage in Luke gives some evidence. Jesus tells His disciples to not be anxious about their lives but to trust that the God who feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies cares more for them and will provide everything they need (Luke 12.22-34). God will provide you with everything you need for life and godliness to accomplish your part in God’s cosmic economy (Matt 7.9-10, Rom 8.28). It is not “equal,” or “fair,” and may not make sense to the human logic. God moves everything – His people, His enemies, animals, bacteria, inanimate objects – according to His grand design for creation. You can trust that the parts you see are only a few of the billion other things God is doing to accomplish His plan, not your plan (Eph 1.11, Is 46.9-11, John 9.3, Deut 32.39). Pray with Christ, “Hallowed be YOUR name, YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done.”
God will provide you with everything you need for life and godliness to accomplish your part in God’s cosmic economy.
The Kingdom of God has been initiated and you will be rewarded because of how Christ lived and died with rest in the Promised Land (2 Cor 5.21, John 14.1-3, 16.33). We, graciously, experience tastes of that redemption now, but we must wait for the fullness of it. Read the letters to the churches from Revelation 1-3, they almost all end with “to the one who conquers.” There is a hope that is not realized until the end, a promise of reward for those who persevere through hardships (see also Hebrews 4.8-11). Paul’s encouragement to the Church in Rome is sweet security in the midst of turmoil, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8.35-38).