I’ve been reflecting on something for a few years now. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain when asked and yet somehow it seems pretty simple. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it, but wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. The question is this: If God allows suffering, and we sure know he does, how are we supposed to be happy and full of Joy, and free, when more-often-than-not our suffering is a tremendous burden weighing us down? If God promises to wipe our tears and turn our sorrow to dancing, how does that help us now?
The scriptures are full of human suffering and people crying out to God. In the Old Testament, the people looked to God for real help in their distress and received His consolation before they truly understood the promise of Eternity. In the New Testament, Jesus himself reassures, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” He knows the exact struggle of living, the human condition as it were. And He provides Himself as the antidote. I find this beautiful and reassuring and uplifting. I call upon this verse often and remember Jesus doesn’t want me dwelling on my sorrows or trials because there is real work to be done. He is here. He is Alive. He is present. He reveals Himself in a thousand ways, most especially in His body living here with me. The church militant, slogging through the muck with me, who by simple acts of faith and love, reveal Jesus. Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, so does the body of Christ reveal the Head. I know He will make good on every promise! Still though, those promises seem a long way off. Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain until then? We could certainly choose to live as if it were, but that’s not our only choice. There is happiness, freedom, and Joy despite suffering, and I believe His promise begins right here and now.
In a very basic way, my kids called this to mind the other day. They were grievously upset, devastated really, when we had plans to go to the church fish fry and at the last minute I had to cancel. They had been looking forward to it all week long, making plans with their friends who were also going. They had certain toys to bring and share and had arranged where they would sit and ‘hang out’. At ages 6 and 8, this was big on their social calendar. I would fill pages if I described the day that ultimately ruined our plans, but suffice it to say, I did not cancel lightly. They cried and moped and in their little world, they suffered. They were mad and couldn’t fully understand. They tried to bargain and beg and my heart broke at their disappointment. I couldn’t even stay home to distract them with fun and games, but what did I do? I promised them something fun to look forward to. I promised them that it would all be ok. I knew with the wisdom of an adult and a parent that they wouldn’t truly be harmed by not going to the fish fry and hoped it wouldn’t take any time at all to do something else fun and be distracted. Sure enough, by the time I got home they had built a massive fort and played for hours with seemingly no memory of their earlier disappointment.
Similarly, I think this is one of the ways Jesus meant we should become like children. With utter trust and love they believed and accepted my promise. They took my advice to do something different and had fun anyway. Not the same perhaps, but they were fine.
At the most basic level, Jesus would never let us suffer unless He knew we would be ‘fine’. He’s promised that it will be better than we could have hoped and in the meantime He’s given us so much to do!
I think of His earthly parting with Peter. He knew how devastating His loss would be to his disciples. He probably understood that their grief, fear, and uncertainty might paralyze them for a time. He knew all they would ultimately face in this world full of troubles and in the face of it all, He asked just one question, “Peter, do you love me?”, so simple that it took no thought at all to answer, “Yes Lord.” “Then feed my sheep”, Jesus said, knowing that He would be making all things new. Peter couldn’t have truly understood, but with the faith and trust of a child He declared his life for Jesus. Three years of coming to know Jesus meant a radical transformation that culminated in one simple question and answer.
So back to my question: Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain? The people in the Old Testament did not buy into that and constantly looked to God as their refuge and hope. Jesus’ promises give me great Hope for my eternity, but if I’m simply waiting in agony for that time to come, then I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know Jesus at all. If I’m not letting Him transform me in a radical way by spending time with Him and getting to know Him, then how can He offer me consolation? Without the transformation, I miss the call inherent in all suffering. Only when he asks the question through the lens of my suffering does it have deep meaning. “Karen, do you love me”? I know the cost of the answer already and by His grace I give it without reservation. “Of course, I love you, Lord.” What else is there? I can wait for the promises of Heaven as long as you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life walking beside me right here and now.
“For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to ‘springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17)