Suffering & The Christian Response

A couple weeks ago in response to fellow workers recent loss, a co-worker said to me and those within earshot, “Humor equals tragedy plus time.”, a statement that I told him was probably one of the most ignorant things I had ever heard. I know that he was quoting Mark Twain, that doesn’t change the way it made me feel about what he said. Days after a co-worker lost a grandparent it was tasteless and rude to say. What bothered me the most is how un-shocked and desensitized he seemed to have become to other peoples sufferings.

Last Sunday I spoke about Nehemiah, specifically Nehemiah’s response to the destruction and ongoing state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been in a state of ruin for hundreds of years, but time didn’t separate the grief that Nehemiah felt when presented with the truth of it’s ruin. In Nehemiah 1:4 (ESV) it says

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah was deeply affected by the tragedy of the city of his fathers, he wept, fasted and prayed for many days. He was wrecked by the grief and sadness. But his sadness would not fix anything in Nehemiah 2:5 he dresses the king and says

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah didn’t stop at sadness, he took action. He asked the king if he could go and do something about it, and even asked for all the materials needed to complete the task. Nehemiah saw a need, was moved to grief by it, and moved into action about it.

Sorrow, tragedy and suffering are parts of everyday life, some more poignant than others, but all weigh heavy on God’s heart.

In his 1943 novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes of a mans journey to Venus, where he finds a perfect Eden like environment, no death, no evil, no sin. It is all interrupted when another visitor comes with the express purpose of introducing sin and corrupting the Queen of this innocent world. The main character, Ransom, stumbles upon a horrifying sight. A frog, brutally injured and left to suffer. The first evil done in a sinless, innocent world, Lewis writes this of Ransom’s thoughts at the time:

“It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.”

Ransom was so devastated by the brutality and suffering he sees, that he wishes that nothing had ever been created, if it meant that this heinous act could have been avoided.

Sometimes, I think the same thing. Sin has brought such pain and suffering into our world, sometimes it seems it would be better if God had never even created us.

In 2015, there were for 14 recognized military conflicts, and 396 recognized terrorist attacks. 783 million people on this planet do not have access to clean water. 795 million people do not have access to food to maintain proper nourishment. And now in 2020, we are in the grips of a pandemic, staying at home, many of us fearful of what could me.

Sin has brutalized this world, sin that mankind brought into it.

As Christian’s we have two possible responses to this. First, we can be sad and bemoan the state of the world and its godlessness, casting all blame on those who don’t believe, Satan, or even the government. Secondly, we can do our part.

In Perelandra, Ransom doesn’t stop and sit in a quiet puddle of his tears. He gets up and moves on, finding more and more of the same brutal work, until he finds the man responsible talking to the Queen, trying to convince her that his ways are better. Ransom steps in, and does what he can to remind the Queen that the innocence of life, and the wishes of her Creator are far better.

You don’t have to go around the world to know people are suffering and have it break your heart. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem, yet he mourned over it. People are hurting in your nation, your city, your church, even in your own homes. What is your response going to be?

Diving Deeper – Moving Out From the Shallows

In my last post I shared the story of how I almost drowned when I was younger. It’s true that after that the deep end scared me. But it did something else too, it motivated me.

That year in school was the first year that we had swimming in gym. I threw myself into learning how to swim. After a the first couple of weeks of swimming, I could swim all over the pool without fear. From there I started to build up endurance, I never became a competitive swimmer, but I could definitely hold my own after we finished our swimming class.

The next year I took another step. I learned how to free dive. In two years I had gone from barely being able to doggy-paddle to being able swim laps in an olympic size pool and to be able to free dive to the bottom without any fear. I did not let the fear of the deep end keep me from going back in.

Whether you have had a “drowning” experience, or your just starting to move into the deeper end of what God has, there are some universal things that we must each do if we are to overcome our fear of the unknown and to let God brings us deeper and deeper into His plan for our lives.

The first thing we have to do is to live a life of surrender. Before we can go and make disciples, we must learn to be a disciple first. Charles Spurgeon said,

Men do not drop into the right way by chance; they must choose it, and continue to choose it, or they will soon wander from it

We have to daily choose to surrender our lives to Christ in order to grow in Him. This complete surrender requires that we trade our desires, for God’s desires.  We have to commit to praying and reading the Bible daily, we have to make this commitment to spend time with Jesus on a consistent basis. The ultimate place of a disciple is being in a place where we can learn daily from Jesus, and obey.

We also have to develop a heart of sacrifice. Sacrifice for us is something given to God in order to make more room for Him in our lives. That means for us learning to give up worldly desires, comforts, and material possessions for God.

Our entire life as Christ-followers is following the example that Jesus laid out for us. His life was one of complete sacrifice. He lived apart from family, He had very few friends, He had no home. His life was permeated with and culminated in the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for us. When we sacrifice something, we can do it confidence and the knowledge that we are not being asked to do anything that Jesus didn’t, and in most of our lives, we are asked to give up far less.

What are some things that you can give up today to make room for more of God? Is it financial? Maybe its something in your schedule. Remember that the more you carry with you, the harder it is to swim in the deep end.

While we are learning to swim, one of the best ways we can learn is by faithfully supporting the Great Commission. 

I’ve often heard it said that whatever you spend your time and money on, that is where your heart truly lies.

If that’s true, than if we commit ourselves to faithfully pray for and financially support missionaries, than we are building our own heart for missions, and developing a life dedicated reaching the lost.

This is something that I don’t just believe, but live out as well. I believe in praying for our missionaries and their families, that’s why I pray every missionary I know, or hear speak. If they have a prayer team, I make sure they know that they have the support of my prayers to encourage them.

That is also why Stacy and I give faithfully to Speed the Light every week and also personally support 4 other missionary families. We believe in their callings and in their missions, it’s an honor to be able to support them in their endeavors for Christ.

But this means more than praying and giving. It means living as a missionary right here at home. Since our home is in heaven, not on this earth, we are all missionaries here, and we all have a work to do in the Great Commission, whether it’s at school, work, or at home. We all have our mission fields that we live on or visit daily.

It’s time for many of us to move out of the shallow end of our faith. It’s time for us to experience the deep end in our relationship with God. The risks are great, but our reward is greater.

My challenge to you is too start taking these steps to move out of the shallows. Commit to praying for a missionary, financially give to missions, and start looking for a way to live out the missionary calling that we all have been charged with.

Matthew 28:19 NLT

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Source Material: The Fifty Two, Volume 4  Produced by national youth ministries Copyright ©2010 Gospel Publishing House.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.