I don’t know if it’s accurate, or if it’s just cause it’s very recent in my memory, but I think that the past two weeks have probably been the most challenging and eventful in my recent memory. Not that my life right now is horrible, no not by any means. It’s just that there have been some circumstances and ‘hardship’ if you could call it that, that have been perhaps somewhat overwhelming, that has made me challenge the concept of why there is suffering in this world, and why God ‘allows’ us to feel hurt and pain. This notion is much debated amongst believers and non-believers alike, and before I get to the crux of what I want to say, and tell you all about what I have learnt over the past few weeks about suffering (which is still ongoing, as this topic can never be fully grasped or grappled with, until we meet Jesus!), and also before I delve into great detail about what made the past two weeks ‘the hardest ever’; let me break down a bit to you about what I reckon society thinks about suffering (and this is just my opinion, you guys can disagree if you want to.
I’ve seen people in our café and around the shopping centre, whinging and whining about this and that, feeling angry and down because of circumstances beyond their control, which they define as ‘suffering’ to them. It’s somewhat of a first world problem, and these nitpicks from all kinds of people remind me that we are a blaming bunch. I feel down, I feel sad, I feel made, I feel angry, I feel useless, life is hopeless, people are mean, and it’s not my fault. And once we shift the blame off of ourselves, guess where we heap it onto? Yep, onto Jesus. The big man in the sky. The one upstairs who we feel is like The Grinch or Scrooge or The Joker, always loving the fact that He can play tricks on us. We think ‘oh, God did this to me, if He was good, he’d take away the suffering!’. And while our emotions are valid, the reasoning behind why we think there is suffering is a bit skewed.
I reckon all we need to do, in order to gain a bit of understanding of suffering and the fact that God loathes it as much as us, or maybe even more so; is to just look at the Bible, and the various instances across history in which God has swiftly rid the world of ‘suffering’ at a certain point in time. We can also have a look at how God delivered the world of ‘suffering’ using plenty of biblical ‘heroes’, all the while these people are going through trials and tribulations- their version of ‘suffering’ as well. Think about it, just for a sec.
Pharaoh was oppressing the Hebrews, so God sent Moses to deliver them, through 12 plagues sent to Egypt of immense proportions, but not before Moses has to endure his own type of suffering of being labelled as a murderer, and labelled as tongue tied and unable to speak. Joseph dreamt of his brothers bowing down to him, then he had to endure them trying to kill him, leaving him for dead at the bottom of a well; but later on he was rescued by the Pharaoh and his daughter, eventually rising up the ranks to second in command of all of Egypt, interpreting dreams for many important and prominent people. Jonah was called to preach to the people of Ninevah (a place where the reputation wasn’t that great!) and Jonah went the other way. He was swallowed up by a whale, endured hell on earth literally, then when he grew and learnt his lesson, he faced his fear and turned Ninevah around for the better. While Daniel interpreted dreams for the King back in Babylon, however with the change of government, other important people threw him into a den of lions, but God protected him, and when the King got him out, Daniel testified of God’s goodness, as the lion didn’t hurt Daniel at all, but behaved like a big pet cat. And of course, THE ultimate way God rid the world of all suffering- when Jesus came to earth as a baby, lived his life preaching that He was the Messiah, then the pharisees plotting against Him, Jesus ultimately being crucified…but then rising again three days later fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all of the other prophets from way before. See the pattern?
Almost every time out of an unfortunate circumstance, comes good. It’s in the Bible countless times, but let me spell it out. While people sometimes blame God for their suffering, in reality, that isn’t the case. God uses the bad and the good ultimately for our good and His glory, to build our character and to help us grow as people and as Christians so that we can rely on Him more. Even though we can’t see it or believe it, God has a perfect plan way beyond our understanding and comprehension. Though these are words of ‘comfort’ and can inspire us to see beyond the here and now, most times though, we as humans, as sinful, prideful beings, can have the message of God being all knowing and all powerful, lost in translation.
There is a misconception about God that because suffering exists, He doesn’t love us. But as I have given examples from the Bible, suffering I believe, is needed for us to grow and learn more than we ever would without it. Sure, prior to Adam and Eve eating the apple from Satan, suffering wasn’t in the vocabulary of anyone, nor in any dictionary, because it didn’t exist. Everything was perfect, and in an ideal world, suffering isn’t ideal. But as is the world we live in now, just because Jesus has saved us doesn’t mean we will be free from suffering. Because we are Christians walking in the world, you could say suffering will follow us around like a parasite. It’s the measure of whether we are resilient enough, and reliant on God, so as to determine how much we grow from suffering. The outcome of suffering may or may not be able to be avoided- God can step in anytime He wants to- but more often than not, any suffering we endure reminds us of the fact that we need a Saviour so much, and gives us hope and peace that we know, or we can know, that Saviour personally.
Theoretically this is all fine, but what if we are in the pit? What if we are having the worst week or our lives? What if words of comfort aren’t enough and we want to know why God? What then? The other day my mum broke her foot while having a brisk walk along the beach. The operation was successful, but from now until maybe 6-9 months, there will be a lifestyle change, and to tell you the truth, all of us have struggled the past fortnight adjusting to new roles and less time to undertake other activities due to Dad, Jon and myself sharing the duties that Mum used to do. And this was the ‘hardest period in my life in recent memory’ as I quoted verbatim last week, and throughout that time, all of us, maybe Mum more so, have questioned as to why God ‘allowed’ her to fall. I know it sounds silly, but the question remained. And for me to now have the answer a few days ago, required me to explore another hard-hitting moment of suffering. Endured by Steven Curtis Chapman and his family, this is a true store for the ages, and a true testimony of God’s faithfulness.
In 2008, the Chapmans endured their worst year ever, when son Will was backing into the driveway of their home, and accidentally killed youngest daughter Maria. The family was a wreck after that, Steven almost quit music all together, and the family questioned whether God was good. And of course they had to do all of that, they had to grieve, ask questions, go through that entire process. When you’re in the pit like that, it’s no good if someone yells out ‘Jesus is with you, so get up and you’ll be fine’. Sure you will be fine after a while, and that sentiment may be true, but it’s not something you want to hear right now, and those words will probably do more harm than good. When you are feeling rotten, just like Steven was back in 2008 and probably still will now 10 years later, and into the future; the best thing for someone else to do is to sit with you, cry with you, and just be there. Which is what most of the faith community, and most of the world did for Steven and his family. They rallied around him, they didn’t ask questions, they just let him be. And when the 2009 album Beauty Will Rise released with most of the music sounding very similar, and the lyrics very emotional and the melodies quite sombre; no one complained, no one lectured- they just let Steven be and heal from this ordeal.
Now, 10 years later, Steven’s relationship with Jesus is as strong as ever, and while no one can fully heal from a death as profound as that, we can now understand the purpose in the pain. The meaning behind Steven’s suffering. And it’s for us to realise how much we need Jesus in our lives. And how dead we all would be without Jesus, but how grateful we all should be because of Him. Though I know suffering isn’t of God, it is still used by Him, in order to show us how much we should rely on Him. And while Mum is still recovering from her fall (which could’ve happened any other day of the week, month, or year- in other words, a freak accident!), I was trying to make sense of why it happened, yet a few days ago, I was reminded of Steven’s two albums post 2008- Beauty Will Rise and The Glorious Unfolding.
Both these albums are so rich lyrically and thematically, and both speak about Steven’s raw emotions and all the questions that he was throwing at God, the things that didn’t make sense and the things he was made at God about (with Beauty Will Rise being more mellow, and The Glorious Unfolding being more uplifting). While I myself haven’t gone through what Steven has, these songs are probably the closest to what Mum is feeling right now, given that she has lost mobility for a certain period of time. While we all know God is with us, it’s refreshing to hear that sentiment sung and really meant, by another person. Steven was in the middle of the wilderness when he sang these songs (maybe he still is) and that’s what makes these albums all the more special, as they are as authentic as can be, and do not sugarcoat anything- being real and sometimes not having the answers is ok- instead we can rely on the One who does, and the One who holds it all together. We may not know all the answers, but we can rest in the promises of the One who does. While it’s a long journey for Mum, I am confident that though I don’t know why she fell, I know good will come out of it, just like how Steven and his family are now closer than ever before. I can already see the good things coming out of this ordeal right now- as some friends from church are praying for us and cooking meals for us, which is pretty cool in that they are actively being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Thank you guys, it’s much appreciated.
I can’t really tell you a stand out song from the albums- they’re all so emotionally raw and each tells a story of God’s faithfulness and providence even while we are in the pit. But let me just say that both albums are needed to be listened to by anyone who is suffering. If Steven can ‘heal’, so can all of us. However suffering will continue to be debated in the many years to come- and maybe I have added fuel to the fire, I don’t know. But I do hope and pray that after you’ve read this, that you can understand that we live in a broken world, so suffering will just happen. It’s how we deal with the aftermath that matters, and what matters is relying on God. So let us do that, with every aspect of our lives.
Is there something in your life that you feel are suffering for, and something that you feel God should remove? How about you dwell upon it for a second, and as you draw closer to God, let Him reveal to you what He wants to.