The Certainty of Suffering

I won’t identify the pastor I was listening to because I don’t think there’s value in that. Let’s just say that I think it’s always important to know God’s Word and to listen to others with a “thoughtful” ear, meaning take in the teaching, but don’t just leave it at that. Think about it, compare it to what we already know from our own Scripture studies. In other words, don’t just take things to heart and head no matter who says them. Instead, hold everything accountable to God’s Word before we allow them to take root in our lives.

I say this because I was listening to a podcast from a pastor just last night, and sadly I think it could do a lot of emotional harm to many.

His joyful report of the healing of his premature little girl was no doubt encouraging and uplifting. But I couldn’t help but think of the parents whose children hadn’t experienced the same. What would they have taken from that evening’s message? More hurt? Frustration? Maybe even fear that their own faith and prayers weren’t quite enough?

Yes, I know that God is all-powerful (Matthew 19:26). And I genuinely believe that He still steps in to perform miracles today. However, when we focus on these stories alone—the happy, joy-filled stories of miraculous healings—I can’t help but think that we’re rather missing the point.

Suffering is a sure thing. It’s going to happen.

Maybe the point isn’t to try to pray our way out of it or to do everything in our power to avoid it entirely. Instead, maybe the point is to rest easy in God’s will—no matter what that is. After all, isn’t that what Jesus modeled for all of us in the first place (Luke 22:42)? Thank God that His Son didn’t shy away from suffering, otherwise none us would have any hope at all.

When hardship threatens my joy or the pain of suffering starts to cut a little too deep, I try to remember that suffering is part of God’s plan. Our suffering is never for not (Romans 8:28). We can know that God will not be frivolous with our pain. This is true even when we don’t know the “why” behind it all.

And as I listened to this pastor’s story as tears of joy fell down his face and tears of pain ran down mine, another Scriptural truth came to mind:

God placed the rainbow in the sky as a visual reminder of His promise to never completely destroy the earth with water again (Genesis 9:13-15). But that doesn’t mean that rain will never come. In fact, a rainbow is just a reminder that even when the rain storms come—no matter how it may beat down upon us, no matter how high the water gets, no matter how close we feel to drowning in it all—it will not be the end. And even if we suffer and face hardship throughout our entire life, we can know that God’s got a greater tomorrow in store (Revelation 21:4).

A Powerful Presence

The other day, I glanced down at Mark at just the right time. As he revealed a big ol’ toothy grin, I noticed a small growth peeking out from the top of his jaw.

Fast forward 2 weeks, and that once tiny bump had doubled in size and Mark and I found ourselves waiting in an exam room for an ENT specialist to take a look. I assumed that he’d push and prod and maybe even take a needle biopsy. That’s honestly all I expected. But that’s not what happened.

“I strongly suggest that it come out today,” he said. “How do you think he’d handle it?”

“What would be involved?” I asked. “Mark’s had Novocaine before and a few dental procedures. He did just fine with those…”

“Any laughing gas?” the doctor countered.

I correctly assumed that that question implied a bit more would be involved.

“No, Mark doesn’t do very well with that. Leaves him feeling sick,” I said. “Would you mind if I talk through the entire procedure?”

“Sure,” the doctor responded. “I don’t mind.”

“Then,” I said with a smile as I glanced over at Mark, “I think we can do it.”

The room quickly became a flurry of activity. The nurse came in with forms for me to sign. The doctor left to prepare for the procedure. What looked like a large flood light was wheeled in along with a tray of mysterious looking tools and equipment.

“Mark,” I said as I rested my hand on his knee. “Do you know that bump in your mouth? The doctor wants to take it out now…”

“Will it hurt?”

“Do I ever lie?”

Whenever I have to walk Mark through a painful or upsetting situation, I always remind him that he can trust me unequivocally. Without trust to hold on to, there’s no anchor, no stability for him to cling to during the scary uncertainty.

“No,” he replied as he looked down at his lap. I could see his jaw clenching up in recognition of what was to come. Unfortunately, we’d both been here before.

“Look at me. I want I eyes,” I began, allowing my voice to become louder in order to rise above the cling and clatter of metal instruments all around us. “You know I never lie. It will hurt for a few seconds, but then it will be over. All you have to do is listen to my words and obey them. Just listen. Do you want to squeeze my hand?”

“No,” he said, clearly attempting to be brave. But his emotions and worry were clearly—and understandably—overwhelming him. A glance downward revealed that his fingernails had already dug deep grooves into his knees.

“Remember, do exactly as I say and listen to me,” I said. “Sit on your hands…”

As I saw the doctor preparing the needle, I continued.

“Now, close your eyes. We don’t want this bright light to hurt your eyes! It’s like the sun. You don’t want to stare right at it…”

The entire procedure only took about 10 minutes. But it was long enough for all the color to drain out of Mark’s face. I wasn’t used to seeing his warm, gingerbread-colored skin so cold and pale.

“You did great,” the doctor said glancing at me with a smile. But the truth was, Mark did great. And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weakness, my own inability to maintain focus and simply obey.

God can and wants to be for us the same kind of powerful presence that I am often for Mark. We all wade our way through hardships and struggles, but we don’t have to wonder and worry because we’re not alone. All we need to do is listen to His words and obey.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (ESV)