One of my Facebook friends, whom I have come to cherish and respect, Josh Felts, an authentic and loving young man, who loves God, and really proclaims a message of grace and goodness, posted today on his Facebook page, an update, which is an echo of many other of his updates, in exhorting people that God is loving and that He is not the author of human suffering.
It got me thinking again. Over my life I have seen enough suffering to know how base and evil the suffering can be for people to encounter and experience. I have known the loss of a sibling to a preventable medical situation, a burst appendix, die on the operating table. Paul was only two years old. I had a grandmother die from cancer in her early fifties. I had relatives killed in car accidents, and others be diagnosed with life threatening diseases. My family had missionary friends who were murdered in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950’s. My mother and father lost missionary friends in the Congo during that uprising as well, in the early 1960’s.
Peoples in my dad’s congregation suffered through the German occupation of France, some lost loved ones who fought in the Resistance, and some died in labor and concentration camps. Some families lost infants who were stillborn, and some suffered with having to raise children with polio and other afflictions.
I have seen suffering and pain and sorrow, up front and up close.
I have seen what many people would boldly proclaim that this is the “evidence that there is no God” or that “God must not care, or He would do something about all this suffering”. I have been with those who claim there is no God, and yet have nothing but hatred for this God that they say does not even exist. People look for someone to blame for all the suffering and pain they encounter and the easiest scapegoat is God.
I lived on the same street where Jean Laporte held and kidnapped by the FLQ in Montreal, and was later murdered during the FLQ crisis in 1970. No one had any idea that Jean Laporte and James Cross were held in that house right in the middle of the city. Everyone went to school and work and had no idea that these terrorists were holding these two men captive. Each day the school bus came by and there were two soldiers on the bus with sub-machine guns there to protect us on our way to school. No one knew until the deal to set them free went bad and Jean Laporte was murdered.
Being Northern Irish is a complexity beyond words or description. Even the names given to children reflect the segment of the population you come from. You can pretty well guess if someone is Protestant or Catholic by their names. Even though I was raised in France, and only spent some small portions of my life in Northern Ireland, I got to experience the religious and political hatred first hand. I have seen the face of hatred from people who don’t know me personally, but who hate me because of my faith. I experienced the hate from fellow Irish youth, who hated me just for being a Protestant. The threat and utterances of violence was no uncommon. The Troubles, as they were called, claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people in Ulster from 1968 to 1998. In 1977 while on holiday visiting my grandfather and relatives, I was in a shopping district in Belfast when a bomb went off that was triggered remotely by the IRA. I saw and experienced the horror of terror attacks, that appear to be random, but are not. I saw the hate and experienced the acts of evil people bent on the destruction of human life and property.
In my own life I experienced suffering and pain through battling sickness, and as an adult I went through the injustice of a job being given to someone who was less qualified than I, but was of the right ethnic minority. I experienced injustice.
As a married man I delighted in being married and bringing into the world three lovely children, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn. I also learned of what it is to not be able to put a band aid on a boo boo and make it all better. You can’t put a band aid on cancer, and make the boo boo go away as much as you would want to for a two year old little girl. Carragh was diagnosed in 1986, in December, and she battled seven years, and passed away in December of 1993 at age nine. She suffered through three relapses before she went home with Jesus. Cancer is a family disease. One member may suffer with the actual disease, but everyone in the family suffers as the cancer affects how you live life and how you deal with the daily challenges of life.
I have lost not only a daughter, but I have lost a father, my namesake, Sam Buick Sr., to a heart attack, a father in law, Bob Rolston, to liver disease, and a brother-in-law, Brad, to a brain tumor. I have seen suffering and known suffering. These people were people of faith, raised in Christian homes. These people had families and loved ones like everyone else. These people faced trials and adversities like everyone else. These people lost jobs, faced struggles, had disappointments and hurts, and they suffered. They persevered through these afflictions and trials, and went on living. They cried and wept at injustice and made their cases before God, and each in their own way found peace in God in spite of their situations and their circumstances. God was in the midst of their lives and in the midst of their suffering. God did not forsake them or abandon them. God was in the midst of it all, just as He is for you and I.
God is not the problem. Evil is contrary to the very nature of God. Evil is the end product of rebellion against the very heart and goodness of a loving and gracious God. God defeated the power of death and sin and evil through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The situation is that the earth is yearning for full redemption. The redemptive act is complete through the cross and death and resurrection, but as Paul says in Romans, the earth growns for full expression of redemption, as do each and every one of us.
ROMANS 8 [NIV]
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
So, I hope, and I await that same full redemption, where in Christ Jesus, the earth and humanity will be fully renewed.
The doubting of God as a Good God
I believe many Christians begin to seriously doubt in a loving God simply because their sense of the world is ruled by absolutes, and it is always black or white, yes or no, and there is no wiggle room for grey areas, or for maybe yes or maybe not. The world is a mixture of shades of grey, and we are called to live lives of integrity, and trust in God, even when God does not act according to our desires and wishes.
I put my trust in a loving and gracious God, who is PRESENT in my troubles, my sicknesses, my fears, my sorrows. I have known Him in good times, and I have known Him even more in the not so good times.
God has been in my sufferings, in the midst of the dying of my 9 year old daughter, it was the holiest and most precious time I have known, where my heart was torn apart by pain and the anguish of loss, and yet the presence of Jesus was there, with me, in me, as He took Carragh home to be with Him.
Suffering and death are not the end
Suffering and death are not the end, but they are a door we go through, either willingly, or dragging our feet, kicking and screaming, or simply trusting that God is with us, in the midst of all of our pain, and Jesus Himself experienced pain, suffering, anxiety, and death, and identifies with all that we feel as human beings. I can trust Him more and depend on Him more for He knows intimately about suffering and death.
We are redeemed heavenly bound spirit beings trapped in a human body, our humanity holds us back from fully experiencing that spirit being reality. We can experience healing and miracles in this life, and even death and resurrection, but eventually we will all die. We all have to face the trauma of physical death, separation of the spirit from the body. Death does not hold the last word. Death is but the door we walk through, leaving behind the human trappings of temporal life, to awaken to the resurrection reality of supernatural life.
Why do we cling to temporal life?
Why do we long to cling to the temporal life, as if it was the grandest expression of our life in Christ and with Christ? This earthly existence is but a shadow of the real and sublime, and whatever we taste of the goodness of God and the beauty of God on this earth, is but a foretaste of what awaits us. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. It is all a matter of desire and perception.
Are you seeing beyond your circumstances at the goodness and beauty of the Divine? Or is your situation so dominating your desire for earthly satisfaction, ease and comfort, that you have no place in your daily struggles, pain, sorrow or sufferings, to see God in the very presence of that situation?
Christ walked among all of humanity, and in particular those who suffered. He did it 2000 years ago, and He stills walks with our broken and needy humanity. I know first hand. He walks with me, moment by moment and shares life with me in the midst of all of my suffering and pain.
I love this old Gospel Song, as I grew up with Jim Reeves records being played in my home. This was one of my dad’s favorites. I prefer the Elvis version, but the point is the song lyrics that reinforce the message that Jesus walks with us daily and that we can know the comfort of God in our lives, as we deal with our pain and sorrow and suffering, and embrace the truth that God is present in the midst of suffering. We are not alone.
And… Remember…. God is good!