Lately I’ve been restless, hungry even, when it comes to seeking God and understanding His will for my life. At the same time, I’m also learning to be still, so that I don’t have to try and have everything figured out. As I spend each day with Stephen, taking care of him and his needs, I have come to a place where there is a lot of joy despite things often being hard and overwhelming. God has used things in his life to get me to this place. I can honestly say that joy is found in the midst of suffering. And here is how.
It’s taken a lot of wrestling with God to get to this point. Some Christians freak out at the thought of “wrestling” with God. They would say “But if you’re saved, you must not trust God because bad things don’t happen to people who love and trust Him.” I do not believe this is true, and I’m certain that those who say this have either 1) never been through something painful or tragic, 2) are living in their own happy bubble, oblivious to the rest of the world, and/or 3) avoid the subject of pain/suffering like the plague and are the first to change the channel when anything bad or sad comes on the news.
I don’t see anywhere in the Scriptures that teaches us to pretend that life is one big, happy, rose-colored walk in the park. In fact, if you read the Bible, you are sure to come across tragedy before you even get through the first book of Genesis. There are numerous accounts of Christians who have wrestled with God, and most of the time that comes from wanting to know “why.” Perhaps the hardest book to read in the Bible, if you live as though Christians/God-followers only experience bad things if they aren’t saved, is the book of Job.
Job was beyond faithful to God. He loved God and trusted Him completely. But Job hadn’t ever really suffered. Satan was convinced that if he did suffer, he would surely turn his back on God. But God knew Job’s heart and allowed things to happen in his life that were horrific, such as Job losing his entire family, his land and animals, etc.… Still, Job remained faithful. Then, Job’s 3 friends came along and tried to figure out why God would let such bad things happen to him. They wanted to say that Job had done something wrong or had not had enough faith, that he must have made a mistake somewhere and was being punished, or that God must not have really loved Job like Job thought.
Finally, God comes along to speak to Job (the longest speech in the Bible given by God), and Job is at the breaking point, ready to turn away from God. God first tells Job that He will deal with his friends later and to listen to Him instead. God does not really answer Job’s questions directly, but He does remind Job of His great works, His majesty, and His power/ strength. Job remembers God’s goodness and turns to Him again, God sees that Job loves Him and trusts Him, and God gives back to Job ten-fold what he lost. God shows Job that regardless of how things seem in the bleakest moments, a God who is wise enough to rule the universe is wise enough to watch over his son Job.
One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancy, wrote a book called “Where is God When It Hurts.” It is the best book I’ve ever read when it comes to this subject. I believe every Christian needs to read it. He says: “In Job, the portion of the Bible which most vividly poses the question ‘Who causes pain?’ God deliberately sidesteps the issue. He never explained the cause to Job. All the way through, the Bible steers from the issue of cause to the issue of response. Pain and suffering have happened – now what will you do? The great discussers of cause, Jobs three friends, are dismissed with a scowl. The Bible is so clear on this point that I must conclude the real issue before Christians is not ‘Is God responsible’ but ‘How should I react now that this terrible thing has happened?’"
Ever since Stephen was born, and things went downhill, I have questioned the cause of what went wrong. Over and over I would ask God the same things and never get an answer. I still do not have an answer. The weird thing is, the more I focused on the cause and demanded answers for what happened, the more bitter and angry I became. It was affecting everything I said and did. Yes, I loved my son more than life itself, but I was not content with God letting something be wrong. And this in turn was affecting how I viewed my son and my reason for living. A whole year went by before I realized that though I had not turned my back on God completely and still loved Him, I was not exactly happy with Him.
The amazing thing about God is that He is patient, He is willing to listen, and He will do whatever it takes to get us out of the pit of despair. He was also willing to let me wrestle with Him until I decided to stop wrestling and start listening to Him. I pretty much got an earful (albeit gentle), but this time I didn’t respond with more questions. My response was different. I was still grieving, and still am, but born out of that grief was a joy and thankfulness I had not had (I wrote more about that in another post, which you can read by clicking here).
The Bible says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in Christ’s sufferings so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Philip Yancy writes “We are often willing to undergo productive suffering; athletes and pregnant women volunteer to suffer because of what it will produce. The Bible says that a proper Christian response to suffering gives this same hope to the person on the hospital bed. He can become a better person because of his pain.
The rest of the Bible sheds some light on the words ‘rejoice’ and ‘be glad.’ By those words, the apostles did not intend a grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened attitude. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s. If those attitudes were the goal, self-sufficiency would be the quickest way to attain them, not trust in God.
Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying the pain. ‘Rejoicing in suffering’ does not mean Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Such a view distorts honesty and true expression of feelings. Christianity is not phony. The Bibles spotlight is on the end result, the use God can make of suffering in our lives. Before He can produce that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust in Him, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing.”
In all of my wrestling, questioning, etc. with God, He finally led me to the realization that I was not trusting Him. It was impossible for me to feel any peace or joy whatsoever without that trust. We trust those we love, and if I loved Him, I had to trust Him. Hope and joy and laughter and the things I now am able to experience daily are born of trusting through suffering, or in my case, trusting while my precious son faces challenges that are beyond what I really understand and beyond the answer to 'why.'
I have found joy only by trusting God. The days in which I don’t trust in Him are the days in which I find myself trying to slide back in the pit. Trusting Him is the only way I can look at Stephen’s future with hope and not worry.
Trust God. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what people say, no matter how angry or bitter or sad you may be, God does have a plan. A good and secure plan. Trust Him.