The One Thing We Can Know About Why God Allows Suffering (A blog post for the man of sorrows I met at Starbucks)

Why Did God

Return of the Prodigal by E. Murillo

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3)

I Met A Man Of Sorrows At Starbucks This Morning

I had an amazing conversation with a thirty-something named Tom at Starbucks this morning. Tom is intelligent, friendly, and he has experienced serious suffering in his life. His soul mate, the woman he is certain he was meant to marry and spend his life with, she betrayed him, she left him, so they never married. Since that time her life has taken a downturn. After a series of relationships with different guys she’s divorced now. Also, a Christian leader Tom looked up to cut him out of his life without explanation. Later I learned Tom was also abused by his father and other family members. And then there’s his addiction: like millions of other men, Tom is addicted to porn. Yes, Tom has suffered, and he continues to suffer. About that, there can be no doubt.

And with many of his tribulations, when he prayed for intervention, no discernable intervention came.

Tom, this blog post is written with you in mind.

Why Did They Betray Me?

First I want to talk about the people who betrayed you. Before I was married I was betrayed by someone I loved too. I’ve never swallowed a burning balled up gas soaked rag, but if I ever did, I’m sure my gut would feel a lot like it did when I was betrayed–except the fire in the rag would extinguish much quicker. Tom you were betrayed by the one you were meant to be with forever, and that has to be painful, and confusing. And then there are the other betrayals in your life. Why would a loving God allow these things to happen? Continue reading

The Consequences Of Ignoring God: God’s Way, Your Way, And Your Crushed Spirit

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Guilt, Fear, And A Crushed Spirit

Continuing our series on suffering, today we’ll look at how ignoring God can crush your spirit.

Proverbs 28:1 says,

The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion.

Why is that do you think? Why do the wicked flee when no one is pursuing?

The proverb is a reference to Leviticus chapter 26 where the Lord tells the Israelites what will happen when (when, not if) they don’t obey His commandments. He says: “…I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall. They will therefore stumble over each other as if running from the sword, although no one is pursuing…” (Leviticus 26:36-37)

What we see here is what happens when you live in a way God doesn’t want you to live. When you’re living in a way your Father in heaven doesn’t want you to, something happens inside you, something happens in your spirit. And your spirit can be crushed, because not only do you feel guilty about what you know you’re doing wrong, but you react to criticisms that point to wrong, even when it doesn’t apply to you. You generalize your guilt. That’s one of the things sin does to people.

When we do something we know is outside of God’s will, it chases us. Like Dickens’s Scrooge, or Shakespeare’s Macbeth the knowledge of our own sin can produce ghosts or shadows that haunt us, and we flee, even when no one is pursuing.

What Happened When Israel Ignored God

In Isaiah chapter 30 God tells the Israelites, “One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one…” (Isaiah 30:17) And He gives the reason for it in verse 1 of the same chapter. In verse 1 He says, “Woe to the rebellious children who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit…”

You see, the nation of Israel was in a jam. The Assyrians were about to invade and these Assyrians, they had a terrifying reputation. So the leaders of Israel schemed, and plotted, and planned. And they came up with their own solution, they formed an alliance with Egypt. But they did it all apart from God. They didn’t include Him in the process. The whole problem with the hearts, minds, and souls of the Israelites, the reason they were wracked by guilt and fear, the reason one thousand fled at the rebuke of one, was because they didn’t seek God’s counsel. They ignored the One waiting to connect with them: their God.

What Happens When You Ignore God Continue reading

Steve Mays’ Life Of Suffering (And how God healed him)

Steve Mays Life of Suffering

We’ve been exploring what the Bible has to say about suffering and right in the middle of this series of blog posts, God did something for Steve Mays, the pastor of Calvary Chapel South Bay, that I just have to share.

An Improbable Life Of Suffering

Steve’s life was often heavy with suffering. He battled drug addiction as a teenager which led to a series of strange and destructive events while he was still living at home with his father and mother. One time when Steve’s parents came home, as they opened their front door, water gushed out. Steve turned their house into a swimming pool by stuffing towels under the exterior doors and filling the place up with water. They found him in the living room smoking a pencil. He was completely oblivious. Instead of acknowledging the damage he’d done, he talked to them about the show he was watching on TV–but the TV was turned off.

Another time Steve’s parents arrived home to find him fixing a meal for a friend who lived inside the clock hanging on the kitchen wall.

Another time he terrorized his parents by angrily pacing around the house while swinging a machete.

The bewildering thing about Steve’s behavior was that he was a normal kid until junior high school. His parents didn’t know it but during that time in junior high he was Continue reading

How Can I Trust In God When I’m Seriously Sick Or Injured?

pain and suffering Christian

Oresto, 4, with his father in the special unit for pediatric surgery run by the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) outside Port-au-Prince’s general hospital. He had his hand amputated the night before.

What A Man Suffering From Disease Once Said

I wish I was never born.

I’ve lost all my strength, and my disease has reduced me to skin and bones. I’m estranged from my friends and relatives. My breath is offensive to my wife. Loathsome, that’s what I am. People find me loathsome.

My cries pour out like water. I shout for help, but there is no answer. God has uprooted my hope like a tree. He has kindled His anger against me and considered me as His enemy.

I wish He would just crush me. I wish He would cut me off from the land of the living. I wish I were dead. (Job paraphrased. See Job 3:11, Job chapter 19Job 3:24Job 6:8-9)

Illness And A Crushed Spirit

Before his illness Job was intimate with God and his life reflected that relationship. He was the kind of guy who smiled often. He had the kind of face that lit up a room. He was the kind of guy who loved to help the underdog: orphans, widows, the lame, the blind, and the poor. He liked to rescue the weak from wicked people who would take advantage of their weakness: the Bible says he “broke the jaws” of such wicked men. Job was blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. And people loved him for it. He was dynamic, he was charismatic, he was popular. And his words were wise, and beautiful, and encouraging: people waited for his words like people waited for the spring rain. He held the honor and respect of the people in his community. And he was rich. (Job 1:1-5, Job 29)

Then, along with other tragedies, his disease came. It was a disease that isolated him from his family and friends. It was a disease that caused him to become emaciated. It was a disease that covered him with painful boils from head to toe.

It was a disease that made him loathsome to the same people who used to love him.

And his countenance changed. This great man of God didn’t smile like he used to. His face didn’t shine like it used to. And his words changed. He said Continue reading

A Mighty Expenditure Of Amazing Energy And What Happened Next (And what causes a crushed spirit)

Depression Christian

A Mighty Expenditure Of Amazing Energy

Elijah was coming off three amazing and miraculous events in his life. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit Elijah just “won” a showdown with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah. “…you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God,” Elijah said to the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and to the crowd of Israelites assembled there near the sacrificial altar.

The other prophets did everything imaginable including cutting themselves with swords and lances until blood gushed from them. But it was all to no avail. There was no voice, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah poured water onto his sacrifice, twice. Then he prayed for God to let it be known that He is God in Israel. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and even the dust around it. And when they saw it all the people fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” And after that the prophets of Baal and Asherah were slain.

Then Elijah prayed for rain, because there had been a great drought in Israel up until that time. He prayed with fervency and intensity. He prayed seven times. And the rain came.

Then the Bible says, “…the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel.” And Ahab was in a chariot at the time.

Good things are happening to Elijah. God is doing amazing things through Elijah. Through him the Lord is turning the people away from false religions and turning their hearts back toward the true and living God. Through Elijah God is providing rain to a people plagued by drought. (1 Kings Chapter 18)

But look what happens next. Continue reading

Suffering (And How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away)

Pain Suffering Christian

It’s What’s Inside

San Francisco Giants Pitcher Dave Dravecky

Dave Dravecky pitched for the San Francisco Giants until a cancerous desmoid tumor in his pitching arm required surgery. They removed half of his deltoid muscle and froze his humerus bone to try to kill all the cancer cells. On August 10 in 1989, after a long and grueling period of rehab, he came back to the majors and pitched eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched brilliantly and he won 4 to 3. After the game he told the media, “It’s a miracle.” But just five days later, in the sixth inning against Montreal, during his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped in two. The sound of it was so loud it could be heard throughout the stadium.

The cancer was back. And he not only lost his career as a baseball player but he lost his arm. When he was interviewed about it he said this:

“Nobody ever promised that life is going to be fair. Everybody’s going to have adversity. The only way to handle it is to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord.”

After all that pain and toil and work and sweat and grief, after all that Dravecky failed. Yet look how he responded. How is that possible? How could anyone respond to that kind of adversity that way?

What’s Inside

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14)

A wounded spirit, as I understand it in the Bible, occurs when a person’s passion for life is squashed (the English Standard Version actually uses the word crushed). A depressed person could be an example of this. A suicidal person would be at the extreme end of this spectrum. And here in Proverbs 18 we see one of many places in the Bible where God’s perspective on suffering is different than the typical understanding of most Americans and many others throughout the world. We think our happiness is mostly dependent on our circumstances. If I have the right job, if I have the right woman, if I get the promotion, if I’m healthy, if I can make enough money, then… I’ll be happy.

But God says, Continue reading

A Tale Of 2 Sufferings (How Joseph’s dad failed it, and how Joseph nailed it.)

pain suffering Christian

Alex at 7,500 ft. (2,285 m..) above sea level. (3,500 ft. above ground level)

A Tale Of Two Sufferings

I never saw this perspective before, but have you ever considered the difference between how Jacob handled his suffering, as compared to how his son Joseph handled what was arguably even worse suffering? I heard this last Sunday from a 20-something.

Joseph Betrayed

So Joseph’s seventeen, and he has it made. He’s his father’s favorite. He lives in a wealthy family. And he is given special revelation from God in the form of dreams, dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. But without warning, Continue reading

After A 13 Year Old Girl Was Murdered, This Is What Her Parents Did

Pain Suffering Christian

Pain

Pain and Suffering

We’ve been exploring the topic of pain and suffering and one of the worst kinds of pain and suffering is the kind caused by the loss of a child. The following is a quote from Wilma Derkson who lost her daughter at the age of 13. (You can learn more about the Derksens and their remarkable response to their daughter’s murder in this TED Talk video: TEDxManitoba – Wilma Derksen: When Polarity in Forgiveness Happens)

Losing A Child

For six and a half weeks we didn’t know what had happened to Candace. She just disappeared into thin air.  But everyone knows that when a 13-year-old girl goes missing then something is terribly wrong.  She was a child in a woman’s body, that moment of vulnerability when one minute they’re a child and the next a woman.

Eventually Candace’s body was found in a shack not far from our home – her hands and feet had been tied. Someone had forced her there but we lived with the mystery of not knowing who had done this for the next 22 years.

The day her body was found all our friends came to visit bringing warm food with them. There was so much love in the house that it helped us get through.  Then at around 10.30 that evening, when most people had left, there was a knock on the door and this stranger stood there. He told us, “I’m the parent of a murdered child too.” He was saying we now belonged to an exclusive club that no one wants to belong to. We invited him to the kitchen table and for the next two hours he told us in vivid detail everything he’d lost – his health, his relationships, his concentration, his ability to work. He’d even lost all memory of his daughter because now he could only think of the murder, the trauma and the hate that followed. –Wilma Derksen

Losing 10 Children Continue reading

Robin Williams and Suicide

Robin Williams SuicideThe Waves That Batter and Break

A friend posted this on Facebook the day Robin Williams died:

I don’t struggle with depression.

Not yet anyway.

I might someday.

My father did. Robin Williams did. I’m sure a lot of people you know do too, or have.

But I have seen it close up, and I have seen the way it comes in like waves, and I have seen it batter and break.

Last Monday night I drove home from Portland where I had a great visit with my sons Gabe and Nathaniel, and their families over the weekend. Kathy couldn’t go because of work. When I walked in the door one of the first things she said to me was,

“You heard that Robin Williams died didn’t you?”

Wow. No. I hadn’t. It was a shock. I heard that he struggled with depression (as well as alcohol and cocaine addiction). But even so, it caught me off guard.

The Great Clown Pagliacci

Also on the day Robin Williams died, someone on Reddit shared a page from the Watchmen comic that had this dialogue: Continue reading