How could God let this happen? Why are these things happening, is this the end of days? We often hear people asking these questions or when people begin to question the existence of God. It’s these thoughts and when tragedies strike that they become a great source of inspiration for the devil to create doubt in our minds: “Would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? How could a righteous God let innocent children suffer so?” We cannot explain it nor can we begin to comprehend God’s plan and what meaning this has in our lives yet alone the lives of those that suffered such great losses.
God is always present! I’ve written before that we don’t always know why things happen or what purpose God is trying to fulfill through these events. Sometimes we feel like we are suffering when things are going wrong at work or if we are having troubles at home. Other times our suffering is in the form of a medical diagnosis. How we deal with these challenges is what builds our character. No one can help us through our suffering, no matter how close they are to us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to us in our time of great suffering.
“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5
I’m sure there is someone reading this that is experiencing a higher degree of suffering and cannot see the value of perseverance or character right now – but you will. You will see the hope as people come to your aid to help in ways you didn’t imagine. You will become stronger in your ability to survive and you will become an inspiration to someone else – maybe someone you know and maybe not. Someone will tell your story and you will hear the story of others.
You will be stronger because of what has happened to you, your character will be stronger and you will learn to persevere. We look upon our “suffering” as horrible but as the end-times actually approach, we all will need perseverance, character and hope to stand up to the devil and the destruction he will bring before Jesus descends to earth to bring us all home. This is not the time to doubt God’s plan or His love for you. It’s time to renew your hope in Him because these works of the devil must be defeated once and for all when Jesus returns to call us home.
This week, I found myself saying, “why does this have to be so hard?” I read a great article two weeks ago titled “Why Simple Rules Produce Better Decisions” by Valeria Maltoni. In the article she explains the beliefs found in a book by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt – “Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World”. The authors believe that we should use small sets of simple rules — “shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information.” Simple rules work because they allow for flexibility, they produce better decisions because they make decision-making fast and easy and, they allow for activities to be synchronized on the fly; doing what is inherently right for the greater purpose.
But I wasn’t trapped in rules of overly complex situations; I was being challenged on matters that should have been quite simple. The other side of things being hard is when we get bad news. Another week has gone by with someone I know (I used to work with him) being diagnosed with cancer. This young man with a young family will have to go through a great deal to just have a chance to survive. I’m not the only one who has this happening all around him; my guess is that everyone knows someone dealing with a hardship. We can’t over simplify these challenges and we can’t write new rules for how they are applied; we are not in control. Today’s verse reminds us that the road to the kingdom of God is not easy. We need to remember that the destination however, is paradise.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
I wish I knew why we had to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them so that we may be blameless in God’s eyes. We are assured of that in the bible. So why do we have to suffer in this life? I’d like to think, because no one really knows, that we need to appreciate all that God has done for us. If you look back over time, the human race has not been very good at following the Commands of God. He gave us 10 simple rules to follow and the human race found ways around them or through them.
I often use the phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify”. Is this what God is doing with us? Is God trusting us to do what He commands and have Jesus as our one and only savior but at the same time, is He verifying our faith in Jesus? Where do we turn when things get bad, who do we rely on and how do we react in these times of hardships? There is only one simple answer; we must turn to God when we are faced with hardships. He will be with us all the way. He has never promised a smooth ride or a simple life; hardship builds character and demonstrates our faith in God. Maybe this is why we need to be grounded in the troubles of this life. The road will be rough but it leads us to paradise – eternal life with God.
Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s my take on it. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I’ve witnessed suffering first hand throughout my 27-year career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory. Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a long list of disappointments before becoming president but he also suffered. He lost his young son and his wife was tormented by depression. Despite all that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?
19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:19-21
Why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what we did or what we do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case. We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He needs. People get medical conditions so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that his great recovery to date is a result of those prayers. This message is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.
The tornados last week in Oklahoma were certainly tragic. Despite the high death toll, it could have been worse. Two years ago I spent a few weeks training and certifying Army Reserve Units in that area. While our work tends to focus on chemical exposure, containment and decontamination, these units can be used in mass casualty incidents such as this. It is highly doubtful that the soldiers we worked with then are still “on mission” now or even in the same field of training. We did use a tornado as our training scenario, hopefully our work paid off for them and the civilian responders that participated. Tragedies like this become a great source of inspiration for the devil to create doubt in our minds: “Would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? How could a righteous God let innocent children suffer so?” We cannot explain it nor can we begin to comprehend God’s plan and what meaning something like this has in our lives yet alone the lives of those that suffered such great losses. Despite what the devil spins, God was present last Monday; He protected thousands of lives. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to us specifically this week following such great suffering.
“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
I’m sure the people of Oklahoma are suffering and cannot see the value of perseverance or character right now – but they will. They will see the hope in man-kind when thousands of volunteers show up to help them rebuild. They will see hope in the donations that will pour in to replace clothes and provide shelter. They will be stronger because of what happened to them, their character will be strong and they will have learned to persevere. We look upon these tragedies as horrible but as the end-times approach, we all will need perseverance, character and hope to stand up to the devil and the destruction he will bring before Jesus descends to earth to bring us all home. This is not the time to doubt God’s plan or His love for us. It’s time to renew your hope in Him because He continues to fight for us and these works of the devil will be defeated once and for all when Jesus returns to call us home.