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.
Where do you turn in times of trouble? For most people, it’s a good friend or a relative. Someone who’s shared your tears and joys over the years. These are usually the same people who you turn to when you have exciting news or something great to share. For many of us, these people become our best friends. When you work in a field like the fire service, this is what forms “the brotherhood”. People turn to each other for support and they become almost closer with each other than they do with their families. Highly threatening team activities or in-extremist teams (FF, police, military, bomb squads, etc) rely on their team mates to keep them alive. For those not in life/death situations, we find these people in our lives.
At work, these special people become either mentors or confidants. A mentor is someone who helps you excel and grow in your career by providing advice, opportunities and guidance. A confidant is someone who you can share things with but they don’t provide a direct source of career growth. If you are lucky, you will find someone who can be both. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us the bold truth and other times we need someone to be sympathetic to our emotions; rational or not. My daughter will call and ask for “reality check dad” when she needs to know what mom will never tell her. I’m lucky that I get to be both a confidant and a mentor to her; I can read her pretty well and know when to hold the bold truth until she’s ready. We all need these people in our lives. My wife has a huge cheering section of friends and a few close friends that she can talk to about everything else. I guess my point is to make sure that you have these types of people in your life and don’t forget that they are there. Life is so busy that we often forget that we don’t have to carry all of the burdens alone.
“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4
I’ve often said “now that I say this out loud …” We need to say things to others to make sure that we really feel that way. We also have a need to get our feelings out in the open. The challenge is getting them filtered before we say something hurtful. We all know people who are in various stages of suffrage. Cancer seems to strike every family we know, financial stress is still present and family pressures will always be present. If you are raising kids, have siblings or are dealing with aging parents, suffrage is always going. We all find different ways of dealing with it – some healthy and some not so healthy. Last week we talked about our ability to go to God freely and with confidence. This week we see why.
God is all of things in this verse – a refuge for the poor and the needy, a shelter in the storm and a shade in the heat. When things go bad in our lives, God is there for us. It is human nature to ask “why me?” but the truth is that God is there with us in these times of trouble. He’s there when things are good too! God will not abandon any of us, no matter what you’ve done. We are given the promise from God to have eternal life with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no “reality check dad” with our Father in heaven. He knows what is on our hearts and in our minds and Jesus is sitting right next to Him saying, “all is forgiven”. I’d like to think that God inspires the advice that we get from our mentors and confidants. If we feel alone, this verse reminds us that God is always there; while St. Paul reminded us to go freely and with confidence to seek God for help.
We all know someone who is suffering, even if just a little bit. People react differently to what they perceive to be suffering. A teenager is “suffering” when they go on vacation to a place without cell phone coverage. I’ve done work in an organization that saw suffering. No one in management would listen to the workforce, suggestions were ignored, benefits were minimalized and employee terminations were inconsistent; they were working in a culture of fear. Look in your contact list; I’d imagine that you could identify a number of people who are suffering from a financial or medical condition. How many people in your contact list would you like to trade places with? We all have troubles. Some people thrive when they are under pressure to push through difficult times and come out stronger while others crumble. How do you react? Knowing before it happens may have a big affect on how you manage the situation. When my wife and I used to (notice – used to) golf together she was always finding something good about a bad shot. When I hit the ball into the water she’d say, “at least it isn’t in the sand” and when I hit it into the sand, she would say, “at least it isn’t in the water”. I suffered during that round. What about the real suffering that goes on? Why does it happen? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life, I would guess that you could find a connection to another event that occurred later. You were stronger because of it or you learned something or you met someone. Something better comes out of our suffering.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
God has told us that we aren’t promised a trouble free life so suffering should not be a surprise. None of us wants to hear our suffering or pain compared to another person’s worse case. Why are we suffering? People asked after the attacks on September 11th how could God let this happen? However, we heard story after story about people who got to work late that day or who made appointments when they normally would be at work and survived. Two buildings that normally house tens of thousands people collapsed and less than 3000 died, God was there. Again, think about St. Paul sitting in jail suffering and enduring punishment for his faith telling his Roman followers not to worry about the suffering. He knew that by sharing his faith, God’s Glory would be revealed and millions would be saved. Paul suffered so that millions would read his letters and come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Would you react/respond differently to suffering if you knew that others could be saved? A few weeks ago I talked about being worthy, this is yet another way that says, “You are worthy!” When we suffer and still show our faith in Him, God uses us to be His messenger of what a life in Christ is like. No matter what you are suffering with, your reward is in the promise of eternal life.
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.
“Times are tough all over” is the title of hit song from 1990. It was also the title of a Cheech and Chong movie but I digress. People have been saying this for years and since 2008, we all know someone who feels it. This phrase has become a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it doesn’t make anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve mentioned before that Lisa and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, we all know someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or another type of life altering medical diagnosis. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” I have a very dear friend who suffered a massive stroke back in February. He had a bleed deep in his brain that caused left-sided paralysis and a number of other physical issues. His family set up an on-line journal for them to post about his progress. His wife has been posting daily and sharing stories that remind us that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Not once has she said “why me” but instead she has remained dedicated to her husband and telling his story. He will spend months, if not longer, in a wheel chair and will require long hours of therapy every day to regain control over simple things in his life. He has a large family and a number of grandchildren, I’m sure he’s happy to see them on a regular basis. There is no regret and no “why me”, they continually thank God for the blessings that have received everyday so far. They have hope. On the flip-side, one of my daughter’s friends is struggling to maintain her job, care for her child and finish her college education; she’s thinking about quitting school. She is losing hope and her future is in jeopardy; so is her child’s for that matter. They are two people struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them – we can offer hope and support.
“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive forgiveness. God has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The crown of life James tells us about is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others. We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. Job suffered too and had God’s favor. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us through James don’t lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s a good reason to keep hope alive.