“Here I sit, day 11 of watching my mom slowly die—holding on. It’s brutal. But 8 years of the slow deterioration of Alzheimer’s is brutal too.” That’s all I could write three weeks ago, and then I quit. I couldn’t even blog at all. Day 12, my sweet mom went to be with Jesus and my dad. I read the book I wrote this year, Imagine Heaven, out loud to my sister and mom all week. It helped all of us remember that death is just the pains of a birthing process into Real Life. We really will Live again—more alive, in a more tangible land, with more loving relationship, more joy and fun and adventure—more Life than we ever had in this temporary birth canal of pain.
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3). I know it’s true. I have tasted His unfailing love over my years of following Him—nothing is better. Like I told my mom, “It’s all going to be alright, very soon!” I know it’s true. Yet life doesn’t always feel like it’s true that God loves me. I felt like God loved me when He healed my wounded soul almost two years ago on my sabbatical. I felt His joy and strength return to my heart. What I felt the past six months has been the opposite. I’ve felt (and my whole family has felt) attacked, bruised, wearied, not just from Kathy’s dad getting brain cancer and being in and out of ICU for the past 5 month, not only my mom’s death, but also a myriad of other things on top of it. Kind of gets overwhelming, honestly.
Not trouble free, problem free—and there’s a difference. That’s what I wrote on my last blog (I wonder if I’m getting the “opportunity” to prove it?). I’m realizing how important it is to have a good theology of suffering. Even though I’m feeling God’s joy and love coming back, I’m realizing that when suffering, hardship, and heart-ache comes we need to be armed with a good understanding that suffering is a part of spiritual growth. Otherwise, we will think God is displeased with us when it may mean the exact opposite.
“But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering…we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children” (Romans 8:17, 23). It’s all gonna be great…but not yet! So we have to remember that this world has an evil streak to it—it goes against God’s will and ways—but He allows it to turn the hearts of people toward His forgiveness, love, and leadership. He also allows it for those who do love him, so we will follow Jesus in overcoming evil with faithfulness to God. And he promises to reward it eternally (we will share in his glory!). That’s why Peter says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
The book of Job reminds us that God allows suffering for a purpose, but evil causes it. “Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” Notice how proud God is of Job—Job loves and “fears” (or has reverent faithfulness for) God. It’s not because Job did something wrong, it’s because Job has done so much right that he suffers.
Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property…take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” (Job 1:8-11). In other words, “Job doesn’t love You, God, he loves your blessings. Let me test him and he’ll rebel and curse you.” Suffering comes from the hand of evil, but God uses it to prove our love and trust in him. The way to triumph over trials and sufferings is to hate evil and love God.
Joseph reminds us in Genesis 45 that what evil means for destruction, God uses for good when we hold tightly to Him through it all. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes it takes a lifetime to understand why God allowed a trial and what good he did through it as a result, but His promise is that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God…and he chose them to become like his Son” (Romans 8:28-29). Sometimes the good he’s doing is making us more like Jesus (who was called “the suffering servant”).
So what do you do when life’s pounding you with grief, trials, and troubles? That’s what I’ve been contemplating the past few weeks, and I’ve had to remind myself of these truths and ultimately choose to trust them: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). I don’t always feel God’s love, or feel joy, or feel blessed—so I must decide whether to walk forward as if my feelings (my sight) determines reality or whether God’s promises determine reality. So I’ve taken Job’s approach: “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him” (Job 13:15). I’ve been seeking Him more, not less, reciting what I know He’s promised—He does love me, He will never leave me, and He will bring good out of all these things…so my job is to be faithful and love and follow Him to the other side. So I praise Him for all I can’t yet see, but I also “make my case” like Job did. I’m honest with Him about how I’m feeling, and even ask His help to sort out my grief, relief, and struggles in all that’s going on.
The last few days, I’ve felt much better. At least enough to finally finish this blog after almost a month of not being able to. So I share these raw thoughts because it’s the real deal—this is what it means to walk by the Spirit when our feelings tell us otherwise. Hope it will help others as it’s helping me.