This week's 'thought' comes from Joni Eareckson Tada. As most of you know, she was paralyzed in a swimming accident at 17 (in 1967) which left her a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands or legs ever since.
I came across her thoughts in a book of messages (sermons?) called, "Sunday's Best." And it is true -- it was one of the best -- along with messages by Tim Keller, Jill Briscoe, Francis Chan and the like.
It comes from a section of her message entitled: "Suffering Hearts Need A Person, Not An Answer." It's a message I personally needed to hear as one who tends to want, or feel I need, answers. In college I was trained as an engineer and thus I struggle with an inner compulsion to figure things out and have things make sense. I tend to crave reasonable or logical explanations for life's difficult questions and will search till I find something that resolves that inner conflict. Yet her message said that's not what most struggling people need or want. Her explanation made sense. Ok. Rebuke accepted... :) Enjoy.
"I will be the first to tell you that when your heart is wrung out like a sponge, a list of sixteen biblical reasons as to why all this is happening can sting like salt in a wound. You don't stop the bleeding with reasons or even answers, even though they are great, solid and true... They don't get to where it hurts in the gut and heart. That's because the problem of suffering is not about something; its about someone -- someone in your gut and in your heart... In the heat of emotion and disappointment you cry, 'What gives?' to Someone... And God, like a father (who knows he must simply be there for his child) does not always give advice. He does not always give reasons or answers. He goes one better. More often, God gives himself.
If you are the one who is at the center of the universe holding it all together so it does not split apart at the seams; if everything moves and breathes and has its being in you, like it says in Acts 17:28, you can do no more than give yourself. In Isaiah 54:5-6 God becomes the husband to the divorced woman or widow. In Psalm 68:5 he becomes a father to the fatherless. In Zechariah 2:5 he becomes the wall of fire to those who need protection. In Isaiah 62:5 he becomes the bridegroom to the person grieving that she'll never marry. In Psalm 103:3 he becomes the healer to the sick. In Isaiah 9:6 he becomes the Wonderful Counselor to the confused and the depressed. In John 4:13-14 he becomes living water to those who are thirsty. In John 6:35 he is the bread of life to those who are hungry for more than this world can give.
Friends, you know me. And you know I staked my life on the fact that God's got good reasons. I have written books about it. But we cannot distance the Bible's answers from God. Even Jesus said in John 5:39, 'You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
That God is a part of the problem of suffering may not complicate matters after all. How or to what extent he created the problem is not the question. He is the answer, and we need him. We need him desperately... God gives himself, not a list of answers. He is the answer. He doesn't gives us a bunch of words. He is the Word, the Word made flesh -- nails gouged, hands nearly ripped off, spat upon, beaten, bloody, flies buzzing, hatred hammering. These aren't merely dry theoretical facts about the Lord Jesus. This isn't love as an abstract idea -- all cool, detached, and theoretical. No, as someone has said, this is love poured out like wine as strong as fire.
I'm so glad sitting in this wheelchair that I can trust a God who got messy when it comes to suffering. He smeared his blood on his cross writing in red ink, 'I love you,' saving us from hell-fire. Which, incidentally, is the ultimate suffering, right? Here on earth, you and I only experience hell's splash over. One of the best answers to the question 'why is there suffering?' is because there is a hell. I don't want to go to hell, and suffering only reminds me of that. God gives us tiny little tastes of hell on earth so that we might be awakened out of our spiritual slumber with the ice cold splash of eternal realities in our face... We would all stumble through life thinking this parade of twenty-four-hour days was just going to continue on... until suddenly we're smack-dab against our gravestone.
It's a little too late to think about heaven and hell then. We'd all stumble through life unaware of a heaven or a hell were it not for God giving us a taste of suffering. And so God allows suffering between him and us so that nothing will come between him and us...
If ever we are tempted to forget the goodness of God -- as I once was, lying on that hospital bed -- if ever someone challenges you on the goodness of God, the only way, the best way, the most supreme way God's goodness is made manifest is in Jesus Christ our Lord. God is good not because he explains the reason why, but because he explained himself on Calvary... the God of life conquered death by embracing it, destroying the power of sin by letting it destroy him.
This is what I Corinthians 1:25 is all about. This is 'the foolishness of God' far wiser than human wisdom, 'the weakness of God' far wiser than human strength. Christ is God's foolishness. Christ is God's weakness. God wrote the book on suffering and he called it Jesus. This is why God is good. He is good because He gives himself."
And we might add -- there is no greater or better gift that He could give. As Christmas approaches it would be good to remember that Christ not only experienced the fullness of wrath, suffering and bearing our hell for us (a hell we deserve to experience ourselves) He actually came knowing that was His primary purpose in coming.
He came to live and suffer and die as the sinners substitute, and thereby supply us with the only true and necessary answer to all our questions about suffering -- Himself. Yes, to all our many questions about pain and suffering He repeatedly offers us the same answer -- Himself.
With you in the struggle to rest entirely in Him, Pastor Jeff