Life can be messy. And this is for all of us. Trials and afflictions are a portion which we unfortunately have to bear with on this side of eternity. The truth is, all of us, are either just out of a trial, in a trial or have a trial that is awaiting us around the corner. I wish I could tell you otherwise, honestly. But yet, in all this, God has very clear words for us to trust on him and lean on him in these dark days.
For many years now I have had the privilege of walking alongside people who are special to me who have gone through some of life's hardest blows, and I have equally had that opportunity to go through really tough times with brothers and sisters who have been a source of encouragement and gospel-hope.
It is during these times that life just does not make any sense, right? Like, if God really loves us the way he says, why would we be going through what we are going through? The number of people I have seen, met and interacted with who have been afflicted by cancer, for example, is staggering. The pain it breeds in families' lives, the anxiety and the strain it has is insurmountable.
What was I supposed to say to my friend that fateful day she told me that she was found to be HIV positive, and yet her whole life she has strived to be a godly woman and a loving wife to her husband? A woman, undeserving of this by all means, is stuck in the claws of a deadly disease she did not ask for or seek after.
Or the day my homie found out that his wife had been cheating on him for years, and the child they had was not even his? What was he supposed to do? He was a loving husband and a loving dad to this precious soul. What did he do to deserve such?
The saddest thing in our time I think is this set of teachings that insinuate that believers do not ever go through hard times for as long as they have enough faith, or they do not sin. That is a lie we all need to discard. In fact, what we see in the Scriptures is the opposite. We see Jesus blatantly telling his followers that they will go through hard times, but to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. What we do see in the New Testament is that suffering and trials are a normative part of life in a fallen world - just as much as sin. In fact, theologically speaking, suffering is a direct result of sin.
Think about this: why do relationships fail to work out? Because of selfishness, cheating and abuse, that is, sin.
Why do people fall sick? Because when Adam and Eve were chased out of the garden, they were cursed with death, and the death of their bodies is correlated with the spiritual death they have chosen when they chose to disobey God. Mankind chose his way, and by function, this is sin, and so all kinds of sicknesses, illnesses and ailments are now a part of our lives.
Why do men leave their wives to be with other women who they think are "better"? Sin.
Why do women leave their men to be with "more successful" men? Sin.
Why do men and women abuse children? Sin.
Sin is our enemy. Sin is what causes us to be in situations we find ourselves were pain and hurt take pre-eminence. So for as long as we are on this side of the world, we are going to feel and experience the effects of the fall at some level - we will be sinned against, we will sin against some people and this will birth suffering of all kinds.
But here is the good news: we are not alone in our suffering.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
Jesus cares for us and He is the sin crusher that came to save us.
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
When I was a kid, I went into the hospital probably a little more than I should have. One of the times I was in there because I had thought it an excellent idea to put my foot into the spokes of a moving bicycle while my dad's friend, Mr. Chitiki, was carrying me on his bicycle carrier. What fun. I still have the scar on my ankle. But one crazy time was when I was playing some wrestling games with my uncle Newton (who is three years older than me) at our home in Emakhandeni. We were going on top of the brick-wall and jumping down to the ground. I jumped onto the ground, feeling like my WWF hero, Tatanka, and yes, bit my tongue so bad it was almost completely dropping off my mouth.
During those days at the hospital, I could barely speak. I lost my speech for a while because of the obvious. And to be quite honest I did not know how horrible that incident actually was until I was much older and my parents explained it to me. Freaks me out to think about it. Yet, through it all, the fact that my parents were there with me all the time made the horrible circumstances a little less stressful for my young self. This is similar to so many other experiences over the years when life was hard but having the security of "My dad and mom are here, so all is fine" made the dark days bearable. Its the relationship with them and their presence that made the horrible experience bearable. I mean, they are my heroes, and will do all they have to do to make sure I am okay.
This is not different from how we ought to think about our Father in heaven, who cares for us, and will never leave nor forsake us. He loves His children and when they go through hard times He is right there with them by the Holy Spirit. Do you really believe that?
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrew 13:6)
This is my biggest discovery when it comes to suffering and prayer: the more I focus and see who is with me (the Sovereign God of the universe) and the less I focus on my situation, the more I am filled with confidence, and faith, and subsequently view the hardship very differently. I would argue that our anxieties are a product of our forgetfulness. We are worried because we have forgotten who our Father is. Man, our Father cares. Our Father is the Biggest Hero. There isn't one thing that He cannot do. My Heavenly Father is not limited like my earthly father. My Heavenly Father has authority, power, majesty and He is filled with goodness alone!
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
But what about when I pray and He doesn't seem to answer me or here me?
Well: I do not know specifically what the Lord is doing at these perilous times. But this is what I know - He is not just ignoring you or looking to the side.
Think about this: even when Jesus was dying on the cross and in much pain, he still cared for his own mother and when he saw her standing by the cross he made sure his friend would take care of her after he died (John 19:26-27). Or think about when one of his good buddies died. The man’s name was Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew he was going to bring him back to life, Jesus still cried. This showed how much he cared for Lazarus and his two sisters. (Mark 10:13-16). Also, we clearly see how Jesus spent a lot of time while he was on earth healing those who were sick. He helped a man walk who could not walk, a man see who could not see and a woman who was bleeding to stop bleeding. He did all this and more because he cared for the hurting people (Matthew 14:14).
Sometimes maybe He is doing something that we not even aware He is doing. John Piper said a while back: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them” and this has stuck with me. It is through our suffering and times that our confusing that God is doing some work in our hearts. Maybe He is teaching us to trust in Him more. Maybe He is leading us to a great joy and understanding of His love and care. Maybe He is making us to look more and more like Christ through our senseless hardships.
I want to encourage you to hold on, brother or sister. You cannot quit now. If you are in Christ, He cares for you. Trust Him.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
Those days, those months, years or seasons of trials are not in vain. Your pain has a purpose, but also, in your pain you have a partner. Jesus himself, by the Holy Spirit is with you. He feels your pain. He gets it. And someday maybe in this life or the next, we will be freed from all this pain and suffering.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).