(Check out the first and second installments here and here.)
This week, we’re asking God for clarity to find Him in the storm.
It is neither new nor uncommon for a Christian to cry out in prayer for relief in the face of opposition or difficulty. At times we spiritually scream at the top of our lungs for help. There are times when we do the courageous thing and take the glory of Jesus Christ into the storm and then await rescue. With every passing moment that deliverance is delayed, we begin to doubt the decision to trust in the word and take it literally into the storm. These can be moments that test our faith in far greater ways than the initial crossroad where we chose to trust the words of Jesus and allow him to overcome. These are the moments where we gasp for air in the fiery furnace or strain to maintain spiritual centeredness as the refining fire scorches our sensitive Christian skin. The promise of deliverance has been made, the leap of faith to trust in the promise has been leapt, and now all that remains is to wait for a miracle.
The way we approach this “refining fire” and the way we understand its purpose will shape our view of our existence in the flames. If we view God as completely outside of the flames, then what we experience within is severe loneliness and helplessness. When we are up against a difficult situation there are few greater burdens placed on the human heart than that of isolation and loneliness. The feeling of being alone magnifies the suffering and heightens the pain. If we view God as outside of our current situation, we limit our experience with God and his promise to be “God with us.” We find ourselves without hope.
A God that does not enter the flames with you is either a God that does not care about your current suffering, or has no control to do anything about the situation. Either way, with a God outside of the flames, there is little hope left to hold on to.
Of course, the opposing perspective is a God that follows us into the flames.
As we begin to feel the heat of the fire, the prayer that is usually first to emerge is, “God, get me out!” In some cases, maybe that prayer is answered directly: we are rescued from the flames unscathed and alive. But both the Bible and our own lives are full of evidence that such moments of the miraculous are not prevalent. More often than not, we remain in the blaze, seeking answers and explanations to our delayed rescue.
The question of suffering is a difficult one for most non-Christians to grasp and sometimes more difficult for Christians to explain. When discussing Christianity with non-Christians, the issue of suffering and a God that allows its continued existence is always an issue: ‘Why would a good God allow so much suffering? Pain? Death? Destruction?’ There are plenty of answers and explanations for this question. But often in answering it, I find myself simply left with “I don’t know.”
There are biblical explanations to explain the nature of suffering in this world: the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, for example. However, explaining the very real presence of suffering by referring to a story of a garden with fruit trees, naked humans, snakes and flaming swords hardly satisfies the troubled mind. But while we cannot know the whys and purposes and resolutions of suffering, we can explain what the reasons cannot be. It cannot be because we have a God that does not care for us and it cannot be because our God does not have the power to stop it.
Throughout the Bible we read time after time that God can put out flames of suffering and sorrow whenever he desired at a moments notice. We know that he performed miracles repeatedly, from Scriptural accounts as well as in the lives of many people living today. Therefore, the question remains: Why does he allow suffering to continue? The only explanation from a God that claims to have plans beyond our understanding is that the suffering exists for a greater purpose. Perhaps the suffering persists so that greater healing can be revealed and experienced. If we are willing to plead ignorance concerning the presence of suffering in this world, we must be willing to admit ignorance concerning the purpose.
Against difficulty, against pain, the first option is to quit and give up. Our suffering is too much to handle. The effort to fight and overcome seems hopeless. Quitting seems to be the most reasonable and pain saving option. But the truth about quitting is that, in most cases, quitting does not satisfy. Instead, it brings regret. The second option is to take heart and continue onward. Whether coming from a religious or non-religious background, most people agree that the decision to press onward through suffering typically results in a stage or period in life that we look back on and value.
All throughout the Bible we see moments where God chooses to allow suffering to persist. In each instance where suffering is allowed to persist there follows a greater moment of healing that proved to be the original purpose of the suffering. Whether it is the story of Joseph or the story of Lazarus, God always expresses a desire to bring about more healing than what we could have possibly foreseen. This multiplication of healing is born out of the seeds of suffering.
The God of the Bible is never unclear about the realities of suffering or his views on our suffering. He sees it, he knows it, and he never stops caring. In the Bible, we see a God that accompanied his believers into the flames for all to see, a God that accompanies us into our human experience to truly be called, “Emmanuel.” The God of the Bible cannot exist outside of the flames of suffering because he is God with us.