Suffering is a part of the human condition. Hope is a virtue necessary for survival. To have hope, one must have faith – in something. For many of us, faith in the good news of the gospel is what we grew up with and what we crawl back to in times of suffering. Perhaps we were heavily churched and always in a relationship with Christ. Maybe we knew of Him, were on the edge of discovering Him, the verge of knowing Him, or the fringe of a relationship with Him. Perhaps we deliberately left Him in defiance or in search of ourselves only to discover that since we were made in His image, finding our true selves is completely dependent on communing with Him. Whether it was our desire to alleviate the emptiness found in the foxhole of overindulgence, the anguish ignited by the wars of jealousy and oppression, or our realization that God’s good living is better than the best of our own ways, we are with Him now. Our faith in Him gives us hope for a great today and a better tomorrow. We all go through this thing called suffering and are typically better for it on the other side. Three years ago to the day, my sanity slowly slipped away; not rooted, I fell into the gray; an in-between, unfamiliar place. I was floating. Uncertain, yet not so unaware; the answers were begging to be shared; everything reflected everywhere; and I was blinded by the glare. Misread, misunderstood. Welcome to the human race! The starting line appeared without warning. The gun was shot, but the sound was much too faint. Now I, I’m in the human race. (Janna Audey – Human Race)
I heard two stories of suffering this week that touched my heart to its core. One was of an unforgettable boy who lived in an always forgotten spot up in the darkest cut in the deepest, most backwoods part of the hood. The other was of a memorable boy who lived in a beautiful home in a prominent suburb with all of the amenities one could desire. The two are stories of innocence lost in tragic events that changed the trajectory of both of their 3-year old lives. Faith makes me believe that there will be hope for the future in the first instance and belief in God’s faithfulness to His people that hope is alive in the second case.
The first story is that of a little boy who lived in a local inner city multi-family block of buildings – a place riddled with aggression, violence and gang activity. The complex is so negatively intense that pestilence, misery, brutality and savagery are pillars so strong that they can be felt like static electricity in the air. There is a one-way descend in and a one-way climb back out. On approach to the entrance, the sensory overload of screaming voices, slamming doors, drug-scented air, gun fire in the distance, and rodents rustling amongst the masses, can be overwhelming. Yet inside, infants and toddlers crawl and amble through the fierceness of these forces; sometimes cared for, other times not even noticed. Sometimes the sounds of their innocence (crying) disturb the hostility masquerading as peace simply because there is sixty seconds of silence. A little boy passed away. His cause of death was blunt force trauma and his body was found in a nearby dumpster. A father figure member of his household is allegedly being sought for questioning. Where was God that night?
The second was the story of a little boy who was enjoying the company of extended family on a sunny summer weekend in the comforts of his beautiful suburban home. The accidental spill of gasoline in a utility room and his relative’s attempt to clean it up without noticing that there was a gas powered hot water heater nearby, caused an explosion. The fire that followed shorted out the house’s electrical system and trapped his relative inside. Although his father was able to move him to safety, the little boy watched him break windows with his bear arms in futile attempts to save the relative’s life. When his father finally reached their relative, it was too late. The boy not only lost an intimate loved one but was also left to hold his father’s sopping crimson-colored fileted arms together until emergency personnel could arrive. Where was God that day?
Matt Redman’s lyrical version of Job 1:21 gives us guidance during those times: Blessed be Your name. When the sun’s shining down on me; when the world’s ‘all as it should be, blessed be Your name. Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering. Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name. Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be Your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be Your glorious name. You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name (Blessed be the Name of the Lord).
Where was God in the life-altering experiences of these two boys? I do not have the answers to what He was doing or why, but I believe that both events were always a part of His plan to pursue His lost people and bring them back into a relationship with Him. He was there – with the knowledge that the anguish suffered was not eternal, but the life given as a result would be. Although very difficult to understand, in the squalor as well as the sunshine, these two boys were counted worthy by Him to serve a heavenly purpose. While one’s innocent soul has been lifted up and is permanently residing with the Father, the other has become a Godly man who is living out the gospel through his ministry of music with his earthly father. Grant it, God did not cause this wretchedness and despair to occur, but he did allow it to happen in furtherance of His kingdom and will use it for the good of mankind. In the book of Job, Job questioned God about why He put him through so many difficulties and hard times. God listened to Job for a while and then reminded him that He is God and there is a plan. As Job heard God, he understood and repented. God – “Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! ‘Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters, or distract Orion from his hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky’s constellations and how they affect things on Earth?” Job – “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” (Job 38:2-3, 31-33 & 42:1-6 – MSG)
My reflection on the two events has me here:
1. To be hurt is to be human
2. Suffering is all around us
3. Sometimes the most innocent are the hardest hit
4. Through tragedies come great triumphs
5. Regardless of the circumstances, God is always there.
The experiences of these two boys unfortunately are not too uncommon. Some events are notorious while others are not deemed news worthy. As believers, we are summoned to be fishers of men who were called to make a difference. Whether we teach the first boy’s villagers how to pray, or we take a few minutes to pray for the ministry of the second, action isn’t optional. We are all in this together, hand in hand, as He called us to be; to bring the good news that builds faith, instills hope and fosters the belief that He is with us and will never forsake us. “Knelt down by the Oceanside, contemplating death and life; Connected to the man by my side; knew little of the thoughts in my mind, reached in and touched the waves. The baton was handed to me. And no one’s ahead of me, yet I’m not alone in this race…(Human Race)