For this installation of Confessions from Crickets, I wanted to try something a bit different and write it more like a sermon. You’ll have to tell me if you notice any difference, but one thing that all sermons should have is a basis in scripture, so here’s today’s ‘readings:’
Before we start today, I’d like you to take a second to close your eyes and think about a time of trouble, struggle, or suffering in our own, out of which you were still able to find joy. For some of us, this will be easy; our rain is always followed by a rainbow. For others, it will be much harder. Nevertheless, we’re talking about suffering today, but moreover how God is able to bring light and life out of even these darkest times, so I figure we’d better start off on a good foot.
Have you got it? Good. Let’s get into this.
The word sufferings appears several times in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The word suffering occurs 55 times in the NIV translation, one of the more common translations. It’s something that we’re all familiar with, just as those who came before us were. We run from it, we try to avoid it, or we white-knuckle our way through it. But however you cut it, it hurts–sometimes beyond the words I can use here.
And yet, I still believe in a God who can raise dry bones and bring life out of death, and in the realm of suffering, I’ve seen my share of miracles.
For example, as many of you know, I have a learning disability. It’s a common enough thing, so if you don’t have one, you might assume it’s not that big a deal, but as someone who has been made to feel stupid, burdensome, and less than for most of my life, I can assure you it is.
Throughout elementary school and highschool I struggled with my writing and reading, but when I accepted Christ, I realized that I didn’t have to let the learning disability define me. Learning from this, I realized that God knew how I felt and was walking alongside me through this pain. In fact, writing my blog with my friend & editor Stephan has been an exercise in both worship and writing, and through it, my reading and writing has improved, and God has used this practice as a platform to share my testimony of what God has done in my life.
In Luke 13, Jesus chastises some of the people listening to him for holding the idea that their neighbours who were killed by Pilate or crushed in a tower collapse somehow earned this suffering by being especially sinful, instead asserting that all have sin and all need grace. Likewise, in John 9 when he comes across a blind man forced to beg for his livelihood, he again corrects those who ask if the man’s sin brought on his blindness, saying “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
It was belief at that time that if someone was suffering, it was because they or someone close to them had sinned. This is still a commonly-held belief throughout the world today and in the Christian church. Yet, Jesus contradicts this, both by asserting that these peoples’ sin is no greater than the rest of ours, and bestowing the gift of sight on the blind man. Furthermore, as you read on, you see both the man accept & believe in Christ and the hypocrisy of his society (arguably the true source of his suffering) be exposed.
God brought so much good out of this situation. God can bring good out of the suffering so He can be praised and glorified, and so the world around can be changed for the better. In the passage it isn’t mentioned who was saved from this healing of the blind man, but we know it caused a stir. Perhaps his parents were saved, or even members of his town, similar to the testimony of the woman at the well. We don’t know, but we can certainly imagine.
God wants to do more good through the suffering than the suffering itself.
Our God is a good God. Even though we may be suffering, God doesn’t leave us to just suffer alone. He walks alongside us in the suffering, meaning he is in the suffering with us. We may never know what good can be drawn out of our pain and suffering but God does. He knows what we’re going through and he’s feeling the same thing as we are.
The clearest example of this is, of course, the crucifixion. As we watch Jesus be mocked, spit on, struck, whipped, and crushed under the weight of the cross, all before he even reaches Golgotha, we certainly see an ultimate picture of suffering. And yet, Jesus took on this weight of our sin to demonstrate his unimaginable love for us, so that we might reconcile and be in relationship with him. In an article on Desiring God called God’s Answer to Human Suffering: The Cross of Christ and Problem of Pain written by Brian Tabb puts it this way: “Christ’s crucifixion is the foundation and focus of the Christian understanding of suffering.” Jesus lets us know in Matthew 16:21 that his crucification is going to be suffering for himself “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Even out of utter death and sorrow, God in Christ is able to bring about revolutionary, redemptive, resurrecting life.
We could learn many things through the passages of scripture we have seen thus far. We will all have suffering in our lives, but by the grace of God, God can pull life out of it. Jesus reminds us that we will suffer as Christians in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Though we are perishing, death does not have the last word.
So we get to speak on, and share the life that God has brought out of death with the world.
Joseph Scheumann writes that, for Christians, suffering should ideally both happen in community and equip us for ministry. If you’ve read any of this blog before, you’ve probably got an idea of how much I acclaim community. As a community, you can find support through people suffering through the same thing. With our co-suffering saviour as our example, we should not let our siblings suffer alone. Likewise, I can attest firsthand at the ways in which my own struggles–telling my parents about my faith, dealing with my learning disability, fighting depression and suicidal thoughts, and many more–can become stories of hope for the next generation, thanks to what God has done in them.
In my experience (and sort of the experience of most people in the Bible), you can spread so much good to others through sharing your story on how God has brought you through the suffering. In fact, I find that we most often draw close to God in times of suffering. James tells us in James 1:2-4 to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In the times where we feel the weakest, it is often easiest to acknowledge how limited our own strength is, and draw close to God. It is often out of these experiences that we can see most clearly His love for us, and power to change this world.
During these times of uncertainty, I often pray that I want this virus to go away. I certainly don’t think this is a bad request, but I know that as I’m praying it, I also so often forget to look for the ways that God is pulling life out of this pain. It’s like I’m scrunching my eyes shut so hard that I can’t even glimpse the light trying to break through.
I pray that God will bring more good from this virus than the bad itself. The bad parts are big and loud, so I know it may be hard to see past them to the small sprouts of good, but if you think about it, so much has happened this year. Parents got to spend more time with their kids. We all at least considered how to better spend time with our loved ones. One of the biggest social justice movements in recent memory swept social media and our streets while still remaining almost entirely safe and peaceful brought attention to voices that have long been ignored, and reminded us that Black lives do unequivocally, completely, and fully matter. We saw a dip in carbon emissions, but also saw how small our individual carbon footprints are, and how we must band together for institutional change. We were able to focus on essential workers–from doctors and nurses to restaurant employees and custodians–who make a difference each and everyday even day before this pandemic. Prayer and support groups are popping up as we find more creative ways to be there for each other without actually ‘being there.’, So many people picked up a new hobby (remember all the bread back in April?). And hopefully, we’ll be better prepared should a future pandemic come knocking. I bet you could add to this list with your own small sources of joy.
Oftentimes in the face of tragedy or even in a pandemic it’s hard to see past what’s happening right in front of us. As mentioned in YouVersion blog on Let’s Celebrate Good News, “Sometimes, we need to remember that we are not alone and that we still have a part to play in God’s plans. Our circumstances don’t cancel out God’s goodness. God is always doing unprecedented things, even during ‘unprecedented times.’”
I don’t know how hard this year has been for you. I know it’s been hard for me. But I serve a God who makes the blind see and the dead rise again, who brings rainbows after rain and sprouts out of fallen seeds, who brings miraculous life even out of my worst days, and who uses even those who have been told that they aren’t smart enough or capable enough all their lives to proclaim his good news. The fact that you’re reading this is a testimony to that. What will your testimony be?