Reflections on Suffering and Knowing God
by Allan Weatherall
How can we know God? Prayer? Praise? Study? Serving?
Well... once upon a time I would have given the simple "read your Bible" answer to that question. And it is true - God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and Jesus (the living Word) is revealed in Scripture.
But what happens when the accumulated griefs and tragedies of our life's experience weigh our hearts down with burdens just too heavy to bear? What happenes when we just can't seem to sing and praise anymore? What happens when tragedy strikes? When friends and loved ones betray us or let us down? When all the visible signs of God's blessing and favour seem to be temporarily removed?
I believe that Jesus, the "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" understands this very well.
The fact is, everything we may "know" about God from the Bible is faces the ultimate test in the crucible of our life experience. It is easy to praise God when everything in life is sweet and going well. But from time to time life serves us up with unexpected things which are very difficult to digest. Take Job for example: Job was righteous man who had his life and God all worked out. But all of what he knew about God came up for review when his circumstances began to contradict everything that he believed about God's favour. Where was God's blessing and faithfulness when Job faced the sudden death of his children? The loss of his wealth and possessions? The unceasing deterioration of his health and finally the loss of support and sympathy from his wife and friends? I don't know too many people who have gone through trials like this who will say too boldly that they really understand and know God. Happy clappy Christianity just doesn't seem to offer much when a person's whole life is falling apart around them and God seems to answer only with silence.
But paradoxically it is in these very dark places - in the furnace of affliction - that we are brought to a point where we have to admit that maybe we don't know God as well as we thought we did. It is during these times that we need to dig deeper and hang onto what we know to be true, trusting Him for the outcome, even if misfortune, injustice and injury piles up around us and is threatens to bury us. It is in these very situations that we are brought to a closer and deeper knowledge of Him. It is in times like these, and only times like these, that we can know God through "fellowship with Him in His sufferings" and come to understand that God is "near to the broken-hearted and He saves all who are crushed in spirit". Unlike those who have no knowledge of God, we who are destined for eternity have the consolation that these sufferings will come to an end and that God does ultimately have a good plan. The promise assures us, "If we are united with Him in a death like His we shall surely be united with Him in a resurrection like His".
Yes, many of us know who God is... most of us who have read our Bibles do. Praise God for that. But even so, our knowledge of Him is still imperfect. Recently I am much more inclined to say that there is much that remains a mystery about our Father in Heaven - much that still lies hidden beyond the veil of our own ignorance, our blinding cultural assumptions and our fallen humanity. "We see dimly as in a mirror, but then face to face..."
The apostles Paul said, "If it was for this life that we hoped in Christ we are above all men most to be pitied." Paul understood very well that the essence of the Christian hope is beyond this life - in eternity. But we tend to be captivated by the things of this world - the demands of work, the propensity to consume, the cares of life, etc. But when we meet him face to face we will meet The One who makes all things meaningful. Only then will we see that the tangled threads of our lives have been creating a beautiful tapestry for eternity. Then He will wipe every tear from our eyes. That is our destiny and our sure hope.
So what are your trials right now? Sickness? Hardship? Abandonment by friends? Death of a loved one? There are no glib or easy words to offer comfort in such times of darkness. But God is the restorer of all things and the source of all good things. His comfort and consolation can reach into our hearts and compensate us for any loss and heal any wound. He is, afterall, the source of all things and the designer of the universe. Sometimes grief has to run it's course, but those who hope in Him through loss will not be put to shame. Those who look to God and who call out to Him from the depths of despair, grief will not destroy them and their hope in God will not be disappointed.
The good news is that Job discovered again, in this life, that God is truly good and faithful. But for Job that encounter with God took place way out beyond the limits of Job's human endurance. Job's time of suffering was a watershed experience. Our times of suffering will be also. Such experiences transform us more into His likeness from one degree of glory to another and prepare us for an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
Allan D Weatherall
Friday, November 10, 2006 printer friendly version | 10256 reads
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