Scripture Journal Challenge: Suffering and Safe Places

I have to admit that when I read the book of Job NOW, it’s no longer an intellectual exercise or detached theological foray into suffering and the sovereignty of God.

I was always appalled at what Job and his wife (remember her!) suffered. I was always a bit confused by God’s question to Satan, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” I was both comforted and confounded that God set boundaries but set them at the bare minimum to spare Job’s life.

Just being honest here.

Pastors and teachers love to talk about the sweeping arc of the story. They love to pull out lessons about how to comfort others in suffering, how to endure suffering ourselves and how, in the end, God restored to Job the things that had been robbed from him.

But my heart walks slowly through those pages. My soul weeps with every new blow struck against a man who, by God’s own account, was a righteous servant of the Most High.

I wonder if David knew the story of Job. It’s believed to have been one of the oldest books in the Old Testament.

If he did, I wonder if he took comfort in the knowledge that God eventually restored Job to a place of blessing, honor and safety.

David certainly knew what it was like to ride high on the wave of God’s favor and then to be dashed to bits on the rocks of adversity. He slew Goliath and then he was anointed king. He was Saul’s musician, ultimately his son-in-law and then his enemy. He knew that God declared his glorious future but he lived for years hiding in caves, eating what he could find and serving random wealthy patrons in hopes of a little peace between Saul’s attempts on his life.

So when he survived yet again, he wrote this Psalm as praise and prophecy.

He rode upon a heavenly creature,[a] flying;
    He was carried quickly on the wings of the wind.
11 He took darkness as His hiding place—
    both the dark waters of the seas and the dark clouds of the sky.
12 Out from His brilliance
    hailstones and burning coals
    broke through the clouds.
13 The Eternal thundered in the heavens;
    the Highest spoke; His voice rumbled [in the midst of hail and lightning].[b]
14 He shot forth His arrows and scattered the wicked;
    He flung forth His lightning and struck them.
15 Then the deepest channels of the seas were visible,
    and the very foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Eternal One,
    at the blast of wind from Your nostrils.
16 He reached down His hand from above me; He held me.
    He lifted me from the raging waters.
17 He rescued me from my strongest enemy,
    from all those who sought my death,
    for they were too strong.
18 They came for me in the day of my destruction,
    but the Eternal was the support of my life.
19 He set me down in a safe place;
    He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me.

Psalm 18: 10-19 VOICE

Again, David paints a vivid picture of God as Mighty Warrior.

But not just any warrior, raging through battle, unaware of who may be on His left or right. God is the One who protects His anointed. He is the One who reaches down and rescues.

God set David in a safe place. When He declared, “Enough!” no enemy could come further.

David had the sure promises of God to lean on. He knew that God is in control even when things feel out of control.

In the same way, the Lord established a hedge of protection around Job. He set the limits for Satan. He had him on a chain.

Of course there’s no indication from Scripture that Job knew his suffering had any limits. And while he didn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing, he certainly voiced his pain, indignation and desire to end his suffering through death.

I feel like I’m living in a space between the personal, rock-solid promises God gave David through Samuel and others and the blind faith of Job where God’s hand and purpose were concealed.

I know that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I know that the end has been written and everything that has been stolen, broken or touched by death will be redeemed, restored and resurrected.

But some days I wonder how long I’ll have to wait until I see those promises fulfilled. I wonder how much more I might have to endure, give up or lay down before I reach my heavenly Home.

That’s when I call my heart back to this picture of God as a Warrior who will always rescue me-both here and in the hereafter.

God has put my foot on a solid Rock.

When sorrow threatens to drag me deeper than my heart can bear, He reaches down and pulls me up.

When fear finds me in the dark and whispers lies in my ear, He makes His Presence real and speaks comfort to my soul.

Like Job and David and millions before me, I can trust the One who promises.

I can rest in His unfailing love and absolute sovereignty.

He never lets go.

QUESTIONS:

  • If you are like me, sometimes we read Scripture like a story book-we already know the ending and often ignore the very real human drama people were living through. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to know that even after God rescued David from the hand of Saul, he (David) was still not in full possession of the promise that he’d be king? Why or why not?
  • Child loss is absolutely the most devastating blow I’ve suffered in my life and it was a long, long time before I was able to look up in my brokenness and look for blessings. When I did, I found that while there was no cosmic scale that could balance my loss with whatever I might still have or gain, my heart was strengthened when I noticed blessings again. Are you able to look for blessings yet? If so, does it encourage you? If not, would you be willing to try to find one little smile-inducing good thing a day for a week?
  • I love, love, love David’s words: “He reached down His hand from above me; He held me. He lifted me from the raging waters.” Our God is a personal God who does not despise us because we are weak and unable to save ourselves. He delights in reaching down and lifting us up. How do those words make you feel? When have you felt God reach down and lift you up?
  • We end our study of this Psalm with verse 19: “He set me down in a safe place; He saved me to His delight; He took joy in me. ” We are ultimately set safely in the redemption of Christ (if we have received that gift by faith). But I also believe we can live our lives in a safe space even in the midst of suffering when we choose to focus on Who God is and refuse to let circumstances blind us to His love, His goodness, His promises and His strength. What concrete steps can you take to help your heart focus on truth when your feelings threaten to drag you into falsehood?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are the lover of my soul, my Mighty Warrior, my Savior and my Good Shepherd. Help me hold onto those truths when life threatens to undo me.

Give me the courage to face pain and suffering in the sure knowledge that You see me, You are with me and You will rescue me. I may not get a miracle or even a medical cure, but I will have the final victory in Christ.

When death and the awful darkness of grief roll over me like a flood, push it back with Your light, love and life.

Let me hear You singing joy over my soul.

Amen

***I combined today and tomorrow’s writing assignments***

On Suffering and Redemption

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

~Julian of Norwich

Truth is this life is not easy.

There is joy. 

Absolutely amazing awe-inspiring, breath-taking joy.

But there is also suffering. 

Utterly devastating, heart-breaking suffering.

Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning

When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.

Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.

It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.  

The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.

~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf.  He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”  

I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.

And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.  

blessed are those who believe without seeing

I have doubts some days too.  

There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.  

It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power. 

Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.

What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.

~Andrew Roycroft, Thinking Pastorally blog, 6.23.19

 

 

Repost: My Cup Overflows

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

~Psalm 23:5b

I remember standing in our field with my husband at sundown one day, thankfulness and grace and mercy and wonder flooding my heart-and I whispered, “surely my cup overflows!”

Surely, God’s hand is in this, is on our lives-He has brought us to this place of blessing.

And that’s how I used to always think of that verse-the cup overflowing with goodness and blessing.

But what about when the cup overflows with sorrow?  

Read the rest here:  My Cup Overflows

What is Suffering?

The slim little book, LAMENT FOR A SON, by Nicolas Wolterstorff was a lifeline for me in the first few weeks after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

It wasn’t just because both of our young adult sons died in an accident.

It was mostly because Wolterstorff refused to distill the experience down to one-liners.  

He admitted that (even ten years later-which was the copy of the book I received) he was still struggling to make sense of all the feelings and spiritual implications of child loss.

And I love, love, love that he picks out every single thread and follows it as far as it goes.

Here is an excerpt on suffering:  

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted — work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain — that is suffering.
Or rather, that is when suffering happens. What it IS, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I understand nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.
We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.


This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.


~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

My heart receives two truths from his words: 

  • that if I love, I WILL suffer.  That’s the nature of love-risking all for the benefit of another means that my heart is ultimately in their hands; and
  • pain is part of but not all of suffering.  Pain can often be dulled, dealt with, the source remedied.  Suffering is a state of the heart, mind, soul and spirit.  It can rarely be undone.  It must simply be endured.  

Understanding that the only way I could never suffer would be to never love helped me embrace this blow with a willing heart.  Even if I had known it was coming, I would still have chosen to love my son.  All the years I had are worth all the years I will carry this burden.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And understanding that there is no cure for suffering changes my perspective from looking for a way out to looking for a way to persevere.  

Nicholas Wolterstorff will never know my name but I will never forget his.

I am so grateful for Wolterstorff’s words.  

So thankful that he chose to share them with others.

Forever in his debt for being one of the first hands proffered to me on this journey.  

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Suffering Foretold

It’s easy for us this side of Calvary to point fingers at the Jews for getting it wrong. 

But when you are waiting for a Savior, you aren’t thinking that the One Who will save will be the One Who suffers.  

You think He will be strong and mighty and armed for battle.  You think He will conquer and lay waste and stride triumphant through the streets.

You don’t expect a Baby who becomes a Man who becomes a Sacrifice.  

But that is exactly Who Jesus is-He is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.  And that is why this brokenhearted mama can lean in and hold onto the hem of His garment. 

Because He knows. 

He. Knows. 

 

“Who would have believed what we now report?
    Who could have seen the Lord‘s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
    grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
    to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
    he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
    we ignored him as if he were nothing.

“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
    the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
    was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
    beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
    made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
    each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
    the punishment all of us deserved.

Isaiah 53:1-6

When I think I can’t take any more, I remember that Jesus took it all.  

When I think this life is too hard to endure, I turn my eyes and heart to the One Who endured the wrath of God for my sake. 

When I want to give up and give in, I hold fast to the One who holds me in His hand and Who held me in His heart as He hung on the cross. 

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

Repost: Surrender

“Follow Me,”  Jesus said to the twelve.

“Follow Me,” Jesus said to me when I was just a child.

“Yes,” I replied-not knowing or counting the cost. 

If it was a single commitment without opportunity for turning back then it would be easy.

But it’s not.  

Read the rest here:  Surrender

Repost: Sparrows DO Fall

I have never subscribed to the theory that the Christian life is free of pain and suffering.

But there are some who do.

Christian bookstores are filled with titles touting the path to joy and happiness, the way to wealth and material success.

Read the rest here:  Sparrows DO Fall