He is completely engaging, adeptly incorporating modern-day analogies into biblical events. His warmth from the podium always reminded me of my grandfather; when you left his church you felt as though you had been hugged. His natural grace extends to the dinner table and he masterfully includes each person in the conversation.
One ordinary day, my friend raced her boyfriend up a flight of stairs and did irreparable damage to some clandestine nerve endings. She was suddenly and unexpectedly in excruciating pain. This fit, athletic young lady was reduced to near helplessness. Almost a decade later, despite extensive treatment from the country’s leading experts, her condition continues to deteriorate. Her pain has robbed her of a number of things that she deeply loved: her first home, a promising career and social interaction with her peers. She has been forced to surrender long held dreams to God’s sovereignty, closely guarded independence to His foreknowledge.
Her sagacious father was left to assemble the pieces of her life in such a way that it made sense on some level; sense to her, to her family and to his congregation. Their faith remained strong, deeply rooted in their history. They were (and are) not swayed by the assault on the temporary. Their focus is fixed on forever.
In Phillip Yancey’s book, What Good Is God?, he shares the story of what was, for him, a life-altering event. In 2007 his vehicle crashed, overturning down an icy embankment. Strapped onto a gurney, he was told that his neck was broken and the fracture was perilously close to an artery. For several hours he was denied medication, as they tested his responses. He tells of his doctor’s constant probing, sticking, pressing, always followed by the question, “Does this hurt?” All responses affirmative, the doctor answered, “That’s good.” The fact that he felt pain indicated that the spinal cord was not damaged. Pain offered proof of life, Yancey said. It was a vital sign that his body remained whole.
Dallas Willard wrote that “Nothing irredeemable has happened or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world.” Nothing. Paul wrote that all things work together for good to those who love God; one translation says that in all things God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good. All things.
A few years ago I took some nagging questions and eventually arrived at what I really believe. My journal read, “I have questioned His ways. I asked ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ I have gazed at the stars on a clear night and asked, ‘Are You really there?’ But Lord, I have resolved . . .
. . . to trust You when I disagree with You.
. . . to walk beside You on those days I’d rather lag behind.
. . . to sit and learn when I would rather go and do.
. . . to die, convinced there is no other way to live.”
One day the losses that my friend in Pennsylvania has endured will be redeemed. One day the suffering endured by those who love God will stand as a testament to His enduring faithfulness. Until then, we echo Yancey’s conviction that pain offers proof of life, proof that we remain whole. We drink from the cup of sorrow knowing that, one day, it will pass. And our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).