Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Excruciating Suffering Comes

A friend of mine recently witnessed his young son-in-law pass away after a very short battle with cancer.  The family, full of faith and hope in Jesus, prayed first for healing, and did so until his dying day.  But as it became more and more clear that the Lord was going to take this young man, they said they were preparing for the worst while praying for the best.  All too quickly, the young man succumed.  

One of the tough parts of their story was hearing about how terribly the young man suffered in his final hour before he passed.  Excruciating pain and suffocation, gasping for breath, writhing as his body fought for one more minute and then another and then another.  After his death, this was the horrible last memory of a son, a husband, a friend, and a brother in our Lord. 

Why, after such faithful praying, would God allow such horror?

As I reflected on this, maddened myself over a sovereign God allowing such suffering and hardship, four thoughts came to mind. In no particular order, I share them here.  In addition, I am sure there are far more important thoughts to bring to bear.  I simply share what came to me in a cascade of response.

First, I remembered my own anger when my oldest son, now 25 (and the same age as this young man), was only three weeks old.  He was in the NICU in Baltimore.  After an emergency Cesarean, a frantic rush to a hospital with all of the best services, days upon days of tests, pokes and proddings, we had no diagnosis and no sense of what was going to happen next.

Nathan was on an intravenous drip, for antibiotics if I recall rightly, but his little body was having trouble providing veins for the IV.  One day, I helped the nurses as they tried to get a new vein to re-insert the IV.  They couldn't find one.  For thirty long minutes I helped hold him down while he screamed and cried as they kept sticking and resticking, twisting and searching with that needle in his arm, his leg, and finally up on his head.  I remember the hot anger I had that day at God.  "You can't even give him one little vein - I'm not asking for a healing - just one little vein."  

What kind of sadist did I worship?

Second, I remembered a question my 9th grade student asked in Bible Class just a couple weeks ago.  He wanted to know why Jesus had to suffer so much on the cross?  Why did God need Jesus to die a slow, painful, humiliating death?  If the point was for His death to pay for our sins and for His blood to be shed by that death, why not a quick death without prolonged suffering?

Third, I am reminded of how much death really is an enemy - and all that leads up to that death.  Death is an enemy whose sting has been removed for the believer because at the moment of death we pass into the immediate Presence of our Lord and Savior.  But death itself remains an enemy that will not be conquered in full until the return of our Lord.

Fourth, I was again reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Whatever suffering we do go through, however long that suffering is, God works it in us something so much more glorious in comparison to the suffering.  It is a glory which will exceed any suffering.  It is a glory whose heavy weight so knocks the scales of balance to its side that we all will be amazed - all who are in Christ.  But we cannot and will not see that glory on this side of eternity.  This is something we must embrace by faith.

But having embraced this truth, having embraced these sufferings from Christ, not only do we endure.  We will strangely find ourselves looking forward to them, hearing from our Savior, "more glory, more glory."

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