Suffering, Part 9
Trials never come singly. They come in batches, a whole pile of trials, overwhelming us from all sides. Were it not this way, we would rely on our own strengths, rather than casting ourselves upon the Lord. We must come to the end of ourselves, because learning to rely on the Lord is life’s most important lesson.
In the book of Job and in the lives of most Biblical figures, we see this norm. Trials come hard against strong people, battering us down until we learn who we really are at our core. Just like plants need stress in order to sink their roots deep, so we need trials in order to grow. Otherwise, our pride blinds us to our own insufficiencies and weaknesses.
The trial pile proves to us that we must have Christ.
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.
You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind.
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
Even my own family stands at a distance.
Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God”
(Psalm 38:1-15 NLT).
As grim as this psalm sounds, this shows us one of the most beautiful, transformative, and renewing moments in a human life. Here the psalmist turns constantly toward the Lord in the midst of heartache and loss. This is a dialogue.
When we talk to God and wait on him to answer, we show our faith. In the very act of speaking to God, a wounded, confused, and hurting person demonstrates faith. It shows that we believe he is there and that he cares.
Acting on these vestiges of belief is the beginning of a new life of deeper faith and commitment. How do we apply what we know theologically about suffering to the emotions and despair we feel in the bottom of the pit?
We honestly talk to God. It’s that simple and that difficult.
We surrender. In the 1990s I shook my fist at God and quit talking to him. Repeatedly, I hurled my Bible study booklet Lord, Where are You When Bad Things Happen? against the wall as I learned to yield to God’s discipline.
God was not offended. He continued the necessary work to draw me to himself.
I had to learn to listen. I had to come to trust him enough to talk to him again. Engaging with other women and with God in a Bible study was my way of turning toward him and waiting on him, rather than of continuing to run.
We begin the real work of learning to trust God when all our props have been destroyed. It’s easy to trust him when all our goods surround us, there is money to pay the bills, and everyone is healthy. Remove that, and we then find out if we really trust God at all.
Now is the time to find out. It’s of eternal importance. If we turn toward him, even if it’s to yell at him, we demonstrate the small mustard seed of faith, the baby stirrings of a faith that will grow.
But beware the bitter root. After all the instruction about God’s discipline and refinement in Hebrews Chapter 12, the author warns:
Work at living in peace with everyone,
and work at living a holy life,
for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.
Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you,
The roots of a plant determine its health and can destroy the plant. A spiritually bitter root pulls us into a septic hole.
If we continually tally our losses, if we constantly rehearse the hurtful words the other said, if we refuse to forgive, if we defend our rights and resist our losses, we invite the bitter root to sprout. We build rock walls of lies and anger within our hearts (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
This is why we must look after one another in trial. God offers his grace freely in Christ. In him we have sustaining power and healing love, but if we can’t see it because our eyes are blinded by suffering and bitterness, we need to be reminded. Someone must come alongside and do that.
Sometimes we can only turn back to God by plunking ourselves down in the middle of other believers with a Bible in front of us and a hard heart. As we sit with them, facing God, these other sufferers help us to quit resisting God’s grace.
To miss the grace of God is to miss God entirely. Without his grace there is no salvation and none of himself. Receiving what he freely offers means Christ is truly in us.
The lessons learned in the middle of the trial pile are essential. Don’t resist.
Where are you now in this?