Have you ever thought about the woman in the Gospels who bled for 12 years, who suffered so greatly and spent all she had, but was never healed? A woman so desperate for relief she fought through a crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment?
How many times did she get her hopes up when she heard of another doctor and another remedy, only to be crushed again and again? How many well-meaning remarks did she have to endure from friends and family? How often in the middle of the night did she get on her knees and beg God for help, throat nearly strangled by tears of grief?
And nothing. Twelve long years of silence from heaven.
What about the man born blind? How often did he and his family endure scoffing and hypocritical questions? How many times was he taunted by neighborhood kids growing up — oooh, your parents must have sinned big for God to curse you this way! How many times did his parents drag him to the temple to make sacrifices for the sin they thought his blindness represented?
Did that little boy cry out to God from his darkness? Was he resigned to his fate or filled with bitterness? How was he treated by the extended family, unwillingly burdened by the shame his blindness brought upon them all?
Twelve years of bleeding and suffering. A lifetime of darkness and shame. And for what?
For you, my friend. And for me.
So that the works of God might be displayed in them. So that we might believe.
One of the most typical street foods here in Turkey is called the döner. It’s sort of like a burrito, a tortilla that you fill with beef, chicken or lamb, and then a few other ingredients like pickled vegetables or french fries. The seasoned meat is stacked in an inverted cone on a vertical stake which turns slowly next to a heat source that continually cooks the meat as you take thin slices off.
Now I don’t mean to turn you off of trying a döner sometime because they can be quite delicious, but to me, sometimes suffering feels a little like being a döner. One day you’re minding your own business reading a nice book beside a quiet river, when suddenly someone slips up behind you and stabs you with a stake. Then they mount you in front of a blazing fire and instantly you’re in agony. You’re spinning and spinning and burning and burning. There are bits of you being sliced brutally away, and it seems like it’s never going to end.
And what do we do when we’re on the stake? Our tendency is to look down at our flesh melting away, mesmerized by the flames seeking to devour us. When the knife returns again and again we cower and nearly lose our minds in terror.
Look at me, we scream at God. Help me, save me, heal me!
Of course that’s our response — no one loves pain and suffering. And no one in their right mind volunteers to be burned alive!
But can I ask you something? Have you ever considered how many people suffered bringing you to faith? For me the number is high, but I can tell you in particular that I staked my parents through the heart and kept them up there spinning in the flames for years when I was a’prodigaling.
Yes, I was struggling through addiction and pain and grief. Yes, I was broken in a million pieces and fighting for my life. But in the most basic and truthful way, I was rebelling against God. I refused to yield to what I knew to be true because I was so angry with Him I could barely function.
And all that time in rebellion I stood there turning the wheel of my parents’ stake, watching them burn and writhe because of my actions. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was that I simply couldn’t take the step that was necessary to get them down.
A number of years ago I met a man in Senegal who told me how he came to believe in Jesus. He worked for a believing family for 20 years who treated him well and shared the truth with him over and over, but he never believed. Then one day, all but the father were killed in a car accident. Watching the father’s faith hold up through the onslaught of overwhelming grief caused this man to finally believe what they’d told him about Jesus all those years.
It was a great outcome for the Senegalese man, but personally, I always wondered about that father. What would he say to his former employee? Could he say it was worth the loss of his family that this one man might believe? Certainly not! Was there a sliver of good that came out of it? Okay, if you put it that way … but tread carefully, please.
Have you ever considered that the suffering you’re enduring — the weight of pain that feels like it will crush you at any moment — might be part of His plan to save someone else?
We take pride in our Western individualistic culture and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps — but it is not only not Biblical, it’s damaging in some ways. I don’t think the self-centered lenses we view the world through give us the complete picture of the way God operates. He sees His bride as a whole, a family, members of one body … AND … He will do anything it takes to get to a single lost sheep. I’ve come to believe He might even throw us up on the stake Himself.
So the question is — can we still believe in His goodness when our life is going up in flames? What if we’re in agony, on the spit, being turned and burned on every side, and it never ends this side of heaven? Will we be able to maintain our trust in a good God who loves us more than we will ever understand — and yet — is willing to let us keep burning for reasons He may never explain to us?
If the rock-solid foundational truth we have been able to build our lives on is that God is good, I believe it’s possible our answer could be yes. I can at least say I know personally a good number of people whose answer is yes. To rephrase Paul, let God be good, and my world go up in flames around me.
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night, it’s true
I will rescue you
I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight, it’s true
I will rescue you
Lauren Daigle, Rescue
Are you grieving? Let us grieve with you. Are you bleeding? Let us bind your wounds. Are you weary? Let us carry your pack for awhile. Have you just lost a dearly beloved? Let us wipe your tears and sit quietly by your side.
But let us never forget that this is not yet, in fact, heaven. Let us never forget that we are the broken and beloved He has chosen to populate His army with, living daily smack-dab in the middle of the territory of an enemy who seeks to devour us whole, but ever marching forward until every last one of our brothers and sisters is rescued from enemy hands. We belong to one another because we belong to Him.
Not all suffering is unexpected, some of it we can choose to walk into — leaving a group of dear Christian friends you love so that you have more time to spend with those who haven’t yet had a chance to hear, making yourself radically uncomfortable to spend time with and get to know a people group grievously opposed to your belief system, mortifying your flesh and your pride and your personality to truly love your enemy with no expectation of reciprocity.
What are you willing to endure so that your prodigal brother can finally come home? What are you willing to suffer so that your daughter will finally comprehend how much He loves her? What would you do for the guy at the office whose comments make your blood boil if you knew he would one day be your brother? Would you willingly place yourself where it’s possible they could drown you while climbing over you to get into the lifeboat? Because they’re drowning. They’re flailing. They’re dying. Right now.
The bleeding woman and the man born blind have been in heaven for approximately 2,000 years. How much time do you think they spend remembering their suffering? Or do you think they can say, like Paul, that it was light and momentary? Personally, I think the weight of glory has utterly obliterated those desperate years for them. And just think, their party is only beginning.