Monday, April 22, 2013

Trust and Hope in Suffering

The explosions in Texas and Boston, and the earthquake at the Pak-Iran border this week, have changed the lives of the victims and their families. The measure of pain they undergo is unimaginable. Loss of human and material significance inflicts physical pain and emotional turmoil that robs the victim of peace, joy, love and contentment from his life.

Suffering inflicts an irreversible change, but not irreparable. We will not regain the loved one whom we lost, or the lost vigor of an injured organ of our body, or even our shattered material belongings. These are irreversible changes. But there is a way to find peace, joy, love and contentment through suffering. That way is through the life giving presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘Peace’ is a foundational necessity in pain. It is natural to lose peace when we encounter pain. Peacelessness yields worry/anxiety, bitterness, anger and the likes. It entails confusion and disorder, which darkens the mind into taking erroneous decisions. When there is peace, ‘worry’ or ‘confusion’ is crushed. Peace paves way to joy, love, and contentment.

However, it is typical for a Christian to go through moments of worry/anxiety, bitterness, anger and the likes, during his suffering. But he should never let these emotions gain control of his life; thus destroy his inner peace and intimacy with God.

Foundational to ‘peace’ is ‘trust.’ If a Christian is to be at peace with God, then he ought to trust in HIM. The same concept is true for human relationships. Trust or belief or faith is the core essence of any relationship, so it is with Christianity. Our total trust should always be on God; this effectively eliminates a conflicting trust in our own ability (Proverbs 3:5). In the relationship between God and man, ‘trust’ is always unidirectional – God-ward (man to God) – and unconditional. A Christian should trust God in joy and sorrow, in health and sickness, for better or for worse. He should trust in God’s love and goodness.

Trust is demonstrated appropriately when a Christian surrenders his life into the hands of a good and a loving God. Such a trust is depicted in the instance where the Apostle Paul says he no longer lives but Christ lives in him, and the life he lives is by faith in God (Galatians 2:20).

In summary thus far:
1. A Christian totally trusts in God or he ought to totally trust in         God.

2. His trust in God is demonstrated by his surrender to God.

3. When his life is surrendered to God, he is able to enjoy God’s blessings (one of which is peace.) The extent of his surrender to God determines the extent to which he enjoys his spiritual blessings from God. In other words, the extent of a Christian’s growth in the Lord will determine the extent of his stability in the Lord through prosperity or adversity.

Our existential dilemma is that our ‘trust’ in God stumbles upon obstacles! There are moments in suffering when we are pushed beyond our limits. Then we question God. There is nothing unusual or incorrect about questioning God. But the unusual and incorrect response is when our trust in God decreases during suffering.

The book of Lamentations offers us a useful insight. Even though Lamentations is poetic and the context is divine retribution over the sinful Judah and Jerusalem, the cries of the lamenter’s heart are vividly portrayed. He lamented about his unparalleled suffering (1:12), his defeat in the hands of evil (1:14), the desertion of human comfort (1:16), so much so he compares God to his enemy (2:5)! His wailing climaxed in chapter 3. In verses 17 to 19, he lamented about deprivation of peace, amnesia of prosperity and hope in the Lord, and his soul’s depression. He seemed lost, lonely and hopeless. However, he did not lose his trust in God.  

In chapters 1 and 2 he recalled God’s goodness during his laments – HIS righteousness (1:18), and HIS justice and promise (2:17). Through his laments he remembered his righteous God.

The lamenter turned a new page in verse 21 of the third chapter – his laments transform into hope in God. He rediscovered ‘hope’ when he recalled God’s love (v22), compassion (v22), faithfulness (v23), and goodness (v25). Yes, this is the same Lord whom he compared to an enemy! But now, he realized his hope in the Lord. How wonderful are his words (Lamentations 3: 21-26, NIV):
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

If ‘trust’ seems to take a beating, ‘hope’ should come out firing. What better than to hope in the Lord when we recall HIS blessings in our past? Let us not forget the blessings we enjoyed from the Lord. HE will never leave or forsake us. HE is there with us, HE will guide us through our sufferings, HE will offer us HIS peace, and HE will heal and deliver us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV).

Are we in immeasurable pain? Let us relate ourselves to the author of Lamentations. He was in immeasurable pain. But he recalled God’s blessings, which leads him to place his trust and hope in God. Similarly let us recall God’s blessings of our past, and trust and hope in God and his unfailing love for our present and future.
For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love. (Lamentations 3:31-32, NIV).


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