“The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” —George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, First Series
In Joy in the Sorrow, Matt Chandler describes how his life flipped upside down. “On Thanksgiving Day 2009, I woke up to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. The house was full of the joyful noises that accompany a day of feasting and playing.
“I hugged Lauren as I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. She asked if I could give Norah her bottle while she finished putting together dishes for lunch later that day. I walked into the living room and put my coffee down and fed Norah her bottle.
“I burped her.
“I turned to head back to my chair.
“And that’s my last memory before waking up in the hospital.”
Doctors informed him that a tumor, two inches in diameter, had been silently growing in his right frontal lobe. He needed emergency surgery that had the potential to permanently impair his mental capacity. Without it, though, his death would be swift.
Even if the surgery was a success, they told him, “You’ve probably got two or three years, and those years are going to be pretty awful.”
Almost every single one of us will hit a moment like this. Maybe it’s not a brain tumor, but it will be something devastating that rattles our entire lives and makes us sit down rather suddenly and heavily. What do you say to news like that? How do you respond?
Be careful. The choice you make next is very important.
The Right Song on the Wrong Side
David Wilkerson explored the story of Moses and Israelites crossing the Red Sea and their celebration that followed.
“Now they believe. Now that they've seeing the miracle, now that the sea has been opened, they walk on dry ground, out come the tambourines, out come the dancers, and they sang a beautiful song. They sang ‘The Lord has triumphed. He's my strength. He's my salvation. I will exalt him. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, fearful in praise and doing wonders?’ Right song, wrong side.
“They sang a beautiful song, but this was the song God so yearned for on the testing side. Anybody can praise the Lord after the victory has come. Anyone can dance when the prayers have been answered. What about facing the darkness?”
This is a hard idea to face. When we struggle and are gripped by terror at the future or very present troubles, we don’t want to hear God say, as he said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? …go forward” (Exodus 14:15 ESV).
“Was God unjust?” David asked. “Was he mean-spirited when he talks to his servant, to Moses, who went through so much to come to this point and had exercised so much faith and spoke clearly the heart of God? I wonder if the Holy Spirit is saying… ‘Why are you on your face just weeping in sorrow? Why are you mourning? Have I failed you in the past? Did you not see all of these deliverances? Do they not count?’”
This call to absolute trust in God has greater impact than just in our own lives. It could and almost certainly would have enormous importance for those who are watching believers walk through life.
“They don't want to see your miracles and mine. And they don't want to hear heavy preaching,” David pointed out. “They don't want the doctrine right now….
“They've seen transplants of hearts and they've seen limbs that are attached and fingers that are attached that had been cut off, and they see all of these medical miracles. And then, ‘No, no, no. I don't want to see a miracle. I want to see somebody, just an ordinary person like me who's going through hell on earth, who's going through a trial. And I want to see and hear something of hope.’”
Hope in the heart of the storm. Joy in the sorrow.
Choosing a Life-Altering Trust
Cancer is diagnosed. A family funeral must be scheduled. A pregnancy breaks hearts when the ultrasound shows no heartbeat. The spouse of many years suddenly announces that they’re serving you divorce papers.
By all rights, these should be backbreaking moments.
Set me against cancer, death, heartbreak or betrayal, and I will have the hearty constitution of wet tissue paper.
Set God against any of these disasters, and they disappear into him like asteroids floating off into the vastness of space. A loved one lost to us is hardly vanished for him. The malfunctions of our physical frames are nothing shocking to the one who knit them together. The future holds no suspense for one standing outside of time.
What’s more, he sacrificed himself to save us from our own self-destruction. A more loving act could not be found in all the world. We have stumbled upon a being far greater than any trouble we could face, one who has given an ultimate sacrifice to redeem us and one who is tenderly involved with our lives.
In her article Don’t Trust in Your Christianity, Heather Pace challenges readers, “Agreeing with the facts of the gospel isn’t equivalent to saving faith. Just think, the demons have far deeper theological understanding than do any of us, yet not one is saved (James 2:19). Unless our head knowledge shifts to life-altering trust, it’s not biblical Christianity.”
When our life implodes, we have a choice: trust God or not.
This is the choice Mary made as she carried a child who was not her husband’s. This is the choice Peter made over and over as he went over the edge of the boat and took each step over the murky water toward Jesus. This is the choice Paul made with each new pagan town he entered to evangelize. This is the choice Timothy made as older members of his church doubted his leadership because he was so young. This is the choice Onesimus, ex-thief and runaway slave, made as he walked home, caring Paul’s letter and preparing himself to apologize to his master.
Sorrow and pain have sunk their teeth into your heel. Death has you by the throat. What will you do? The choice you make is so incredibly important.
Staring Over the Edge of the Precipice
Trusting God doesn’t mean that we won’t feel fear or grief and that we won’t have questions. If we were free from all of those things, we’d be sociopathic at best and inhuman at worst.
Josh Squires wrote about how we build, or rebuild, trust. “John Gottman, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, has done quite a bit of clinical research on the topic. According to Dr. Gottman, trust is built when we observe actions that let us know another person is for me, even when it costs them.”
We know God is for us: he sent Jesus to save us. We know God’s choice cost him dearly: Jesus died an excruciating death in order to save us.
Trusting God means that we continue to cling to him, even when he doesn’t answer our questions, or doesn’t answer them the way we want. It’s remembering that Job had a very unique experience with God as a result of his extreme suffering. God revealed his nature to Job in a special way. He actually spoke to Job. He drew close.
As far as we know, he never revealed to Job the spiritual dynamics behind his suffering.
In a vlog post, Matt talked about suffering in a beautiful expression of trust as someone who just had doctors tell him to say his last goodbyes. At the very edge, he stared into the dark depths and said, “God, you are good.”
Years later, he’s still alive and well. God healed him, and now he helps others learn how to suffer well and trust God even when there are no answers.
The great theologian C. S. Lewis wrote in his book A Grief Observed, reflecting on the death of his beloved wife, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down….
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”