What do you do when your world falls apart? What do you do when everything goes wrong? What do you do when as the Psalmist says, your flesh and heart fail (Psalm 73:26)? What do we do, how do we respond when we face suffering, and what seems like pointless random suffering?
I thought those were just theoretical questions before a few years ago, and they were challenged again after receiving the news of a mate from back home dying suddenly on Friday. He wasn’t a close friend, but he was a mate; we played football together, we went to the pub together, we played Football Manager together… we grew up together. From perfect health, to illness and death within a few days, 23 years old – it is tragic and sobering.
(some of) The Riseley Boys: Campbell, Czaicki, Stu, Me, Bonce, Boom
How do we respond? Shock – sometimes when people die it’s a long process, people have time to prepare, this was sudden and shocking. Grief – I cried, I’m a long way from home right now, I’m not there with the guys to grieve, but am still in mourning. Shaken – it shakes me up to the reality, the brevity of life… will I make my life count?
How do I respond as a Christian? How do I respond to the fact that I believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God who has power over life and death and all things in this world, yet let this tragedy take place? First, I grieve (John 11:35), I cry out to God to bring the pains of this world to an end. But why would God let it happen, surely this suffering is pointless? Jesus is asked some tough questions like this in Luke 13… there’s some people at a place called Siloam who get crushed by a falling tower (18 people die)… Jesus doesn’t focus on those who die, but on those who are left, those asking the questions… he says that one day you’ll die too, and face God. The only way we can escape death is to trust the One who beat death, Jesus Christ.
Why do I keep going? Why do I keep trusting a God who lets this stuff happen? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Why then must I persevere – because there is hope! There is hope of life, true life, eternal life, for whoever puts their trust in Christ.
I’ve just come back from New Word Alive. On the final night Richard Cunningham spoke on our call to serve God, in his talk he spoke about David, his nephew. David was diagnosed with Leukaemia at the age of 11 (he died a few weeks ago) at his diagnosis he said to the doctor – “I’m not scared of death. I’ve got a friend called Jesus who will keep me safe”. That is simple, child-like faith, but that is all that is required to receive new life, a simple trust that Jesus is king, that he died in your place for your sins, and that he rose to new life that we might too.
If you’re not a Christian, can you give any answers to the problem of suffering, do you find hope or meaning in tragedy? Seek Jesus, only the One who has suffered to the point of death, and now lives can help, can give answers. If you are a Christian is your view of God big enough, is He sovereign enough to answer these questions? If you’re not currently experiencing suffering, do you have a theology of suffering which is rooted in the cross and the glory of God’s sovereignty – if not, how do you expect to stand when the storm comes? I can’t commend highly enough a book by Marc Maillefer called ‘God in the Storm‘, it will help you to focus on Christ in your suffering.