In 2011 an earthquake and tsunami caused a catastrophic meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Japan. A massive evacuation ensued, displacing thousands, with a 20-kilometer radius marked as an “exclusion zone.”
When I speak at high schools, one question I’m frequently asked is, “If God loves us, why do so many people suffer in the world?” In responding to my listeners, I challenge the idea that God best expresses His love to us by giving us things and simply making our lives easy. This inaccurate way of viewing how He operates exists and persists both inside and outside of the church.
In the movie Frozen, a young princess named Elsa has the truly chilling ability to freeze anything she chooses. But then she accidentally harms her beloved sister Anna with her gift. Not being able to control her freezing ways, Elsa eventually hides in her own lonely ice castle. In the end, however, the princess finds that the personal touch of love allows her to see her gift reach its full potential—under control and as a blessing to others.
An organization in South Africa began a compassionate project many years ago. The group buys houses in impoverished areas and paints them red. They then hire house parents who live in the red houses, providing beacons of light to the troubled communities. Over the years, these houses have become havens for children at risk and other hurting people in need of a safe place, a hot meal, a listening ear, and a warm hug.
5W1H. What’s that? Students of journalism are familiar with the “Five Ws and One H” method of fact gathering. This approach is also known as the Kipling Method, because of the poem Rudyard Kipling wrote that opens with these words:
I recently called a friend who has endured more than his share of hardship and weariness. People dear to him, people he loves, have made choices that have caused themselves pain and brought him heartache. When my friend answered the phone, however, his voice was bright.
It seems to me that there are three primary things in life that make people feel good about themselves: wealth, good looks, and knowledge. With this trio a person can feel significant (because people will flock to you for good and bad reasons) and secure (because you think you have some semblance of control).
During the closing seconds of an American football game, the referee had to make a very difficult, game-deciding call. His decision resulted in one team winning and the other facing the bitter sting of a loss. Furious fans from the losing team ridiculed and threatened the ref for days and weeks. In time he experienced panic attacks and even considered suicide. Doctors diagnosed his condition as post-traumatic stress disorder.
As my sister and I were growing up, our parents taught us about the love of Jesus and to enjoy intimate prayer with Him. As I grew older, sometimes life’s varied challenges pressed hard on me, and my prayers became requests based on need rather than tender dialogues with the One who delights in giving to His children (Matthew 7:11). In other words, my prayers were based on circumstances rather than on God’s character. Over time, I’ve learned to ask according not only to His will but also His goodness.
In 2013, John and Ann Betar became the oldest known American married couple as they celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. Their advice on staying happily married includes the following: “Don’t hold a grudge. Forgive each other. Live accordingly,” John advises. And Ann adds, “It is unconditional love and understanding. We have had that. We consider it a blessing.”
I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .
Recently, while I was out jogging, I listened to a recorded conversation between a 9-year-old son and his father. Rain poured down on me, but my eyes were even wetter from tears. The father told his son of the immense joy he felt on the day of the boy’s birth when the doctor had handed him his son for the first time. He also shared the concern he harbored that day: “You know, [I felt] fear . . . I gotta bring up a black boy in Mississippi, which is a tough place to bring up kids . . . there are statistics that say black boys born after the year 2002 have a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison.” Then he added these sobering words: “All three of my sons were born after the year 2002.”
One Saturday afternoon, a group of teenagers gathered in a cafeteria to ask one another some hard questions based on Philippians 2:3-4. Some of the difficult queries included: On a scale of 1 to 10, how selfish are you? How often do you take an interest in others too? Would someone describe you as humble or proud? Why?