Which of these two questions causes you to squirm the most: Why do seemingly honorable people suffer? or Why do the people who do bad things prosper? I wrestle with both of them. For instance, it makes we wonder why people who strike unethical deals and cheat on their contracts seem to get away with their schemes and even prosper, while someone who is seeking to live for Jesus struggles to pay his or her bills.
Some dear friends of mine lost their little boy, Raphael, to death after just 8 weeks of life. Although my heart broke for them and I longed to be a comfort, I had no idea how to ease their pain.
As a missionary served in Estonia, many deaf people received salvation in Jesus. The new believers began praying fervently for the ability to hear, and, miraculously, two were healed! But then, as the missionary recalls, “Immediately these two brothers were on the outside of the deaf community.” That’s when the remaining deaf believers in Jesus recognized their deafness was a gift—something that allowed them to reach a segment of society in a personal way.
The 2010 French film Of Gods and Men recounts the inspiring and tragic story of nine Trappist monks who lived in the small Algerian monastery of Tibhirine. For years, the various religious communities lived in friendship. As the political climate deteriorated, however, radical elements took advantage and gained power. The Brothers debated whether they should escape Algeria, but eventually they determined that God would not have them abandon their village. Then, after midnight on March 27, 1996, militants overwhelmed the monastery and captured seven of the Brothers, all of whom lost their lives.
Kitsch Jesus” is very popular. In paintings and posters, he’s portrayed as having straight teeth, perfect skin, bright blue eyes, and long, flowing hair. He’s often in soft focus, sitting in a peaceful sunlit field and is almost always gazing lovingly at the lamb he cradles in his arms. “Kitsch Jesus” wears long, white robes even when he’s painted in a modern setting, and occasionally he holds a shepherd’s staff. “Kitsch Jesus” rarely has a care in the world and never sports a furrowed brow. He’s a lavender-scented, greeting-card Jesus who is all pixies and daisies and skipping through the fields.
The Great Andamanese is one of the most ancient people groups, a collection of 10 tribes tracing their lineage directly back to the first people who migrated out of Africa. These tribes have slowly dwindled over the past few centuries. One of the tribes had only one survivor remaining, Boa Sr.—a woman with no children and failing eyesight. After Boa’s husband died, she was no longer able to speak to anyone in her native language (Bo).
Commotio cordis, which normally leads to cardiac arrest, is caused by an abrupt and blunt hit to the chest. Often it occurs as an object strikes an individual near the heart during the “window of vulnerability”—a 10- to 30-millisecond moment between heartbeats. The medical condition, usually experienced by boys and young men as they play sports, often results in death.
As I watched the news of a commercial flight that had been downed by a missile last year, my heart sank. Why would people wantonly take the lives of 298 people? Why? This small, three-letter word sits at the root of all our experiences with pain and suffering. It lingers, and sometimes even haunts to the point where faith and understanding collide in crisis.
One time when I was high up a mountain in Norway, God chose to rescue me from an untimely death. At the time it felt anything but pleasant, but God knew that I was in spiritual bondage and that I needed to be saved—largely from myself. He was aware that I was spiritually dead and needed to wake up to my predicament. So he sent a series of extremely uncomfortable events my way in order that I might see what I truly needed—Him!
The Bible presents many suffering people who were miraculously healed in response to prayers. Miriam was healed of leprosy (Numbers 12:1-15). King Hezekiah, who was terminally ill, was given 15 years more to live (2 Kings 20:1-7). Job suffered too (Job 2:7)—enduring months of it before he was restored (Job 42:10).
After I moved to Africa, a couple living in the US contacted me and said, “We’d like to make a financial contribution to help you with your ministry in Uganda.” Because my job at the time didn’t require that I raise funds, I thanked them but declined their generous offer.
The Bible is not propaganda. Unlike some governments that share only positive reviews, Scripture records the words of people who are frustrated with God. Psalm 44 begins by remembering conquests that inspire trust in Him. “O God . . . our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day. . . . You crushed their enemies and set our ancestors free” (Psalm 44:1-2). The psalmist concluded, “You are my King and my God” (Psalm 44:4).
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
What do soldiers, athletes, and farmers have in common? Discipline. Soldiers go through drills day in and day out. They want to be battle ready. Athletes undergo strict training so they can compete in the race. Farmers work from the rising of the sun until it sets, patiently toiling in hope of a bountiful harvest.