Whew! I’m at the tail end now of a five week sermon series at Central exploring the ways our faithful God sustains us during times of suffering. And I’m drained. Exhausted. Sweat-soaked and burned-out. Whoa. I’m looking forward to preaching something a little easier now like the mystery of the Incarnation.
I’ve been preaching here that the eternal nature of our God — the way he thinks, the way he acts, what drives him, his essence — is what we hold on to during the storms of life. We know that God loves us eternally; that everything he causes to happen and everything he allows to happen is motivated by his great love for us and his desire to live in holy relationship with him forever. We know God listens to us tenderly; that he wants us to lay our burdens at his feet and cry out to him in open and honest lament. We know that God understands totally what we’re going through; that through Christ Jesus our God experiences all of our pains and hurts; there’s nothing we go through that our Father hasn’t already gone through himself. And we know that God is sovereign over our sufferings; that he is completely in control of what’s happening to us and that he uses the really awful things in our lives to shape us into better reflections of his glory. Yeah, we know all that. And, yeah, those things are helpful to recall during terrible times.
But do they really fix anything?
See, that’s what’s been so tough during this series.
The last thing I ever want to do is to give the impression that I believe we should all just adopt the biblical perspective and then everything’s going to be fine. Because it’s not. Everything’s not fine. I want to honor both the pain of the sufferer and the words of our God that are intended to strengthen and sustain. I want to do both. I want to acknowledge the reality of the pain of living in this broken world and encourage our people by reminding them of the eternal realities of our God and his Kingdom. I want to do both.
This week a friend of mine forwarded a helpful passage from Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic:
“If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given you, it wouldn’t help you, whether they are picture-book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything — and probably the most it can do is help you to endure, or, if you cannot endure, to fail and fold without wholly hating yourself — is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, it’s the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and, if we can, to go on loving. We don’t say that God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world; not deep down. We say: all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us.”
Yeah. That’s what I’ve been trying to say for four weeks.
I think the sermons have resonated with our church. Mainly, I believe that there is pain in every pew; every Sunday we worship our God together in a room full of hurting people. So I feel like we’re all listening, we’re all paying attention. My prayer has been that our God is putting his word into every heart in exactly the way it’s needed to strengthen and encourage. And I do think it’s happening. I think the Spirit is compelling us to apply these truths about God into our own situations. And, while the pain doesn’t go away, we endure it together as a loving community of faith.