The Fiery Breath of Hope

We all have memories in our heads. The kind that hurt even to speak of, but the thing about these exceedingly agonizing stories is that we can tell them to each other. Our misfortunes and suffering suddenly have great meaning not just because of the way we have been changed by them, but also in the way that we can relate to others.

                “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

                I’ve found this to be rewarding. Being able to come forward and tell someone how you survived such a painful occurrence. I don’t mean being dramatic or exaggerating. I mean being honest about how much it hurt and how lost you were and how you didn’t care to think of tomorrow because that was a luxury for happy people.

                It’s helpful that we can share these intimate experiences and grow closer in our relationships. Showing that vulnerability, exposing our weaknesses, creates this beautiful gap. This is humbling, this is honest and this is expressing your hope in another person to overcome what she is struggling with. It’s not a game of comparison—who is better and who is worse off. No.

                It is about telling someone that you survived a tragedy and you believe in this person that she can do the same. Telling someone you believe in her, that you care for her and that you love her is inexpressibly kind. It is godly. It is necessary because it influences her to keep trying. In a way, it’s like you’re predicting this person’s future. You’re predicting that she will be alright; she will endure.

                “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” 1 Corinthians 14:3

                When you help someone like this you’re acting like Jesus because you’re telling someone not to give up (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33) and with his help we also overcome the world.

                “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:3-5

                “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3

                Recently my friend Sally Sparrow was on Facebook. She had a status update explaining that she was writing an essay about her little brother. Her brother, whose real name was Josh, committed suicide when he was a teenager. I forget if he was eleven or fifteen years old, but he was around that age; he was very young. Josh had been severely bullied in school…does this story ring with similarity? I know I’ve heard multiple stories of young people killing themselves because of malicious abuse…they all ended their lives, but the stories are completely different.

                Their stories cry out for justice like the blood of Abel. I believe God exacts justice on Earth, but the ultimate judgment will come when Jesus returns (Romans 2:5). If Jesus doesn’t return during your lifetime, death will absolve all wrongs. Death has a way of making every man honest…to the point of bowing at the knee and acknowledging their Creator (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11). And everyone will have to face the Judge (2 Corinthians 5:10).

                Despite Sally’s ongoing misery over her brother’s passing, even though it’s been many years, she has the ability to comfort people in similar situations. Can you imagine being close to someone who then committed suicide? Well, I know someone who could sympathize with you. I know someone who daily faces the same loss. And I bet you’d want her in your life because she could strengthen you. Suddenly Sally’s depravity of her brother becomes a source of hope and life for those who are enduring the same losses. Even though Josh has been dead for years he keeps busy helping people. His name carries on and God uses his memory as a tool for comfort.

                Why things end up the way they do is a mystery, but the beauty of God and his love for us remains. If Josh accepted Christ then Sally will see him again someday. If Josh was not a Christian…it is painful to think this way about anyone. But assuming that Josh was a Christian, I remember Sally asking me a very Catholic-related question of whether a Christian who commits suicide will still be allowed into Heaven. The answer to that question, Biblically, is yes. Christ forgives ALL SINS. Suicide falls under sin in that it is murder of one’s self.

                This is the verse that I gave to Sally after she asked me that question:

                “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

                You cannot be separated from God once you have accepted Christ. Although some Christians argue that you can lose your salvation…you can lose your faith…I don’t know about these things. I just know what’s written in the Bible. Like this verse:

                “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28

                It seems to me that a person who “loses her faith” never actually believed in the first place. The disciple John seems to echo the same thoughts here:

                “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” 1 John 2:18-19

                In staying with Sally’s story, she believes her father lost his faith in God after Josh’s passing. Sally’s father now shows no signs of being a true Christian. His vital signs are nonresponsive.

                I’m sure you’ve heard people exclaim that because of (insert tragedy here) this means God cannot exist because if God was good and loving and just he wouldn’t have allowed such a thing to transgress. This is really foolish thinking. Is everything supposed to go exactly as you think it should? Is everything supposed to be positive and happy and wonderful? I’m not making an argument that you can’t appreciate good things without bad things as comparison.    I mean that tragedies are just as important as satisfaction. We need weaknesses and shortcomings to make us aware of our desperate need for help. Help from God. Suffering bears in us discipline, faith, endurance and maturity of character (Peter 1:6-7, Colossians 1:9-12). Those things are precious and worth the pain.

                “…he (God) who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

                I’m not saying that Josh’s death is a good thing. I’m saying it was God’s will and we don’t understand things like this. We never know what these things mean and we have no idea what the future will bring. But I do know that God is not cruel and spiteful. God is just and he is love. He loves us so do not think for a second that something went amiss and that God made a mistake or that you pissed him off.

                In the Old Testament, before Christ, it was possible to incense God and his wrath would come upon people. With Christ that wrath is permanently removed so there is no fear (Romans 5:9).

                How we react to a situation is important. If someone sins that is always wrong regardless of our reactions. The same is true for obeying God and how this is right regardless of our reactions. In the event that something happens that is not sinful…for example a flat tire…how we react to any situation is meaningful.

                I can’t tell you how many people in the Bible complained or threw their hands up when things got really complicated. It’s in human nature to pull away from painful experiences. We demand comfort and we demand it instantly. No waiting. The pain needs to stop immediately.

                But that’s not how it works. We must suffer as Christians because this is how God is revealed in our lives. If we were perfectly strong and had no problems then why would we need God? God’s purpose in our lives would be void if we didn’t need him. Taking it to the furthest extreme, if we didn’t sin why would we need God? When we sin we need forgiveness from God. We need help, we need healing, we need comfort, we need love.

                Our memories of disasters can be used to build up others, but the disasters change us. They make you who you are and they will continue to come sometimes in threes or fours or fives. God tells us to trust in him whether things are going well or whether they’re going terribly. God knows what he is doing and all situations have a purpose. God plans everything and it will work out. God probably has a plume of crazy white hair on his head. It’s unmanaged and un-brushed. If he’s wearing glasses then they must be crooked with cracked lenses. God is absolutely insane in the most perfect way.

                What I mean is that he somehow handles everything and he sees how much we screw up, but he loves us and he doesn’t turn away from us and for some reason he finds all of us very valuable. God is insane! You know why? He created everything. He makes stars appear out of dust and gases, but somehow he favors people over stars? He’s mad. He’s absolutely mad.  

                I’m being endearing really. I don’t mean that God suffers from mental illness, although, that would explain the human race quite sufficiently, don’t you think? Because humans don’t make that much sense. Even though God is crazy about us, we need to have the same affections for each other whether unbeliever or believer. Love is the greatest command…keep in mind that love and acceptance are not the same thing. For example, you can love an unbeliever, but that doesn’t mean you accept her lifestyle. Understand? Sometimes people try to twist love and acceptance into the same definition, but they are different.

                The next time a tragedy crashes into your life and sends your mind spinning, remember that Jesus is with you to help you endure it. Somehow, out of the melancholy and frustration, something good will come into being.

                It always does.

                “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:13-14

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