The Silent Masquerade: Unmasking Depression

Posted: August 19, 2014 by liftyourvoice1 in Depression, Suicide
Tags: , ,

Depression. It’s a word hardly spoken but a condition deeply felt by many. According to dosomething.org, about 20 million people in the U.S. deal with depression every year, and 25% of young adults will have an episode of depression before age 24. If depression is so common, why don’t we talk about it more? Why do we act as if those who struggle with it are flawed, or carry a contagious virus?

The answer is simple: the topic makes us uncomfortable.

If we haven’t dealt with it, we have no idea how to relate to those who suffer, and even if we have experienced it, we’re reluctant to be transparent with others who could use our words of comfort. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of being uncomfortable and we’re afraid of how others may perceive us when they find out we have struggled with depression, or, even worse, are currently struggling with depression behind a smiling face. We fear rejection, and so the masquerade and silence continue.
The silence must end.

Christians are not spared, nor are they any less “Christian” for having dealt with depression (take David’s pleading Psalms and the life of Job for example). If anything, I would argue that dark times in my life have made me more loving and understanding towards others while deepening my relationship with God. Often pain is required to drive us back to the foot of the cross and remind us that our Savior is all we have and all we need.

I remember when one of my relatives went through a tough time in her life and had to take psychiatric medication. It weirded me out. Would the medication make her act differently? Would she be herself? I’m happy to say, that her trials made her a better person. She grew in God and developed healthy self-esteem and good habits, both spiritual and physical. My apprehension grew into admiration. I admired her for the strong woman she became through her trials.

There’s so much I could say about depression. I could tell you that that you can be biologically inclined towards depression (like a hereditary disorder). I could tell you that not taking care of yourself, such as not getting enough sleep and not eating well, can add to the possibility of depression. I could tell you that not controlling your emotions and letting them control you will lead to dark times. I could even say that God is not punishing you when you’re depressed and He hurts to see you hurt when you’re struggling to make meaning out of sadness.

But none of this helps when depression has taken control of your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit, because depression has a nasty habit of hijacking your life. When the body fights physical pain, the mind is free and able to think above the circumstances. But when the mind is ill, when serotonin levels in the brain dip below normal, the mind flounders like a fish on land. The mind is clouded, and the one organ that controls all other organs and responses (the brain), is spinning out of control.

If you’re facing depression, you have to be open to getting help. You may need to take medication, go to counseling, and through iron will, over-ride your hijacked mind. As soon as you can, you need to start doing the right things, even if you don’t feel like it. You need to exercise, eat healthy foods, make sleep a priority, and embrace relationships and transparency with those you trust. And you need to go to God daily, and moment by moment. You need to embrace His grace, and you need to be gracious and patient with yourself. Be patient with the process. Believe that things will get better, because they will with time. Believe too that you matter and God cares about you immeasurably.

What if you’re not facing depression, but know someone who is? Be patient with them. Pray for them. Let them know you’re always there for them if they need to talk, or just need someone to hang out with, but don’t pressure them. Keep tabs on them, and encourage them to get psychiatric help if necessary. The brain, like any other organ of the body, can get tired and overwhelmed and sometimes needs a little extra tender loving care.
I pray that you seek God’s face wherever you may be right now: in a valley, on the mountaintop, or somewhere in between. I also pray that if you’re in the midst of a “mountain-top” experience now, that you not forget those in the valleys. Take time to stop and help your brothers and sisters in Christ as we are all loved by the same Father.

May God’s peace and love calm your hearts and minds,
Larkin

PS: I like to repeat this verse to myself when I start to feel worried and stressed, to keep myself focused on who I am in Christ: “For God has not given us a spirit of Fear, but of Power, and of Love, and of a Sound Mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, my emphasis added)

The Unforgivable Sin?

Posted: August 19, 2014 by liftyourvoice1 in Depression, Forgiveness, Suicide

Recently, two similar events have been brought to the forefront of attention. One was the suicide of Braxton Caner, the son of well known Evangelical Preacher Ergun Caner, and the other was the even more recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams. Although one was more highly publicized than the other, neither one was more tragic than the other. Both Caner and Williams had reasons for taking their own lives, perhaps we will never know for sure why they both made that decision, but regardless of the decision their loss has been felt strongly in both cases. It is when we face times like this that many questions arise, especially amongst Christians. 127135a

Growing up as a pastor’s son, I have seen the tragedy that suicide is. I have personally known two fathers whose sons have taken their own lives. Both of them asked the same question, “Was my son forgiven for his action and is he in heaven, or is suicide unforgivable?” It is a tough question to answer, but I am positive that these two recent suicides have no doubt brought that question to the forefront of many a Christian’s mind. I would briefly like to address this question and look at what Scripture has to say.

First and foremost, I must acknowledge that yes, suicide is a sin. The Ten Commandments clearly state “you shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) Another possible translation from the original Hebrew word used in this passage is to kill. Hank Hanegraaff points out,

“Suicide is the murder of oneself. As such it is a direct violation of the sixth commandment. . . Indeed suicide is a direct attack on the sovereignty of the very One who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).”(Hanegraaff, 399)

Suicide is a sin as killing another human being is a sin, just as stealing is a sin, or not obeying your parents is a sin.

As human beings, we feel the need to rank or categorize certain sins as more grievous than other sins. The truth is that no sin is greater than any other sin. Romans says, “The wages of sin is death.”(6:23)  Paul in Romans does not designate any one sin over the other as being more deserving of death; he simply says sin is deserving of death. Those who have studied the Bible know, however, in Romans 3 Paul states “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.” (3:23) This simply means that those who have accepted the gift that comes through Christ’s death and resurrection will spend eternity in Heaven and not experience death. This does not mean that we will not experience the death of our bodies, but rather we will not experience death in Hell.

Now that I have established that suicide is a sin like all other sins, equally deserving the punishment of death as other sins, and that if one has accepted the gift that Christ gives, then eternal punishment in Hell can be avoided, then let us address the issue at hand.

One of the fathers I knew who had a son commit suicide was told by “Christians” that his son automatically went to Hell because suicide was the unforgivable sin. First of all, what a horrible thing to say!!! Second of all, how would they know the eternal security of that young man!? I have already established that suicide, while egregious, is handled the same way by God as the sin of lying. If God handles them the same way, then how can suicide be the unpardonable sin?

I personally agree with and appreciate what Hanegraaf has to say about this:

“no single act is unforgivable. The unforgivable sin is a continuous, ongoing rejection of forgiveness. Those who refuse forgiveness through Christ will spend eternity separated from his love and grace. Conversely, those who sincerely desire forgiveness can be absolutely certain that God will never spurn them.”(398)

Who are we to say that someone who has committed suicide did not get right with God, ask for His forgiveness, and accept Christ fully right before they committed the act? If a person who has accepted Christ right before committing suicide is sent to Hell, then so is the person whose tells a lie right before they die. Ephesians 2:8 points out, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son, that whoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

This means, when we put our faith in God and what He has done through Jesus, then we receive Christ’s grace. That grace is pouUnknownred onto our whole lives. Christ’s forgiveness is of our sins past, present, and future. Think about that for a second: Jesus has already forgiven sins I have yet to commit!! Woah, talk about mind blown! (This is by the way, not a license to go out and sin as we please.) Here’s the point: if you have accepted Christ as your savior then God has already accepted you; you are one of His children. YOU BELONG TO HIM!!!
Nothing can change that; not even something bad that you did at the last moment of your life. Our relationships with Christ are not about keeping track of rights and wrongs, that  is grace through works. Our salvation is in grace through faith in what Christ has done for us. In that breath then, we need to be exercising our faith in Him by glorifying Him, worshiping Him, enjoying Him, and loving Him with our entire being. To say that if a Christian commits suicide and they are not forgiven is a slap in the very face of God.

Now, as to the debate of if a Christian would really commit suicide, I do not know if I should get into that. Hank Hanegraaf says that the thought of suicide is one that Christians dare not contemplate.(398) But, who am I to say that even a Christian could not lose sight of the value of their life? Many Christians battle with depression and anxiety. These diseases have been linked to many suicides. For this part of the debate, I will say that I cannot say for certain if a true Christian can commit suicide or not. Instead, what I will say is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be spreading the wonderful gift that we have through Jesus… It is not our job to condemn people to Hell (I am thankful for that), rather, we need to spread the word to people that YOU MATTER AND GOD CARES!

 

Bibliography

Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book. Nashville Tennessee Thomas Nelson. 2008.

Discerning God’s Will

Posted: August 9, 2014 by liftyourvoice1 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

In light of our prayerful journey in re-launching Lift Your Voice ministries, I thought it would be a good time to write on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time, namely, God’s will.

Confession: I am a perfectionist and am afraid of making mistakes, especially making wrong decisions.

Because of this, I have lived in paralyzing anxiety over how to handle situations in my life. I would pray, but not hear an answer. I would read the Bible, but find no clarity. What if I made the wrong choice? What if I missed something God had for me? What if…? I could question my little life choices until the cows came home. Thankfully, my anxiety has improved along with my faith through, you guessed it, trials and struggles.

I discovered a key component to discerning God’s will in a previous relationship. I had been praying before the relationship, and praying during the relationship, but I didn’t know if it was “right.” By this time, I was in my early 20s and I didn’t believe in casual dating. I was dating to found a spouse, a life-time partner and companion. I was greatly conflicted, because my emotions and logic were tangled in a lovely mess. Part of me wanted to tell my brain to chill, while the other part of me wanted to tell my heart to quit interfering. People always say “listen to your heart,” as if the heart and emotions are trustworthy. God himself speaks on this in Genesis 8:21, stating that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” I continued to live in doubt, doubting my choices and doubting what God had for me.

Somewhere along in the relationship, I talked to my parents over my dilemma. My father wisely said to give it to God by praying “Lord, if this is your will, bless this relationship. If not, take it away. I give it to you.” I was confused, because I thought I had been praying that. I realized my mouth had said the words, but my heart and my soul had not backed those words. When I finally became desperate and no longer cared if I lost the relationship, I prayed, “God, I want your will. Please bless this or take it away. I don’t need him God, I need you.” True to God’s promise that He answers prayer, the relationship ended within the next few days. It hurt, I cried, but I had never been more at peace or more sure that I had made the right decision.

Ok, Larkin, you’re saying, that’s all nice and your love life is fascinating, but what does this have to do with finding God’s will, and why are you sharing this now?

Excellent question!

After that relationship ended, my new life motto and prayer was “Bless it or take it away.” That simple. And it was liberating. I learned in my single months that God is not an eight ball you shake for answers nor a genie who gives you whatever you want, but a loving Friend and Father who gives you what you need. I learned that God wanted very little from me, that all He desired was a close relationship with me and that I love others as He loves. Love God, love others. Seek to please Him. It wasn’t a matter of a checklist, or simple yes and no’s. It was a daily walk with God. It was freedom to choose within His will, too. As long as I was in prayer and seeking His face with my hands not grasping onto anything, claiming things as my own, God would not steer me wrong. Things and people could pass in and out of my life without me fearing the outcome, because I was not in control, and that is a wonderful place to be.

In light of Lift Your Voice ministries, my prayer is the same: “Lord, bless this ministry by providing the things you know we need and bringing people into our lives that will help us and encourage us along the way. This ministry is yours. If this ministry is not your will, withhold your blessing, and take it away. Though we feel this is right, we want what you know is right. We trust you, Lord. Amen.”

 

May you live in peace as you seek God through a relationship with Him and allow him to “bless or take away” things in your life.

 

God’s peace be with you,

Larkin

Something Like Scales

Posted: June 29, 2012 by ericrasberry in Uncategorized

“As he neared Demascus…” that is how verse 3 of Acts chapter 9 starts.  I was reading that this morning and I couldn’t get that phrase out of my head.  How many times have I been on my way to “Demascus” and God intervened?  How many times have I been knowingly on my way to do something and God got in my way?  In this account in Acts we know that Paul, then Saul, is on his way to Demascus to continue his persecution of followers of Jesus and before he got there God stopped him in his tracks and his life was never the same.  Every Christian has had a moment where once they were blind and then they could see; every Christian has had their Demascus road experience.  (Side note: I think that the song Amazing Grace has special meaning to Paul)

But I think it’s important to take that encounter and apply it to what the Holy Spirit does to those who he indwells.  We are all prone to wander from God, we are all attracted and drawn away by our own desires and enticed into sin.  Our flesh is constantly at war with the Spirit.  I realized as I looked back at my own life how many times I wandered down the “road to Demascus” and God in his mercy and grace convicted me and I repented. 

I think we all should take a moment to lift a special praise to the Lord for loving us enough to catch us on our way to hurt him and ourselves and renew a right relationship with him.

Family Tragedy ……….

Posted: June 1, 2012 by wisconsinsk8er in Uncategorized

Well, I am one who is a close friend with tragedy, sadly. Where to begin… Well, when I was about 8 or 9  years old we lost my great Grandma and that hit my family pretty hard, but I really didn’t know what was going on then. As I got older I realized, and then I hit 12 or 13 and my best friend’s mom died and she was like a second mom to me, and that hit me really hard. Then jump ahead a few more years: now I am 17 1/2 almost 18 and my doctor’s told me that I had leukemia. I had leukemia for almost a month, till my doctor’s had no idea what happened to it. Now jump up one more year to me being 19. My Grandpa had been fighting in and out of hospitals for almost a year and a half and we lost him this past January to “CHF,” Congestive Heart Failure. So yeah me and my family know what tragedy looks like and it is not fun but God had been there through it all every step of the way. He was right there by my side and my family’s side the entire time when we lost my Great Grandma , when my best friend’s mom died , when I had cancer, and when my Grandpa died. And God will continue to be there  even though it did not seem like it. When I had cancer I felt alone and scared and afraid to die cause I had drifted away from Gods unfailing mercy & love & grace, and it took me having cancer for almost a month to realize I needed Him back in my life. And even though it did not seem like he was there for my mom when her Dad died he was right there comforting her every second of every day . So if you are going through a tough time just remember that God is always by your side every day and every second.

From Tragedy to Triumph:  Facing Life when We Lift Our Voice in Pain and Suffering

By Will Honeycutt

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God that was immune to it?

I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross.

These powerful words come from the late John R. W. Stott who is now RIP (Rejoicing In the Presence!).  Dr. Stott, though I never met him, had a tremendous impact on me and my life and thinking.  His book, The Cross of Christ, and more particularly the chapter “Suffering and Glory,” from which the above quotes come, did more to give me perspective on suffering, and I believe a healthy one, than any other book I think I have read.  Why?  Because our God, mystery thought it is, is the God who did not remain in heaven in the comforts of his glory, but took upon himself human form and flesh and with a body of flesh and blood came to the “vale of tears” to experience death.  We all know the “passion” of Christ in terms of his Passion Week; those last days before He died.  We also know of the brutal scourging and crucifixion He went through at the end of that week.

We appreciate the sacrifice He made for our redemption, and truly, the cross of Christ, as Stott indicated, makes God a lot more accessible to us in our suffering.  He is not the aloof Being who remains in the heavens and looks down upon us in our suffering and pain.  I remember talking to a young man in the hospital when I worked in mental health who said that God is like the kid with the magnifying glass hovering over an anthill, burning us and enjoying it.  How did He come to this conclusion?  Why would he say such a thing about God?  Because he did not really understand the biblical God and the cross of Christ.  Even if the metaphor had truth in it, and that God delighted in our suffering, like the kid with the magnifying glass, the God of the Bible would still be the one that became an ant and suffered with us.

But what I want to reflect on is how Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” as we learn in Isaiah and this is referring, I think, to his entire life, not just that last few days, or particularly the crucifixion.  Let’s not limit our understanding of our suffering Savior to Passion Week.  Let’s walk with him through a few of the times in his life that he, like us, most likely suffered emotionally due to life’s stresses, hardships and tragedies.  I think if we do this, we will appreciate that our God, in human form and flesh, identified with our pain and suffering throughout his life.  This realization over the last few years has given me a deeper love and appreciation for my Savior and a confidence that when I talk to Him about my suffering, he really does understand, and not just because of the cross.  I have come to the conclusion that the more deeply I understand the suffering of Christ, the less often I will question the love of God.

Our Lord’s suffering began when He chose not to embrace His divine prerogatives and position, and, as John says, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  What a shock this must have been for God, in all of his holiness and splendor,  Who is of much purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13), to plunge headlong into this dark and depraved world filled with sinful, prideful, greedy, self-absorbed, lecherous, drunken, rebellious people.  To experience suffering that comes from an evil that was not even His own making!  This world causes us loss, pain and suffering as well, even when we are making the best of choices and living rightly, as did Jesus.  For 30 short years Jesus endured this sick depravity in a way that we never could understand.  That is love; to intentionally intersect with corruption to bring redemption to the fallen.  Jesus’ suffering was not because of his own sin, but He still shows how to graciously endure pain as One who was the very definition and source of the Right and the Good.  He took on him what he never deserved.  If Jesus, who could not be accused of any sin suffered in life as He did (and this means much more than what He endured on the cross as we will soon consider) how can we, sinners by choice, expect any better?  As good a life as we might live, we still sin, but Jesus suffered deeply, though morally perfect and free from sin.

Another thing is that Jesus was born of a virgin.  You may not think this is necessarily suffering, but consider this.  Our Savior took to Himself a situation that was of great scandal and ill repute.  It would be an utter shame in those days for a young, unmarried girl, such as Mary was, to be pregnant!  It was a shame and honor culture, so we can imagine that Jesus was not necessarily welcomed into the family.  Consider why Mary, a young pregnant woman due to deliver anytime, was on a 100 mile trek on a donkey’s back to give birth to her first-born child in an animal’s feeding trough, amidst the dirt and feces.  Where were her parents?  Where were Joseph’s?  Why do we not hear of Jesus’ grandparents having anything to do with him and the family?  Could it be that the couple and Jesus were rejected?  These scandalous, embarrassing and terrible conditions were embraced by our Savior, who would, in a sense, never live it down.  We see indication that the scandalous events surrounding his conception and birth were never forgotten when the Jews called him one “born of fornication” (John 8:41).  This tells us that people in His time were as skeptical about Mary being pregnant while a virgin as many are today.  It wasn’t any easier to believe  then than now; that’s why Jesus got the reputation of being a bastard child.  Jesus loved us enough to embrace ridicule and shame; He identified with us.  Who hasn’t been hurt by name calling?

Jesus was born into poverty.  His family was not one of means as indicated by the offering of turtle doves, rather than sheep or goats, given by his parents.  Paul says, explicitly, that he “became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  I have never experienced the pain and deprivation of abject poverty, but I have seen it, and the suffering it can cause.  Jesus chose to embrace poverty rather than wealth and renown when he came to earth.

Jesus’ “step” father, Joseph, died.  We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but it seems that Joseph is not on the scene very long after Jesus’ 12th birthday, when the family made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover.  We do not know how long Joseph lived, but he does not appear in the Gospel narratives beyond this story, and he is not present at the cross since Jesus has to commit Mary to John to care for her.  At one point Jesus’ beloved “father” Joseph was taken from him, and this loss of a parent, a caring parent, is something many have experienced.  Jesus is no stranger to this kind of suffering.

This tragedy in life led to Jesus having to help his single mother raise his siblings.  It appears in the Gospels that Jesus was never really respected or accepted by his younger half siblings.  They called him crazy and such, and this no doubt emotionally affected Jesus and added to his “sorrows.”  Having to take on adult responsibilities and help a single mother raise younger siblings.  I am sure that someone reading can identify.  Jesus knows this kind of hardship.

Having to stay home with a single mother and help raise ingrates is probably why Jesus did not begin his public ministry until he was thirty.  This is kind of late to start a Rabbinical ministry, which is usually preceded by an apprenticeship with another Rabbi.  This, as far as we can see, Jesus never had. He was thrust into a ministry, which would not get a whole lot of recognition, later in life, only to live three more years, or so, and die at a relatively young age in a most miserable way, falsely accused of crimes he did not commit.

Jesus took on homelessness as well.  He told would be disciples that “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”   He was dependent on others to feed and care for Him, and probably needed handouts to make it through the day at times.  Yes, he could create food, as with the fish and loaves, but remember, he chose not to exercise His divine powers most of the time so he could experience life was we know it more.  He loved us and identified with us in our need.  He suffered thirst, and hunger, and was often sleep deprived.

Jesus had a relative, named John (who baptized Jesus).  He may have been a second cousin, because Mary and Elizabeth, whose pregnancies overlapped, were cousins themselves.  After Jesus and John met at Jesus’ baptism, there seemed to be a real bond between them.   Jesus hailed John with words like “there has never been a greater man born from woman.”  He obviously thought a lot of John, and respected his ministry.  It must have been very hard for Jesus, emotionally, when he got news of John’s tragic and seemingly senseless death.

As you may recall, John was beheaded by a reluctant yet cowardly king because the king just wanted to save face and please a woman.  He even respected John, but was a weak man, and went through with the brutal execution; the violent removal of his head.  This tragedy apparently hit home with Jesus because Matthew tells us that when news of this horrible situation came to Him, He departed to be by himself.  Now, yes, Jesus could have prevented John from being beheaded, and it is easy to think that God could have intervened to prevent this.  But remember, Jesus did not come to make our lives easier; he came to experience the evil that our sin had created in this world in its full force to identify with us in our suffering.  Jesus experienced personal tragedy when he lost a respected and beloved family member.

One might conclude that Jesus did not love John or his disciples, to have allowed such a tragic event to occur when he could have prevented it altogether.  We deal with tragedies that do not make sense to us, when people are torn from us in their youthfulness and prime.  God had used John greatly, as we know, but he died, tragically, before we might think was a good time.  In His wisdom, God knew of this, in His wisdom, which He does not necessarily reveal to us, He has a plan.  We cannot even see what immediate good this horrible death led to, as it is not recorded.  John’s disciples, who came and respectfully buried the body and reported the death to Jesus, no doubt suffered from this tragedy in their lives.  So we are tempted to ask, did God not love them? How could God allow these disciples, who no doubt loved and depended on John, take John away like this?  That is an unanswered question, but we can be sure that God’s, Jesus’, love was not absent in this situation.

One of the things we need to realize is that suffering like this occurs because of human sin and depravity, even the tragic events that did not stem from human choice, necessarily, because the whole creation was, as Paul said, “subjected to futility” into the “bondage of corruption” and thus now “groans and labors with birth pangs” (See Romans 8:18-25) until the final redemption when the curse is reversed, and God “wipes away all tears from our eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and this must include these life situations and events, some of which we can all identify, and some of you may be able to identify with all of them.  The man of sorrow is one who is no stranger to suffering; One Who embraced this futile world, wrapped tightly in “the bondage of corruption,” full on when He came to it.  He did some healings, but not everyone was healed, he raised some from death, but not all were raised.  He came to be with us, to learn obedience through the things that He suffered; He came to embrace the human condition and show solidarity with us in our sufferings and thus bring a sense of hope for redemption.

Jesus’ suffering continued.  He dealt with unbelievers who rejected Him and He wept over this; it wasn’t easy for him.  He dealt with dense disciples who never seemed to learn the things he was trying to teach them, he dealt with the betrayal and denial of close and personal friends, as well as their abandonment in His time of need.  He also suffered through unanswered prayer when He asked if there could be an alternative to the “cup” of suffering He would endure.   In anticipation of His death, He was overwhelmed with great sorrow.  He was brought to trial falsely and accused of things He had not done and His words were deceitfully twisted to criminalize Him.  So if you have been betrayed, thrown under the bus, denied and “lied on,” falsely accused and mistreated, you have Someone who has been through it too, and can sympathize with you in your sorrows.

And then, finally, came the suffering we know best, His scourging and crucifixion.   But think on this.  Jesus became a victim, and even though He allowed it and chose it, it did not diminish the reality of the physical pain he endured when evil men would take his body and do with it as they pleased.  Jesus was violently molested and abused, so He knows this horrific experience as well.  Those of you who may have had to endure a senseless outburst of violence or molestation, or both, have Jesus to come to, who experienced the same.

But Jesus’ story, although of one tragedy, loss and pain after another, is not only this kind of story.  It is one of ultimate triumph because he came to deal with death and put an end to it by embracing it.  Like Frodo could only overcome the Ring of Power’s dark and deadly grip by bearing its burden, carrying it up a mountain and, by great sacrifice and risk, destroying it, so it is with Jesus.  He endured the burden of the full effect of a sinful and fallen world, with all of its darkness, pain and suffering, to eventually overcome it by carrying it up a mountain to destroy it!

Hebrews puts it best.

14 Inasmuch then as the children (we humans) have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham (we humans). 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation (full satisfaction) for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being put to trial, He is able to aid those who are put to trial. (2:14-18).

Hopefully, you will remember that “put to trial” means not just dying on the cross, but experiencing the full force of a world wracked with pain and suffering throughout His entire life.  Jesus did not choose a cushy life, when He could have, but rather one of great sorrow and grief.  Hebrews also tells us that because of this choice and His experience He is able to identify with (literally “sympathize” which means “suffer with”) us and we can come boldly to Him and find “aid” and “grace to help in the time of need.”   His suffering is what makes it possible, for Him to identify with us in ours, and for us to even talk about ours to Him.  When we appreciate His true “sympathy” we are better in position and perspective to “hold fast to our confession” and not lose faith when we are put to trial and face great times of need in our lives, because we know that “He was in all points put to trial as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

But as our tragedy became His, His triumph will be ours!!  For those of us who know Him, even in the midst of the tragedy of death, we “sorrow not as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because He has “begotten us again unto a living hope, by [His] resurrection from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).  We can trust that in the end, all will be put to rights and sorrow and pain will be swept away.

I was encouraged, recently, when re-reading Genesis.  In the beginning, when our first parents chose to disobey and partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they, as we know, brought evil and death into God’s good world, and where there is evil, there will be pain and suffering and tragedy.  Tragedy hit the first family immediately and hard as Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy and anger.  But thankfully, by the end of Genesis, the precedent for the rest of the human story is set; God will turn human evil into good for salvation.  Joseph, who suffered much, acknowledged evil, but told his brothers that what they “meant for evil, God meant for good” (Genesis 50:20).

No matter what evil we may face, and the suffering that it leads to, God can and will eventually bring good out of it. This is vividly displayed in the life of Christ, who came to live amidst the painful consequences an evil not of His own making, and we will suffer in this world because of the evil of others as well, to deliver us from its enslavement by defeating it at the cross, and then raising from the dead to give us hope and promise that tragedy will give way to triumph to those of us who believe.

I began this blog with the words from Stott; I end it with them as well, agreeing with Stott, that Jesus is

The God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain.  He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.  He suffered for [and like] us.  Our sufferings become more manageable in light of His.

I added the “and like” because, as we have seen throughout this discussion, Jesus knows all of our suffering, because he drank of it fully because He loved us.

Blessings in Christ,

Doc H.

The Difficult Questions

Posted: May 29, 2012 by andreacaresse in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

It has to be one of the most difficult questions… where answers just never seem to do it justice.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do we experience such tragedy?  If God loves us, why does He allow such difficulty?  I won’t begin to say that I have the perfect answer to these questions, or that my conclusions will rest all concerns in your mind.  But what I will write has come from my own experiences, and from seemingly useless tragedies in my own life… and from them I have found some reasons “why.”

When tragedies strike our lives they can be devastating.  It’s so easy to fall into a pit of desperation as we struggle to grasp the reasons behind terrible events.  Perhaps it’s the sudden loss of a loved one, a dear friend diagnosed with an incurable disease, a trusted individual who suddenly walks away, or even a physical and personal assault on your life and body that leaves you feeling empty inside.  When these things happen, the first questions we ask are: “Why, God?” “Why me/them?” “Why now?” “What possible good can come from this?”

When we’re in those moments, and those tragedies strike, it’s easy to forget that God has control.  We can’t imagine why God would allow such things, so we wonder if He could even stop it.   The difficulty lies in understanding that God does allow bad things to happen, but for an ultimate good.  “How can anything good come from this?” you ask… and this is an understandable question; don’t feel shame from asking it.  God knows we are human and have only our earthly viewpoint, and He knows how much we can handle. (Psalm 103:14)

Like everyone else on this fallen earth, I have experienced many tragedies in my life.  When evil would strike, a few years ago my response would be nothing but fear, confusion, doubt, and anger.  “God, why won’t You do something?  If You can stop it, why don’t You?” would be my main cry.  Not many years ago such tragedies would rock my faith foundation to the core.  The main reason for this is that I simply did not trust God.  I wasn’t sure if He really had my best interests at heart, or if He even really cared.  I say all this because trusting God in all circumstances is so extremely vital, especially in tragedies.  If you don’t trust God and believe that He has your absolute best in His heart, then you will never find peace in tragedy.  Even when we do trust and have absolute faith in Him, difficulty can cause us to lose our focus and doubt His goodness.  But if we never trust Him, we will never reach beyond those feelings of doubt and our hope will never rise amidst calamity.

When I heard about this week’s topic of “tragedies,” one example immediately came to my mind that I knew I must share, and that is the story of Tanner Cox.  In 2005 one of my cousins, Tanner who was only 10 years old, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of brain cancer.  He underwent operations to remove the largest mass, but there were three more tumors still present and he began chemotherapy.  For two years he battled this disease and underwent treatments that took a major toll on his little body.  Throughout his journey, he inspired others by his faith and endurance.  His joyful spirit became known to all who interacted with him: family, friends, classmates, community members, local motorcycle groups, doctors and nurses at St. Jude’s, dolphin trainers at Sea-world through Make-A-Wish Foundation, celebrities like Vince Gill, and even the Yankees baseball team (his very favorite).   His family did everything in their power to make his story known so that prayers would be lifted on his behalf.  They maintained a website for updates and at every opportunity asked for prayer.  His condition appeared to be improving until one check-up revealed that the tumor was growing again.  Despite intense chemotherapy treatments, experimental medicines, and thousands of prayers, Tanner passed away two years after the diagnosis.

What good could come from this?  It may be hard to understand… but because of Tanner’s life, and because of his faith (and that of his family) the Gospel was shared countless times.   There are dozens of stories in those two years of people watching Tanner and his reactions and becoming inspired to learn more about his faith.  Many accepted salvation in Jesus Christ because of this boy’s testimony.  At his funeral, literally hundreds of people came.  All day during visitation a line stretched around the building to pay respects and show support for the family.  On the police escort to the cemetery, the police gave Tanner’s convoy a memorial solute as it passed by… even though he was only a civilian, and no one in his family was on the force.   Tanner made an impact; other lives were impacted by his.  A twelve year old who died of one of the world’s rarest forms of brain cancer made a tangible impact on the world around him the few years he had.

Even though Tanner’s story had a seemingly bad ending in our world’s standards, it in truth is producing a good outcome, because his life’s impact is not over.  Tanner’s physical body is the only thing that passed away. His soul is alive and thriving in Heaven celebrating in the presence of God’s glory.  Likewise, his testimony and example are still stirring in the hearts of everyone who hears it.  If you have read this, his story has impact you.  We may never know how many lives were changed by Tanner, but we know for sure that many came to salvation and are now living a more satisfying life, not to mention are now destined for Heaven instead of Hell.   Tanner and his family may not have seen what impact his life trial was having on others at the time, and likewise, we may not know this side of eternity what the purpose is behind tragedies in our own lives.  But when God is in control (and He always is), all things truly do work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

From other trials in my life, especially those that have affected me more personally, one of the biggest, but hardest, lessons I’ve been able to learn is that there really is a purpose behind everything.  Our God isn’t a god of confusion or chaos; He is the God of order and intentionality.  It took me a while to understand this and accept it.  It took going through seemingly “useless” tragedies and then seeing incredibly great blessings come from them years later.  Goodness that I could not possibly have anticipated down the road.  Now when devastation happens, I am still in shock (that will never truly go away), but I know that there has to be a purpose.  This give me hope amid despair.  And I know that God has all things in His control, and I know I can trust Him.

When you trust someone, it isn’t based on emotions or feelings, but on the experienced and demonstrated character of the individual.  Either by words, actions, or behavior, they have proven themselves to be trustworthy.  Throughout Scripture God has proven that He can be trusted.  Even when His chosen people turn their backs on Him, He is consistent and follows through on His promises.  Throughout history people change, but God never changes.  He is constant.  He is the most trustworthy Person you will ever know. There may be days and events where you don’t feel like trusting God, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be trusted.  Our feelings have no impact whatsoever on God’s character.  Don’t just take my word for it, the Bible is full of testimonies of God’s trustworthiness: Proverbs 3:5-6Psalm 22:3-5Psalm 56:3-4Psalm 37:5-6Isaiah 26:4Psalm 111:6-8Psalm 31:14-16Psalm 118:5-9Psalm 91:1-4.  And these are only a very few of the numerous passages that describe God’s faithfulness.  Especially in the Psalms we can find a reflection of our own hearts in times of tragedy.  The author of these poems experienced great trails and we can read how he cried his heart out to God when he experienced pain…  And we can also see how he rejoiced when God answered his cries.  God may not answer us in the time and way that we expect or desire, but He is always there holding onto us.  You can trust Him.

A second lesson I have learned more recently, and that is that whatever we experience makes us better witnesses and tools for ministry in God’s Kingdom.  Whatever you experience now will strengthen you later.  Just like a broken bone is stronger after it heals.  When it happens it hurts like crazy and you want to die, but that won’t last forever… the healing will come and you will be stronger from this tragedy.   There have been so many instances in recent years where a friend will come to me and describe a situation they are struggling with or are going through, and I am thankful, truly thankful, to be able to say, “I’ve been there, I know where you are.”  If I hadn’t gone through the storm myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help them through it either.   When we go through tragedy and come out the other side we are then able to help others in the midst of it.  We can empathize and not just sympathize.  It’s one thing to say, “I’m so sorry…” and quite another to say, “I know exactly how you feel right now…”  There have been many times when I’ve thanked God for allowing me to experience heartache.  Without it I wouldn’t have gotten stronger in my faith, and wouldn’t have been able to help my other brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’re in the tragedy right now, the pain is all you can feel, and I know —  it’s hard… I understand.  But God understands far better than I ever could.  He knows more about your situation than even you do.   He saw it before it even happened, and He sees what will come from it years from now.  Trust Him.  He knows what will happen because of this event, and every other event in your life.  Find rest in knowing you are in His hands, that He loves you, and that He has an ultimate good that will come from this.  Believe God when He says, “I will be with you.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)   Even though you may not be able to feel His presence in this moment, He is always holding you.  He will never let you go.  And He has incredible, good, and beautiful plans for you.  Never forget that.