This will likely be the longest blog I’ll ever publish.
Many more astute thinkers and writers than I have said plenty on this issue, but I received an email recently that brings it all home to the extent I thought it best to blog it out.
From time to time I cannot think of a better way to respond than to do so both personally as well as in my blog when an issue like this is so common to humankind.
My bro. in Christ wrote:
“Glenn, just wanted to give you a hug! HUG! Hopefully one day I can give you one for real. Pray for me brother, I have been fighting a physical disability for the past year and major depression has over taken my inside. I once was a high spirited Pastor feeding the homeless under our bridges and in camps by our river. Now I’m just a mere shell waiting to die. I’ve cried out, oh, how I’ve cried out to Jesus! With no reply! No nothing! I was mad at him, but now I almost don’t care. Did you catch the key word there, almost? Something keeps me hanging just enough that I don’t let go completely. I can’t pray! I can’t read the Word! I can’t break this chain! Please pray for me. Thank you my brother.”
First, I never fully discount a story, but do always ask “Is this true, and is it exactly as the person perceives it to be?” A story can be fully true, partly true, 80-20, 20-80, etc., you get my point.
What rings true is that this bro. is dealing with pain (a universal reality regardless of details), seems to be asking for help in his faith in view of the physical illness battles that may even end his life (on the most extreme end of possibilities as I read it).
I immediately replied to him directly letting him know I was touched and empathize with his pain, that I was and would be praying for him and also that I’d do what I’m doing in this blog now.
Some reading this are rather hard-core atheists, some agnostics, some practicing Christ-followers and some what we’d call backslidden, lapsed believers. ALL of us have or will suffer in this world.
It is a world laced with bad choices, humans with sin nature, sickness and stricken with natural disasters. The problem of pain (as C. S. Lewis simply and wisely called it) is a MASSIVE problem we all live and at times die with.
It agitates us to rage, huge self-pity, it brings us intimately toward and full-on away from the Lord. We are challenged in our core beliefs about God’s love, our free will and His over-all plan and dealings or seeming lack of them.
Sin, pain, suffering and misery will not be fully eradicated until God rolls this world up like a scroll.
Note- I can quote reams of scripture on faith, healing and getting God to do what I ask verbatim. Sometimes He does as I ask. Sometimes His answer is “Wait”… or “No”. !
Only He knows with certainty why some are healed and some not. Glib answers, words themselves sometimes seem to have little or no meaning when we’re in deep pain.
I believe in a God Who indeed heals, allows suffering and I also believe in pain, death and His wisdom even when I don’t understand nor like what’s happening to me. If such honesty isn’t your cup of tea, don’t read any further.
Clinical depression (physiology, bodily chemicals, not spirituality) is a reality as are mental illness and other issues beyond physical pain. Doctors and professionals are not always about making a buck or selling us drugs for profit. I pray our bro. here considers seeking local help on those possibilities as well -if- such seems part of the situation.
First, I pray for you and will continue! Please keep me posted on your condition -and by this I mean both spiritually and physically.
Next I must say at least to a degree, I both understand and have felt some of what you’re experiencing, not by any means all.
My own life has been turned inside-out by my Wendi (sweet wife of 41 years) due to her physical pain from extreme arthritis. The best the doctors can figure is it hit hard due to complications of whooping cough. Each major joint as well as her spine has massive and extreme damage over a very short time period.
For the past three years our experience includes her daily, nightly suffering. She ceased to be able to walk. On top of this muscle cramps kicked in from which she’s had to deal with from the 2nd grade of elementary school.
Frankly, I’m not sure if extreme lifestyle change based on a loved one’s suffering (as spouse and full-time caregiver) or dealing with such illness and pain in one’s own body are more difficult. Neither are fun.
I’ve lived in the first few and especially (thank God!) last few chapters of the Book of Job for quite some time.
We have not had much of anything like “normal” in this particular journey.
Wendi has always had a number of illness issues including asthma, diabetes (for some 7 years… and from which she was healed!), acute motion sickness and allergies to most everything (but ragweed… go figure!).
She is tough. I am not though I may seem otherwise.
I have searched my heart, soul, sought God’s healing, deliverance,repented of my depth of seflishness and hurt, just wanting closure to the suffering for her as well as myself. Apparently thus far, the answer has largely been “in the world you shall have tribulation” sort of thing.
Now she -is- getting better in terms of pain and even walking with canes or a walker after two full hip replacements, but one knee has a torn acl, one shoulder is hurting more and more, and her spine has damage which has shown up in mri’s, and in the end you can figure the way things may well naturally happen. We are both 61, so we may have seen our best years in terms of bodily health. That would stand to reason in any case.
He has blessed us on a ton of levels, don’t get me wrong!
HER faith has been directly tested but she’s been more “in the Spirit”, kind-hearted, gracious, not angry, not fully slammed in self-pity and such. She is more in faith and in step and far less prone to self-medicating (food, sexual sin, anger, depression) than I am -by far. I’ve done well, blown it, done well, blown it in all of these areas over the past few years.
Not eating entire cakes, not major porn or prostitutes but thoughts, web temptations and lack of exercise, just upset and wanting closure on my part.
I totally get that there’s a real devil and fallen angels working “to sift [us] like wheat”, as Jesus told Peter.
I get that the enemy has boundaries as per Job’s account. I happen to believe that book is not mere allegory, but let’s say if it were- either way, it makes plenty of sense to me!
So we’ve dealt with LOTS of personal cross-bearing, great and needy lessons, learning “to accept the things I cannot change” as well as “can change” as the prayer goes.
My faith in the one, true, authentic God of the Bible, in Jesus Christ, in the present, active Holy Spirit, in His calling, even in the matters of “the fall”, the “end times apostasy of the elect who will be decieved”, “the love of many will grow cold”, I get it, read it, memorized, believed and continue to believe it.
Suffering hurts. Crosses are mega-painful. They indeed, kill.
And at the same time “the thief has come to rob, kill, destroy… I have come that [you] may have life and life more abundantly”. It’s all true, both sides of it.
My pain, her pain, our suffering, your suffering hits us in the “Did GOD say??!” department.
“Why would a loving, just, merciful God allow…” and “Where was GOD in my suffering”?
A “VERY (my accent) present help in trouble”.
Peter: “To whom shall we go? Nobody else has the words of eternal life”.
So we feel (perhaps a Dark Night of the Soul experience) anything BUT loved, encouraged, linked in faith, hope and love with “the God of all hope”. But feelings aren’t facts.
Depression is not only spiritual, it is emotional and to be expected (not as an escape clause of course) in suffering.
Yet to blame God is not only human, it is sin.
Blame God for free will? Blame God we have the ability to make choices? Shall we rather be robots, part of a cosmic chess-match we have no way of volunteering love in?
Is God sovereign? Yes.
Does He yet exist? Yes.
Does He or His love for us change when we suffer? No.
Are His Words not to be trusted when we don’t get what we ask for- as we wish our will to be done?
Is there another way to find life in a body doomed to physically die?
Is there another way to live that makes us less the false god we each at core wish to be?
Does the very love of God always “feel” like we think it should, come to us with zero suffering or effort, agreement, cross-bearing on our part?
I’m not saying we earn God’s love and the answers to prayer we bang hard on heaven’s door to receive, I’m saying sometimes His answers are “No” or “Not yet” or “Not exactly as you wish”.
“Do you STILL TRUST ME? Will you love, follow, walk in faith, hope, love (all gifts from Him to us in the first place) despite your circumstances?”
The world and many in the churches will think you certifiably insane to do so, especially in your situation.
Job’s wife: “Curse God and die”. Whew. Really?!
“Do you love me more than you love them, more than self, more than life itself? Do you love me more than any idols you still have left in the closets?” These are the sort of things the Lord asks me. Humbling, more painful than all the other pain. But relational, genuine, needed on my part -at least it seems to me or He wouldn’t press upon me so.
This is what I’ve dealt with for several years running. This is not uncommon to you or me, it’s quite common, and there is little to do but trust, pray, seek, knock and learn to accept His “No”, His timing, His love and I would say ESPECIALLY when we are in the agony of suffering.
Further, my own judgment (flawed as it often is) yet tells me my wife has done FAR better with the pain issues than I have.
“Ask, seek, knock, keep knocking”, fall but fall TOWARD and not away from Him.
We sense but the smallest featherweight of what our Lord felt on the cross- “He Who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.
What have we done to earn eternal life, forgiveness of sins, any iota, any mere trace of God’s love toward the best among us?? Nada.
What have we done to deserve the pain, suffering and that of loved ones among us? We live in a fallen, broken world. We live in the “not yet”. One day no more tears, sickness, suffering, temptation. One day- not yet.
Are we being punished for being less than fully perfect?
I do -not- believe so.
Trust me, I’ve heard these questions and dealt with them for many, many years.
Our emotions aren’t always in sync with Bible truths.
I’ve not dealt with depression most of my life- until the past few years, directly related to Wendi’s illness and the toll on both of us. Easy for me to understand how you feel in this sense.
Yet- we cannot -get- God to let us BE God and have our way in each situation, and sometimes it’s an agony we do NOT like and one we wish to put an end to.
I get it. I truly do.
Finally: Job 13.15a “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him” pretty well sums it up for me.
Does this sound crazy? Like a God we want to love and follow? For me, absoutely- because I know of no other genuine, true God, Savior nor one who speaks truth as opposed to what I will call human resentment, mythical and self-serving “designer gods” which many in the culture and even church have at times created in order to somehow make sense out of suffering.
Put bluntly, my personal view is that fiction has it’s truths, can be helpful, but I choose reality over fiction every time. I LIVED fiction before surrendering to Jesus Christ. No more of that. No fictional Lord, Savior, first love, friend. Whether He does things my way or not. My way?!! Whew. That has proved a train-wreck all too often.
I have had to ask her forgiveness and of course, the Lord’s countless times for my attitude, for -not- walking in the Spirit over this stretch of time. Self-pity is still self. There is of course a reasonable amount of confession of suffering, venting re. pain, asking for prayer, meeting with good counselors and such, and I’ve done it all. I’m in the Word and pray daily, in fact more than ever asking for His grace to bear up.
I’ve failed plenty. But there is simply no other love, no other God and no other way to rightly live, suffer and indeed, die. At very least, die to self and grow in spiritual maturity.
Many words here, one of my flaws. I hope at least something of this might bring you comfort. The Holy Spirit is present- may He wrap you in His presence and help carry you through this storm!!
You are in my prayers my brother!!!