We want answers. We don’t understand. We think life should make sense; that the turn of events that comes into our lives should add up to some perceivable benefit or purpose. Sometimes we feel entitled to know why. We struggle to explain the unexplainable to our children.
It seems that my life in the school community and beyond has been filled lately with folks facing suffering. Crises include matters of health, broken relationships, job loss, fire, betrayal, rejection, and other forms of unmet expectations that can suck the joy out of living.
I am reading Andrew and Rachel Wilson’s book, The Life We Never Expected: Helpful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs. (Crossway, 2016) The Wilsons begin their short but powerful book with, “This is a book about surviving, and thriving, spiritually when something goes horribly wrong.” It is the account of their still unfolding story of life with their two children, apparently normal at birth, who developed regressive autism, losing over time their ability to do the things that children do. Theirs is a path that they did not anticipate and they do not sugar coat the realities. There is not a fairy tale ending. It is rich with truths that are applicable to a wide range of life’s experiences.
An unresolved question is better than a wrong answer
We are all prone to ask, “Why?” when extreme hardship comes upon those we love or upon our own lives. The Wilsons caution us to avoid wrong answers. “…suffering makes no sense now. It isn’t supposed to. But in the power and love of God, one day, it will.”
“Non-answers” can bring us hope!
“…we may never know what the answer is-but we know for sure what the answer isn’t. It isn’t because God doesn’t love us. It isn’t because God doesn’t care. It isn’t because he is distant or unsympathetic or cold or merciless. The Lion (Aslan, the God-figure in the writings of C. S. Lewis) has tears in his eyes, and although I will never understand all that he’s doing, I know that he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t love me. The cross proves that.” (p.81)
We’re not the Author of our story
It seems we would all like to be the author of our personal story and have the control that comes from being the storyteller. In reality, we are characters in God’s story. If we skip to the last page we can read that one day, all will be made new. No more tears, no more suffering (Revelation 21). But in the meantime, we wait in hope. Not “hope” in the wishful, sentimental sense; but “hope” in the confident assurance that God is working out His purpose in the Big Story and my part of that story (Romans 8). Sometimes it helps to realize we are not the one with the pen in our hands.
How much longer?
As Christians, we live between the “Already” and the “Not yet.” Christ has come. Redemption of His people has been accomplished and validated by the empty tomb. But we await the Final Day when all will be made right and new again. Until then, we wait.
One of our favorite vacation activities is hiking up Mt. Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. As we head down from the summit, ascending hikers often ask, “How much longer till we reach the top?” They want to know how much more painful climbing do they have left before they see the beautiful view at the top? Sometimes hard times have a predictable end, even if it is unpleasant to think about. Sometimes there is no end and the wait will not be over until the Lord makes all things new in eternity. At other times, the wait is somewhere in between, and we don’t know the answer to, “How long?”
When I reflect upon my own life, I quickly realize that the level of “suffering” I have known is very minimal compared to the trials of those I see around me each day. I don’t share these thoughts with a simplistic, “If you are suffering, just do this…” approach. My hope is that we become more sensitive to those around us who are going through tough times. We are all sojourners on the way Home. We can all benefit from companionship, prayer, an encouraging word, or an act of kindness along the way.
Look for an opportunity today to speak a word of hope. Let’s help one another look forward to the day when, as Sam Gamgee said in Lord of the Rings, God will “make everything that is sad be untrue.”*
*J. R. R. Toilkien, The Lord of the Rings, part 3, The Return of the King (New York: Ballantine, 1966) 246.