In life there are paradoxes, particularly if you are Christian. Many of these involve suffering. It seems that in America we do not have much of a theology of suffering. In fact culture tells us like Jobs friends, that if we do suffer, we caused it. Or at least, we should complain, take it back for a refund, be angry with God (which is OK), or have a pity party. I think getting depressed and self-medicating is also a favorite in our society.
But we all suffer loss of a job, income, health, or loved ones. If you haven’t, you will soon. Nice philosophy you might say. Actually it is a real life fact. Every one suffers; it is what we do with it that makes the difference in a full life or not. James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it pure joy when you come into losses or trial of all kinds, because the testing of our faith develops perseverance or steadfastness, which must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” I taught recently that this joy is in the knowledge that we have a God who is with us and will never leave us in this trial and that His love endures forever. But you might say as a writer of an engaging book, And Not One Bird Stopped Singing, dealing with loss in aging, that “God went on a sabbatical.” Probably the hard concept to swallow is that it is us who go on sabbatical and don’t seek God or blame Him in our challenges.
Scripture is full of valleys of the shadow of death. But God continues to say, fear not, or I am with you always. Really? Yes, seek wisdom in your loss and the grief that comes with it. It is a process that starts with denial or anger and shock before we come to grips with its reality and begin to slowly reinvest in life. There is no way to get through it except by accepting and going through. We may need help, but keep on going. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. When we are weak, God is strong, 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us. We have to die to self to live, another seeming contradiction. Said another way, we need to serve others to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.
It is about hanging in through the trials, and standing firm. Our tendency is to run, or get out from under. The paradox is that in staying we are blessed. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:4,10). Yes the Beatitudes say that our reward in heaven is great when we are falsely accused, insulted or are persecuted for Christ’s sake.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything under heaven, including life and death, war and peace, weeping and laughing, tearing and mending, tearing down and building up. God has made everything beautiful in its time and has set eternity in our hearts. This means that we will need to take the long view often, as things may not make sense in the present. Solomon says everything is meaningless for most of his life, but finally finds the answer in the end. “Now all has been heard: here is the conclusion to the matter. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Yes, there are seeming paradoxes, but God is good.