The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 11

#8 - EveryMan wSuffering WordsWelcome to the Training Table, all of you tested, true, tired yet joyous marathoners for Christ!

We’ve come to the last course of this series focusing on the crucial question, “How could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering to occur in the world?”

God has answered and left the answer to this question up to the church to dispense to the world; but if and when the church does not carry out its duties, the unbelieving world will reflect its lack of understanding about this crucial question by questioning, “What sort of God would do or allow this or that heart-breaking circumstance? Who in their right mind would be in that sort of god?” A very legitimate question and claim.

It’s perfectly understandable yet very sad: An ignorance of theology will lead to logical and legitimate issues with theodicy

E.g., “a vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice in establishing or  allowing the existence of physical and moral evil.” (

As we’ve discussed, the short answer to this question is, “Because God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit loves us.”

Despite the fact that the progenitors of humankind sinned against God, initiated the fact and cycle of “Original Sin and the habituation of sinning” (Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32; 7), and all darkness and decay of seen and unseen sorrow and stench in the universe and in each of our hearts…

God’s love and truth prevailed and He made a plan to reverse the curse by the birth, death, and resurrection of His sinless Son—while offering all mankind the choice and process of becoming more and more like His Son through repentance, justification, faith, and sanctified suffering (John 16:33; Romans 5:3-5; 8:18; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:10; Revelation 21:4). This amazing grace and process of conformation should knock our socks off… each and every day! Given what we actually deserve for The Sin and the sinning, God’s plan to turn a broken world on its head for His glory and our good is just astounding, Beloved.

Here’s the Book and the Journey for You!
A new title for my book we’ve been using in this series on “An Apologetic on Suffering” came to me as I finished this Training Table feast for this week:

“1 Plan, 3 Parts, 6 Steps, and 9 Bible Verses to Transform Suffering from Tragedy to Triumph Every Time!”, sub-title, “Why it’s so bloody difficult and how to get ‘er done in a culture of comfort, convenience, cosmetics, community-phobia, and Cross-as-fashion.”

Yes, I did it on purpose: It’s wordy, multi-faceted, challenging, counter-cultural, laborious, a tad facetious and promising for a reason: That’s the way robustly and effectively dealing with the nature of suffering and God’s redemptive plan for suffering really is, Beloved! It’s complicated. Reducing it to a non-answer or something way short of an answer like, “God’s bigger and smarter than you and me.” doesn’t cut it.

I’m sorry yet glad to say God’s plan for redeeming suffering cannot be contained in a comfy, innocuous, surface, solo, and made-up-Jesus way. Or can it? Yes it can: And that’s how to never experience the BETTER- but only the BITTER-side of suffering. Choose better over bitter, the deep and transforming path, beginning “today…” (Psalm 95:7-8)!

So much suffering [in our Western world especially] is wasted for God and used of Satan God’s adversary because we, a) avoid all-things uncomfortable like the plague; b) we lack the patience and long-suffering required for healing and holiness to have their way; c) we will not go any deeper, on any level, about anything, at any time, than we absolutely have to; d) we insist on doing everything solo, in the shadows brimming with shame, “I-did-it-my-way”… or the highway, incompletely, abridged, compartment-by-compartment, begrudgingly; and e) we don’t want to change anything in the way we view Jesus Christ—His reality, birth, life, claims, teaching, demands, offers, crucifixion, resurrection, intercession, and judgment. A made-up Jesus has many self-serving attributes, but the reality, reasons, breadth and depth of His suffering is certainly a distasteful and foreign reality to many outside and inside the church.

“1 Plan, 3 Parts, 6 Steps, and 9 Bible Verses to Transform Suffering from Tragedy to Triumph Every Time!”

The new title is aimed at folks who have finally said, “Enough! I’m so damn sick of being angry, hardened, bitter, distant, cold, sarcastic and rancorous at a God, who, if I had to admit it, I don’t even know, as well as every person—beginning with myself—who I blame and blast for life’s unavoidable pain! I’m finally going to commit my all and everything to figuring this out…”

How We’ve Put It All Together in This Series
“1 Plan” [God’s four-paneled story];

“3 Parts” [Weeping, Window, Way]

“6 Steps” [freefalls and foundations; would-a, could-a, should-a’s and the window of the heart; considering the way and moving back into the choas];

“9 Bible Verses” [The Weeping: Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, Deuteronomy 31:6; The Window: Romans 1:18, 8:1; The Way: Ezekiel 11:19, Romans 8:28, 12:2, Job 19:25], to redeem suffering of any kind, for all of human kind, in Christ.

How Together—in Christ—We Could Aim to Be
I’m about as “together” as any sinner saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), “sinning boldly yet repenting more boldly still” (Martin Luther, Romans 7), graciously obeying, strong yet ungracious, faltering, and frail (Proverbs 25:26; Colossians 4:6), and witnessing unashamed yet too many times prideful and ungentle as can often be (1 Peter 5:15)…

But allow me to close this series with an anecdote from my time as a leadership coach and spiritual mentor some time back. It was following dad’s suicide, and as I was being trained as a Stephen Minister care-giver and leader. God placed a friend of a friend in my life so that I might apply what God had given me that fate-full 2002 Christmas night.

“Hank” [pseudonym] had just experienced the tragedy of a suicide in his own family—God gives me this ministry as my own experience of suicide was redeemed to help redeem others… through Him.

Understandably, when we first met, Hank, a “self-proclaimed Christian” suddenly confronted with many untested doctrines, deep doubts, and disturbing fears, was in a free-fall of utter vertigo, panic, and pain. In order to survive the his free-fall of faith, Hank was mostly dumbfounded and grabbing at most anything to talk about… Without really talking about anything at first.

And even though “1 Plan, 3 Parts, 6 Steps, and 9 Bible Verses” were firmly planted in my own heart and spirit, all I did—all we need to do—was, at first, to be present, to be consistent, to be weeping when warranted, to be with Hank, with Hank, with Hank… Abiding, present, listening, there.

Through prayer, listening, consoling, reflecting, comforting, and quietly claiming by deed and word Hank as being loved and held by God, we met weekly for quite a while.

Many weeks passed… Of prayer, patient listening, consoling, reflecting, comforting, and quietly claiming by deed and word Hank as being loved and held by God. Surprisingly, Hank was amazed and blessed that someone was simply there, listening, reflecting himself to himself, as accepted and deeply legit.

Then, one day as we met at our usual time and place, Hank’s spirit and emotions were stable enough for him to begin to ask questions about “How a loving and powerful God could allow such heartbreak to occur.” Not just within him any more, but the reverberations of pain that wracked so many connected to the suicide, secrets, and sacred ideals now shattered beyond recognition.

“1 Plan…”—In response to his first inquiries, I gently offered Hank a picture and a remembrance of what God’s “4-Paneled Story” consists of.

Creator. Sustainer. The Fall. God’s love and law denied. Sin. Darkness. Decay. Brokenness Galore. Christ’s Redeeming Cross. His Finished and Resurrected Work. The Consummation—when all things will be made brand and sinless-new.

To begin with, we just touched on each “panel” of God’s Story. Like telling a story, Hank and I shoulder-to-shoulder gazing at and listening to God’s Plan for the world. It was matter-of-fact; it made sense; it was linear and followed along like real-life stories do; it provided a context for a lot of things.

Eventually, the first sense of true knowledge and peace… A Plan… The Plan… God’s Plan. A Firm Foundation Hank could tip-toe unto, test for fault lines… while his person was being loved, and his perspective on the essentials of all life, death, and in-between… was being renewed in a plan and a hope outside, separate from his own living hell. The free-falling had slowed… Hank had a much surer sense of peace.

 “There’s a story, a plan in place, Hank. Let’s start there and see what’s in store”, I said. “I know you’re in pain… We’ll take it slow… It’s a journey, an adventure. Let’s do this together, okay?”

“Yes… Yes. This is good. God’s plan is good… it’s true… it’s still in place”, Hank said. “It’s a perspective I had forgotten, or maybe I never knew: I admit, I’m a bit embarrassed by that, but I’ll get over it.”

Over a year’s period of time, our time together was blessed by staying put, slowing down, being present to one another and God’s Story—by being an abiding force and friend… Of prayer, patient listening, consoling, reflecting, comforting, and quietly claiming by deed and word Hank as being loved and held by God.

But here’s the rub: Early on, Hank and I—by God’s Word in the bible and the Spirit’s grace and truth—decided that the heart-crushing tragedy would not take control of his life, or the life of anyone he could influence!

We committed to Hank’s being BETTERED, not EMBITTERED by the pain. We committed to having just enough faith, one day and one meeting at a time, to see how God’s plan of universal and personal redemption would not simply heal the pain but turn it on it’s head to redeem it in many, many amazing ways!

Which—over time—is exactly what occurred.

During our journey, by means of “3 Parts”, “6 Steps” and “9 Bible Verses”, Hank and I identified:
1) what his freefall of pain and faith… all things familiar… really consisted of;

2) we identified the foundations of Hank’s faith—what was faulty and what was sound, and what God foundations truly consisted of (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; Dt 31:6);

3) once on the shored-up foundations of Hank’s faith, we treated Hank’s “would-a, could-a, should-a’s” with great care and compassion—in the security of “no condemnation”, repenting of true guilt and false guilt alike. [Suicide in particular can be rife with really seeing and dispelling such things.];

4) we took the time to open previously unopened… purposely sealed shut… windows of the truth and falsehood’s of Hank’s heart, his faith, his core beliefs (Romans 1:18; 8:1);

5) we then prepared for the way—for how Hank’s re-entry into the world would seek to avoid the probability of hiding and hardening so that he would be purposely and passionately ready;

6) we aimed at Hank moving out into the chaos… the way of being a more and more Christ-like, redeeming force in a horribly broken and chaotic world (Ezk 11:19; Romans 8:28; 12:2; Job 19:25).

Hank and I used many parts, interactive questions of the “Heart Application: Choosing Better over Bitter” section of my book (pp 105-384). In-depth questions help us go deeper where real healing and transformation occurs. We relished in the ironic and amazing “ripples of God’s redeeming love” as He moves out and uses pain to produce healing and delight—E.g. “I Am Yours”, a video produced by two women who were comforted by my book.

The repercussions of a suicide, the stigma’s, the intense cultural-emotional ambivalence, most people’s [understandable] ignorance or fear of interacting with those of us who have experienced the suicide of someone very close to us… All of this lends itself to making it very, very hard to find the WAY to intentionally re-renter society.

Hank and I wrestled with life and death issues. It was hardly a piece of cake for Hank well-after the suicide and the worst free-fall of his life: He lost friends, family; he was ignored and treated as an outsider by folks who he thought were his friends; his church didn’t do a bang-up job loving on him as it should have; and his health was threatened on many occasions. Like Paul in the bible, Hank became wise enough to know how he shouldn’t pray for or expect life’s broken circumstances to go away. Rather he should pray for the grace to lean into the brokenness, abide in God’s love for him, seek after Christ-likeness through any suffering.

But, praise be to God, The Way forward had been made clear to Hank. He moved from the place of a free-falling friend to a friend to many free-falling fellows—the God of all comfort comforted Hank so he could be an integral part of the way of comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)! Hank was ministered to by complete strangers who God sent into his life at just the right time; he grew in wisdom and discernment and a love and grasp of Scriptures in ways that blew me and others away; he was eventually trained as a Stephen Minister; and volunteered for a suicide hotline on occasion as well.

“How could an all-powerful and all-loving God possibly allow such horrid and widespread suffering in the world?” God could, He can, and He does… because the alternative would be to justifiably destroy the world and all things in it. God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit chose mercies beyond all explanation.

Hank’s story and journey is one of many, many lives and proofs that God redeems suffering in such amazing ways that, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6)!

You now know God’s Story; or know it again. God is indeed all-powerful and all-loving. Even as we [via Eve and Adam] caused it in the beginning, and still cause so much brokenness and dismay in the world to this day, in Christ, by the person and power of he Holy Spirit, Father God has put a plan and process in place to most mercifully redeem our trials—not merely as mitigation for our pain, but, unfathomably, in order to conform disciples of Jesus more and more into His likeness… His ministry… His redeeming impact on a world of chaos.

“1 Plan, 3 Parts, 6 Steps, and 9 Bible Verses to Transform Suffering from Tragedy to Triumph Every Time!”

Thank you for joining us at The Training Table, and see you all next week,

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