The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 5
Are you spiritually fit and having great run at it for Christ? Are you worn out due to too much running in your own strength—motivated by guilt and/or approval-seeking? Are you in need of a coach to learn how to get in the race and train well? Are there days you feel like you’re not even keeping up in the human race—let alone the marathon that serving God involves? Are you running the good race… at all?
Whether, at various times and/or degrees of the above situations, you’re not alone…
“Sadly, many people In the church today are like a runner I once knew: He dropped out of the race when he got overly tired. He simply said, ‘I don’t know… I just didn’t feel like running today.’
Somewhere along the way they stopped pursuing a deep, loving relationship with Christ, walked off His path of righteousness, and sat down to rest in their own self-righteousness and the ease of worldly pleasures.
But allegiance and a love for Christ demand a lifelong commitment. As our Lord Himself said, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’” (John MacArthur, Grace to You; Luke 9:62).
The Training Table is a feast of the heart… for keeping disciples fit for the good race!
This 10-part series entitled, “An Apologetic on Suffering”—or “How can a, all-loving and all-powerful God allow such widespread and horrid suffering in the world?”—is being offered so that, a) we can NOT ONLY know how God’s “big-picture story” helps answer the question of suffering, BUT, b) how can we personally and intimately deal with suffering in the most God-glorifying, and personally-, culturally-redemptive fashion.
God has most mercifully made a way for us to not simply cope with the unavoidable suffering of living in a partially-redeemed yet broken world, but use our trials redemptively… in order to refine us (James 1:2-4); to sanctify us (John 17:17); to mature and grow us (1 Peter 5:10); to make us more holy (Romans 8:18); to produce hope (Romans 5:3-5); to increase our effectiveness as light and salt in a dark and decaying world (2 Timothy 3:12); to increase our joy (1 Peter 4:12-9); to promote discipleship (Luke 14:27); to help produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Hebrews 12:11); to bear the cross as Christ did (Luke 9:23-25); to conform us to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:8-10; Philippians 3:10); SO THAT we can play an active role in redeeming the world (Ephesians 1… following) AND experience the consequences of such redemptive work forever in ETERNITY!
The best use of our suffering is a very big deal…
To Christians living in a culture of comfort: consider this partial list of the benefits of redemptive suffering above when you’re tempted to AVOID suffering, discomfort, hardship, disquiet, unpleasantness, the messiness of life, ambivalence’s… of any kind.
Because we are human beings, made in the image of God, in order to understand anything on the most “personal-micro level”, we have to understand it and be wise about it on a “universal-macro level” as well.
We could also call it placing all things in the proper CONTEXT: We are beings who thrive in the context of reality—and perish context of non-reality, or fantasy, or purely in the abstract or meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Please don’t dare think this preface to today’s fare is mere puffery, friends: There’s a very good likelihood (E.g., it’s for sure…) that the vast majority of insanity we’re seeing in the world these daze is due to exactly what I’m talking about here:
Contextual beings, living outside of their context—with no remembrance of reality—flailing about in the most destructive form… ever in history.
Parts 1-4 of this series provided an overview of “God’s Story” SO THAT by way of Parts 5-10 we can apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” as I experienced on Christmas night 2002 while with my father after he took his life; and as it is explained in great detail in my book.
Our journey thus far:
Part 1: Creation—when everything was as God meant it to be. “In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1, 2), God in Trinity thought, spoke, and fluttered creation into existence. He culminated His work by creating man in His own image.
Part 2: The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death into the universe (Genesis 3), resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.
Part 3—The Redemption—God’s astonishing promise to redeem His fallen creation and image-bearers through the grace-based work of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1), and the person of the Holy Spirit.
Part 4—The Consummation—the magnificent fulfillment of God’s plan to gather and cherish His people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1 and follows).
[Among other things…] when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God”, He was referring to, a) our ability to see and embrace God’s Story in the abstract, but also, b) see and embrace OUR OWN STORY within God’s Story as well, Beloved. Each and every fallen [and redeemed] Image Bearer of God can have the amazing blessing of knowing their personal story is included in God’s Story!
This is how God designed humankind to flourish if embraced (1 Peter 1:8), and perish if not (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Parts 5-10 is as follows:
7) Would-a, could-a, should-a’s
8) A window into our heart
9) Preparing for the way
10) The way into the chaos each day
“The Weeping, The Window, and The Way” is what I describe as “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering”. It is made up of bible verses that I miraculously received in response to my crying out to God on three different occasions. No doubt the experience was an encounter with God, and radically revolutionized my life. I wrote the book as a gift to help revolutionize other lives as well.
[quoted from my book]
The Unavoidable Freefalls of Living in a Broken World
December 25, 2002: The spotlight in the garden seemed to be the only light in the entire world. The cold disappeared. Noises from the street, even the approaching sirens, sounded oddly muffled. As if in slow motion, I fell to my knees next to dad, sobbing: “Oh, Dad . . . Oh, Dad . . . Oh, Dad . . .”
With each successive cry, I felt myself plummeting deeper and deeper. I was falling… and falling…and falling. Downward I fell with an ever-increasing sense of panic, a sense my free-fall might never stop. I rocked, fell and wept. Nearly nauseous, I looked around me, desperate to find something solid, something on which to steady myself. I looked down—and saw Dad’s favorite nine-millimeter pistol lying next to him, under his right hip in the snow where he had fallen. Then I saw the blood pooled under his head.
That’s when I noticed Dad was still alive. He was shivering occasionally, barely breathing, and I had the distinct sense that he was both “here, yet not here” anymore. Although the first aid and rescue experience I had gained over the years of living in the Colorado Rockies told me to try to stabilize him, I knew there was nothing I could do to help or bring him back. I simply and absolutely wanted only to be there.
I knew I was meant to be exactly where I was, to kneel next to my dad in the snow. The sense of urgency I felt upon first hearing of Dad’s probable suicide was now reinforced by the “near fanatic conviction” that I needed to be here at Dad’s side: I was here to pray to God, to weep, to seek the Holy Spirit’s help, to cry out to God and plead for help. To speak, and to listen, until that moment when I knew deep within that the rest of the world would come crashing in upon the disastrous and dark, yet sacred, bubble of timelessness and space I had entered.
Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my heart I knew that I would never have this time with Dad and God ever again. I knew then why I felt such a sense of urgency to leave my home and be exactly where I was: I was called here. The reality of this divine appointment was clearly evident in all the details of this moment.
A Weeping Heart… in a Free-fall… Cries Out
I rocked and wept uncontrollably, grasping to maintain some connection to “the real world,” whatever that was. As I wept, I fell and fell ever deeper into my own personal and yet very public abyss of pain. It was personal because I sensed my own father’s fear, loneliness, and determination. I also saw my own emotions stripped bare, the loss of my dad, the guilt, the regret of the things I could have or should have done or said but had not. It was public because I saw in stark relief all of humankind’s desolation, self-isolation, and shattered hearts. The shame of vulnerability and the dread of being seen for what we truly are. Self, self, self . . . The word epitomizes and embodies sin, and the world’s preoccupation.
Part of my own heart often said, “I do not need God. I do not need God’s or any other’s bleeding charity!” I could imagine how the backed-into-a-corner “necessity of suicide” had overtaken my dad, as I considered how it had captured parts of my own heart at times.
The darkness grew more real to me than I could ever have imagined. It was a darkness of my deepest fears and loneliness, and added sadness for my Dad flung into an entirely new realm of desperation. Nothing would come to my rescue! Then, just as I felt I would completely lose myself in the free-fall of despair, I squeezed out a small cry from the very center of my heart: “Lord Jesus, please help me in this. Please help, Lord. Please stop this free fall…”
It was then I noticed that each barely audible cry—“Oh Dad… Oh, God… Please…”—received a unique and specific “response.” Yes. That’s what I would call it: a response. It came from within me and yet from outside of me as well. At first I tried to push the words I heard away. It was too scary. I had to stand up to silence the words. I walked back to the porch to gather whatever blankets I could find. Then I knelt again next to Dad. I covered him, protecting him as best I could against the winter’s night. Pitifully, it felt like too little, too late.
“Oh, Dad. . . . Oh, God. . . .” As I repeated the tearful refrain, the response from God began again…
[End quote from my book]
The Unavoidable Free-Falls of Living in a Broken World: It’s Not About “If”, but “When”!
The free-falls of life… this is the first and vitally important aspect of what we have spent a great deal of time previous to this chewing on:
1) In the beginning God made all things good. God made man to exist on a FOUNDATION of His own being, His attributes, His love for His ultimate creation on the sixth day: His Image Bearers… humankind. Human beings were created to exist on the foundation of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and the world God has created very good for humankind.
2) When Eve and Adam exchanged God’s glory for their own glory by sinning, disobeying, following the serpent’s deception and not God’s clear command, they “pulled the lever on the trapdoor” of God’s FOUNDATIONAL relationship with them, with all humanity ever since, and ushered in the utter-most form of hell to God’s creation: “FREE-FALLING”: Man without God is nothing but lost in a free-fall of weightlessness [no glory], self-sufficiency, pretense, and egotism.
3) Existentially- and experientially-speaking, sin, decay, and suffering in varying degrees places you and me into a state of FREE-FALLING: An existential and temporal plummet into nothingness. There is no greater fear for a human being than free-falling—existentially, doctrinally, temporally, experientially, relationally… whatever…
But for God’s Common and Special Grace, no human being can survive living in the state of a free fall. It’s simply and utterly contrary to our nature. The only reason we can survive a free-fall of any kind for even one moment is God’s grace to curb its effects on our being SO THAT time and eternity might be marked by our faith in Him… or not.
4) “The free falls of life”—each and every one, the little scrapes and the most terrible heartbreak imaginable—is not only part and parcel of living in a broken world, but is providentially and intimately orchestrated by God for one of two reasons: a) as unbelievers, to bring us to Himself for the first time, or, b) as believers, make us more and more like His Son after having repented, been born again, converted, and on the road of discipleship as an adult.
5) All of humankind since THE Fall has been experiencing FREE FALLS of varying degrees and kinds. It is an absolutely legitimate question for any human being to ask, “Why? Why in the hell does God allow me to experience such awful free falls of life?! It’s killing me…” Part of the answer exists within God’s Story, does it not? And the other part of the answer exists in the way we can, by God’s grace and our cooperation, redeem our times of personal suffering.
EVERY FREE FALL in life is an offer by God to love Him, and love our neighbor as ourselves… more and more. Is this not an unspeakably merciful act by a God—Who mankind turned its back on in favor of himself, of deaf and dumb idols, of damnable good works, of sin as vile as it could be? God could have justifiably turned His back on us? Absolutely! Rather, He put a plan in place to redeem the brokenness of this world… Until the next, New Heavens and New Earth, is ushered in [The Consummation].
God has one question for us as we find ourselves in a free-fall of suffering of any kind. Come grab some grub with us at the Training Table next week to find out what that question of God is for us!
The Unavoidable Free-Falls of Living in a Broken World
Who of you gathered here today has experienced the free-fall of living in a broken world?
From the Rollercoaster of the Everyday…
Yes, the tiny paper cuts of “the common disappointments of life” and everyday dings don’t feel like terribly threatening free-falls, do they? But they are… Even the accumulated effects of everyday disappointments add up, Beloved. Unattended to, “the owie’s of our everyday up’s and down’s” will have a very deleterious effect on our life. Your secret love in high school just passed you by like you didn’t even exist? Lost the job/career of your dreams? Missed out on being invited to “the cool group” party? Picked last on the baseball scrimmage… again? Heard in hindsight of your “close friends” way big fun river raft trip?
“Ding. Ouch. Bummer. Whack. Sadness. Hopeless…” Unattended to, the unavoidable irritations associated with this broken world will add up to a life of hiding and hardening.
…to the Terror of the Abyss
But what about the sort of FREE FALL I described with my dad on Christmas night? Who of you have experienced the sort of loss, the sort of double-barrel-shotgun-blast-to-the-heart that literally shatters all of life as we know it?
The police at the door with one your son or daughter’s belongings? The death notification delivered by the military? X-rays from an injury that will end an athletic career… forever? A social worker’s foreboding phone call who was close to a loved one’s drug rehab? The news back from a very serious looking oncologist? A note from a husband or wife: “It’s Over.” The sudden loss of an infant loved one?
I know, I know full-well there are many, many of you—or people close to you—who personally know exactly what I mean: Being hit with the news of suffering and pain that hurts so badly, it was like being suspended over a pitch black abyss… and dropped… to free-fall… to experience a sense of existential vertigo… Sometimes feeling like it might never, ever end.
And this is EXACTLY why Jesus Christ went into the abyss after His death on the cross, and before His resurrection (1 Peter 3:18-20): So you and I would not have to!
Free-falls of pain and suffering are an unavoidable part of living in a horrible broken world.
In Christ we are saved from the hell of being dangled… and being dropped into a free-fall… over and into the abyss.
Without Christ we are destined to live a hellish temporal life of guilt and the fear of dangling… of being dropped into a free-fall… over and into the abyss… for eternity.
How each of us respond to life’s unavoidable trials… life’s free-falls… makes all the difference… in life and in death.
It’s crucial to recount exactly what “the four panels of God’s Story” consist of: This is the context of the known and unknown universes’ reality… and the pattern of our personal lives.
It’s vitally important to acknowledge when we are in “a free fall of brokenness” of any kind. What happened? Why is there pain and a free fall of hurt, loss, sin, etc associated with it? What is there to grab a hold of that’s not decaying and free-falling just as fast as we are?
God allows free-falls for one reason: It’s what we will chew on next week, and following! You won’t want to miss a feast like this one…
“Lastly”—as I said in the book many times and will say it again—Soren Kierkegaard most wisely said, “What is most personal is most universal.” And there is nothing more universal and personal… than suffering, than trials of many kinds and degrees. My story is a very personal one; but, God knows full-well… and you do too… It’s as uncommonly mine as it is the experience of all humankind.
In love and truth,