I hate being sick. Let’s not be euphemistic about it: I mean, I hate throwing up. Seems like a needless thing to say; I mean, nobody enjoys it. But I think I have a heightened loathing of it. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have ever thrown up in my life. I will do and avoid eating whatever I can to elude the curse of vomiting which is probably why I have cultivated a very simple palate over the years. But when the hour arrives when it overcomes my resistance, I am rendered utterly and severely pathetic during those 5 or 10 minutes I am under its merciless dominion!
Since Thursday evening (with a welcomed break during Saturday morning and afternoon) Annie has suffered with constant nausea. And when nausea momentarily ebbs, then she wrestles with either breathing difficulties or shocking pains in her ribs. On Monday morning, Annie’s doctor came out to review how she was doing. We were left with the largest list of prescribed medicines I’ve collected for Annie in a long time. I think even the pharmacist was overwhelmed because it took nearly an hour to finally get all the medicine together.
The doctor arrived to a lounge full of women who had come not to prescribe pills and potions but to offer prayer and praise. As I was getting ready upstairs I stopped to listen as the sound of the ladies lifting praise to God ascended past me.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
On Sunday evening we had an event planned for our young people called Life and Latte. I basically book a coffee shop in the city centre, pull together a panel of Christians from various places, get as many of the young people and their non-Christian friends along and use the evening to have the panel respond to a series of questions about life, God and everything else in between – all in the company of coffee and pastry. Annie was really sad not to be able to make it – almost as sad as I was as she really takes care of the practical aspects of the evening while I set up and host. In her absence she sketched a note of instructions and directions to some of the girls in our youth group who took great care of the practical things in Annie’s absence.
During the evening, one of the sessions focused on the subject of God and suffering.
How can God be powerful and loving if He can’t do anything to stop the suffering in the world?
It’s one of those questions that people often ask. It was good to be reminded through the scriptures that were shared by the panel during the night that actually, when we open the bible, we see that suffering, God, the bible, and Christianity are not incompatible and far from having His divine hands tied, God allows suffering to achieve things that would never be achieved through a lifetime of health, wealth and prosperity.
The bible’s account of sin gives us the clearest and best explanation of the source of all suffering. This world and life within it is not as God originally intended. It has been spoiled and cursed by sin. Our sin. It has been spoiled by our own sinful, selfish motives, choices and actions.
But at the centre of the gospel is a God who enters and experiences our world of suffering. Jesus the Son of God, encountered the suffering of others. He witnessed sickness and poverty, disease and death and it made Him cry. It moved Him to heal and restore with great compassion. But His relationship with suffering wasn’t purely second-hand.
At the centre of the gospel is a God who was prepared to suffer greatly on our behalf on the cross. Jesus suffered firsthand loneliness, extreme stress, betrayal, injustice, rejection, humiliation, mental and spiritual anguish and physical pain – excruciating, agonising pain. He suffered in a way that no other person on this earth could ever suffer: He suffered the awful silence of heaven.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34
At His darkest hour, Jesus called out to His Father in heaven, but heaven was silent.
Jesus was prepared to suffer what we caused and what we deserved. When I read the gospel accounts, the question I have about God’s love is not “How could He be all loving if He allows suffering?” but rather “How could He love and suffer so much for someone like me?”
Over the last few days we’ve had a flurry of emergency doctors, doctors on call and varying ranks of district nurses pass through our home and we’ve seen endless cocktails of medicines prescribed as an attempt to deal with Annie’s nausea. Annie’s arms, legs and hands have been pricked and dripped with potions and her stomach coated with all manner of chemicals. And in all honesty, she might as well have been popping M&Ms. The doctors and nurses have sympathetically scratched their heads and done their best but still the nausea has reigned like a mad king inside her.
It brings me back to the theme of this blog. Sometimes, in this life, you reach a point where the chariots of this world are broken; when the things of this world are just not going to carry you any more.
Annie and I know that we have a God who understands our pain. We know we have a Master who knows more about pain and suffering than we ever will. We have a Saviour who loves us and is able to empathise.
When you read the bible, you can see times when suffering seems to be a mystery, utterly meaningless. Sometimes it looks like God is absent, silent, restricted. But He never is. He is sovereign and He is loving.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
Over the last few days there have been times when Annie and I have felt like God has been silent. We don’t understand why Annie’s health had to plummet during this week when she so wanted to have at least a bit of health to enjoy time with Doug and Anna. We don’t understand why she couldn’t be well enough to serve at Life and Latte on Sunday and be there to talk in person with any of the youth about suffering; why God wouldn’t at least allow her to testify to His recent works of blessing in her life during difficult times. Personally, I don’t have an answer for that. But like Simon Peter, a close friend and follower of Jesus, in moments of confusion, uncertainty and painful mystery, by faith, you remember the wonderfully known.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:66-69
Last night (Tuesday night) following another failed attempt at controlling the nausea, a doctor on call prescribed a little pill called ‘Buccastem M’ and that seemed to do the trick. The visiting doctor came in this morning and was surprised that this pill helped. She described it as one of the most old fashioned pills in the use of stemming sickness. On the phone to her colleague I overheard the doctor say: “…she’s made a miraculous recovery!”
Why couldn’t God have had them prescribe that simple pill one week ago? Would it have even worked one week ago? I don’t know.
The climax of the gospel is that Jesus has conquered death and sin and ascended into heaven where He has prepared a place for Annie and I and all those that trust Him and entrust their lives to Him.
And then one day I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory – and I’ll know He lives.
Because He lives I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives.