One of the great promises of God is that he promises a life to come, a life of perfection, joy, peace, no pain, no death, no suffering or bereavement. (Revelation 21:1-4). This promise is one that Christians particularly at certain times need to hang on to, because our current life of course is not always like that.
The reality is that we may experience lives of varying degrees of trouble and sorrow, and Christians and Christian communities don’t escape them. At such times we may ask why? Why me? Why does God allow this? As a young cancer victim I saw on T.V. a while ago did. At such times there are number of things it is important to remember.
Firstly, and very importantly, God has told us that the world we live in is not the one He planned; we live in a world gone seriously wrong, a world groaning in its own pain (Romans 8:18-21). The reason for this is that the world is suffering the spiritual consequences of its rebellion against God (sin), and the news headlines we see daily, and personal tragedies many experience, are the result.
One woman, whom I have known for many years, while still only in her 50’s, experienced almost the full range of sickness and suffering that any human can, including recurring cancer, but she did not lose her faith in God. She has said that, at the worst times the only part of the Bible that helped her most was the Psalms. This is not surprising, because the Psalms are cries from the human heart, and reflect the full range of human emotions including spiritual, emotional and physical pain. The writers of the psalms do not deny pain, rather they often reflect that pain, while still trusting God to bring them through to a better place (e.g. Psalm 6, 13, 22, 23, 46, 73, 121, 130).
Secondly, God knows how we feel because no-one has suffered more than him, in His Son on the Cross. Yet it was out of the paradox of that extreme, indeed beyond extreme, suffering, not just physical but also spiritual, more than we can possibly understand, that God showed extreme love, and won for us eternity.
Further, in the midst of even the worst personal distress, God gives us two promises to hang onto. One, that He is with us every step of the way even when the world (our world) itself seems to be falling apart (Psalm46 and Matthew 28:20). Two, the promise of that perfect eternity (an inheritance that can never perish) which we are encouraged to focus upon in our attitude to, and living of, this life, by rejoicing even in grief and in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:3-11).
God’s purpose for His people is an eternity with him. That is the Christian certainty, this ‘bigger picture hope’ that we are called to share with those around us struggling in life. To do that WE must make effort to GO to where those without Christ spend their time (this is not in our church buildings!), so we can build relationships with them and communicate to them that Jesus-offered hope in a suffering world.
That certain hope, and present comfort, is founded on the unfathomably extreme paradox of God’s simultaneous suffering and Love on the Cross, such that even in the worst world, national or personal tragedy we can know that ‘He is God’ and ‘we are His’.