Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent Day 5: Is there a purpose to suffering?

Last week, the world watched, horrified, as the earth heaved and the water swept away people, jobs, and living essentials in Japan. We saw the death of hopes for throwing off a fist of oppression in Libya. The insanity of suicidal fanatics killed many in Iraq and Afghanistan. Behind each death and loss are families, friendships, and neighborhoods.

During the same week, our niece and nephew bury their infant son, who lives only for a day. Our daughter struggles to drive us around town as we visit, her shoulders crippling with arthritis. A friend continues chemotherapy, waves of nausea engulfing her days. A widower friend remembers the death of his wife, one year later.

"What is the point of this suffering? And why does God not intervene?" Many of us ask these questions, for which we have no answer.

Scripture encourages us not to give up living, even in the midst of despair, trial, or wounds. "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened," said Jesus (Matthew 7:7-8).

What we receive, find, or what the door opens to may literally be "what you ask for." However, in most cases, something completely unexpected shows up. Something we did not know we needed or wanted.

With God's permission, suffering arrives to shape our character. It transforms us from self-absorbed to God-centered... if we choose to move toward rather than away from Him.

We become pliable through trust and willingness to suffer when God allows hardships and pain to come our way. We harden our hearts by blaming God, resenting his lack of intervention, or turning away in fear from uncontrollable experiences.

Sometimes there is an ebb of conflict when we think we are in control, just before life comes crashing apart. In the wreckage of our plans, hopes, and dreams, our responses will determine the effectiveness of suffering in building up or tearing down relationships and futures. In loving foreknowledge, God works purposefully in all things, far beyond our comprehension and finite wishes.

Do we trust him enough to let go of everything but his loving hand as we ride the tsunami of life?

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