the pastor's story file
a resource file for pastors/teachers/speakers
THEME: The Enigma: Suffering / Glory August / 1988
Volume 4, Number 10
THE ENIGMA OF SUFFERING AND GLORY I got my inspiration for this month's theme from reading Harold Myra's new book Living By God's Surprises (Word, Waco, TX, 1988). Myra is the president of Christianity Today, Inc. I've included a couple of quotes from the book, which made quite an impact on me. It is a book about the glory of prayer in suffering, mystery, weakness and joy. It is the personal reflections of a man whose family has gone through more than the average number of tragedies, and who yet trusts God. At age 17 his foster brother murdered a neighbor lady and was sentenced to life in prison. His cousin Lois was killed in an automobile accident just after getting her nursing degree and about to embark on her career as an Air Force nurse. His cousin David's wife, a missionary nurse to Africa and mother of young children died of leukemia in her prime. There is enigma and paradox in life. There is darkness and then there are flashes of light. Harold Myra writes:
How many pious, godly souls have been struck down through the centuries, even as they prayed for deliverance? Yet despite all this — despite the impossible questions, the drab and tawdry times, the failures — we are still called upon to pray with, of all things, Great Expectations! An absurdity. A paradox. Yet the gospel truth.
God, it seems, chooses to work in enigma and pain, with miracles as rare but as real as meteor flashes across a dark night.
Harold Myra, Living By God's Surprises, (Word), page 23.
At the heart of the obedient life is submission to the sovereignty of God — even when in the valley of the shadow of death, even when the darkness of the forest around us oppresses, even when we find ourselves in a wilderness experience face to face with the devil himself. Even in the dark we seek to trust the sovereignty and ultimate vindication of the love of God. God is not a pet lion, as C. S. Lewis has observed.
RECONCILING EVIL Dr. Vernon Ground, former president of Denver Seminary and a compassionate and thoughtful man, wrote this in a recent letter: "One thing which impresses me more and more is the bewildering tragedy of human life. As I counsel with emotionally broken individuals and as I observe the pain, injustice and frustration in the world, I cling tenaciously to my conviction that God, infinitely wise and loving, is sovereign. And the empty tomb demonstrates that out of the worst which can take place, he is able to bring forth his own glorious best. Yet I understand the experience of Caroll E. Simcox who in his 'The Eternal You' confesses that one day he heard God saying, 'I wish you'd leave all this reconciling of things to me, since you are so hopelessly unequipped for it, and that you would use whatever influence you have with your fellow fussers and worriers to do likewise. I know what I'm doing. I'll go over it with you when you get home.' Like Simcox, I have quit worrying and fussing over the intractable problem of evil, confident that God's explanation will completely satisfy my mind and heart."
Such understanding does not come quickly. Vernon Grounds says this after decades as a believer.
Harold Myra, Living By God's Surprises, page 84.
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HIS PERSPECTIVE God at work in the worst of events. I am sitting at the table looking at the bowling-pin lamp Richie made as a schoolboy. It reminds me of the phone call more than fifteen years ago when my mother told me that Mrs. Prosser had been murdered. "The police want to talk to Richie," she said. And we knew it was likely he had done it.
After my mother's call I stepped out of the house and started walking, bewildered and angry. After all our efforts and prayers, how could it have turned out this way? I seethed inside, trying to sort it out but not succeeding.
I walked along a stretch of the Illinois Prairie Path, an old railroad right of way banked above fields and creeks. I moved briskly, my body working pleasurably and effectively, but my mind in turmoil. Finally, I burst out to God, "How could you do this! Just when Richie was responding, he was pulled out of our home. Of course he slid into trouble! And Mrs. Prosser — who just lost her husband and best friend — is murdered!" I talked to the Lord that way for a long time, letting all my emotions flare.
When I noticed a dried-up pond ringed by cattails, I stopped. A few weeks earlier I had noticed it full of thick algae and dying fish; now it was merely cracked mud. When the pond was dying, dozens of little fish stuck their mouths and gills into the air, desperate either for air or escape from that stagnant water. "Weren't they just like Richie?" I demanded of the Lord. "Just like us? It's not only Richie — it's all the people caught like him, all the victims who go on to victimize. How can you run your world with such brutality?" I asked, tears in my eyes.
Never before had I prayed quite like that; and the response was crystal clear: "I'm not upset by your prayers." On the contrary, it was as if he had been waiting for me to look evil full in the face and confront him. "I've been waiting for you to talk to me like this. Don't you think this has caused me anguish, too? How do you think I feel about Richie? And all the others like him? And Mrs. Prosser? Haven't I wept over them? Haven't I sent my only Son to die for them?"
All this flowed into me with the force not of "answers" but of powerful connections with God — personal, actual, with a sense of purpose and peace in their wake. I sensed the Lord was drawing me into his perspective, that he was calling me almost as a colleague to join forces in extending his love, to intercede for others in their helplessness . . . and that he was indeed in charge, transcending the tragedies. Harold Myra, Living By God's Surprises, pages 98,99.
C. S. LEWIS In the preface to The Problem of Pain, Lewis limits the scope of his book by writing:
No one can say "He jests at scars who never felt a wound," for I have never for one moment been in a state of mind to which even the imagination of serious pain was less than intolerable. If any man is safe from the danger of under-estimating this adversary, I am that man. I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I never was fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that pain is to be borne, except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
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JUDSON'S SCARS Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For seven heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and privation. During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for 17 months he was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him.
Undaunted, upon his release he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the Gospel. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying, "My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might say, but I fear they might be impressed by your scars and turn to your religion.
An outstanding biography of Judson is To The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson, (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1956).
LOVE AND PAIN I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, "a lord of terrible aspect." There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though he has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pages 40, 41.
THE ONLY GOOD We are bidden to "put on Christ," to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.
Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degrees may vary with the creature's nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men "You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you." That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God — to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response — to be miserable — these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows — the only food that any possible universe ever can grow — then we must starve eternally.
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pages 53, 54.
ADVICE FOR THE DARKNESS I'm browsing in a Delaware Water Gap gift shop and notice a card with this classic verse: "And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than the known way.'" A good bit of wisdom.
Harold Myra, Living By God's Surprises, page 67, 68.
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DAVID LIVINGSTONE — THE RIGOROUS BEYOND One of the most fascinating kinds of suffering is that which is voluntarily chosen in order to achieve a great goal. Probably the life of David Livingstone, pioneer missionary explorer of the 19th century is a good example of such heroic dedication in the face of great privations and pains. The whole pattern of his life was one of a person who. was willing to face great tasks, no matter what the cost. Consider these accounts from Worcester's account of his life:
His parents were so poor that at the age of ten he went to work in a factory. With a part of his first week's wages he purchased a Latin grammar. Though working from six in the morning until eight at night, with intervals only for breakfast and dinner, he attended an evening class from eight to ten, and pursued his studies with much enthusiasm. Often, indeed, he continued his labors after reaching home, until midnight or later, unless his mother interfered. At the age of sixteen he was thus familiar with Virgil and Horace, and many of the classical authors. In his reading he devoured everything but novels, placing his book on a portion of the spinning-jenny, so that he could catch sentence after sentence as he passed at his work. The utmost interval that Livingstone could have had for reading at one time was less than a minute, (page 9)
Before Livingstone had been a year in the country his power over the Africans was manifest. His fearless manner, his genial address, and his genuine kindness of heart, united to form a spell which rarely failed. His medical knowledge helped him greatly; but for permanent influence all would have been in vain, had he not uniformly observed the rules of good manners, justice, and good feeling, (page 17)
When Livingstone opened a missionary station at Mabotsa the one drawback was that the area was infested with lions, which attacked the people's cattle, even in open day. In fighting off a lion Livingstone wrote the following account:
"The lion caught me by the shoulder and we both came to the ground together. Growling horribly, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first grip of the cat ... It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe; they see the operation, but do not feel the knife. This placidity is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora, and if so, is a merciful provision of the Creator for lessening the pain of death." (page 19)
At one point Livingstone was forced to move his mission work due to the opposition of the Boers. Worcester writes:
Should Livingstone then seek some better location with this tribe among whom he had been laboring? His feeling in the matter is thus set forth: "If I were to follow my own inclinations, they would lead me to settle down quietly with the Bakwains, or some other small tribe, and devote some of my time to my children, but Providence seems to call me to the rigorous beyond." (page 37)
Having been completely baffled in his search for a healthful location for mission work, Livingstone now turns his thoughts to the second object he had in view, and endeavors to find a highway to the sea, pushing forward to the west coast. The probability of his falling by the way is ever before him, but, as he often says, "Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave trade carries the trader?" So with a band of Makololo, the best natives with whom he ever travelled, he plunges boldly into the unknown country.
Yet even the best natives Livingstone finds ready to succumb to every trouble, and weak and helpless except as he infuses his own strength and courage into them. Of physical strength he himself had but little. During this terrible journey of seven months, from November 1853 to June 1854, he had thirty-one attacks of intermittent fever. The story of incredible hardships, sickness, hunger, constant wading through swollen streams, tedious
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delays, and harassing exactions of hostile tribes has been thrilling told in Livingstone's first published Travels, which made his name a household word in England and America.
When at last he reached the Portuguese settlement of St. Paul de Loanda on the coast, it was as a skeleton clothed in tatters, and he was soon prostrated by a long and distressing illness. But even this trial had its alleviations. He speaks of the delightful sensation of resting on a comfortable bed after so many months of lying upon the ground, (page 45,46)
BLESSED HOUR UNDER THE GALLOWS In the writings of Charles Wesley for the year 1738 we find Charles being invited to preach at Newgate prison to ten malefactors under sentence of death. Charles had little hope for a death-bed repentance, but he writes:
Mon. July 10. A sudden spirit of faith came upon me, and I promised them all pardon in the name of Jesus Christ, if they would then, as at the last hour, repent and believe the gospel. Nay, I did believe they would accept of the proffered mercy, and could not help telling them, "I had no doubt but God would give me every soul of them."
Wed. July 12. I preached at Newgate to the condemned felons, and visited one of them in his cell, sick of a fever; a poor Black that had robbed his master. I told him of One who came down from heaven to save lost sinners, and him in particular ... He listened with all the signs of eager astonishment; the tears trickled down his cheeks while he cried, "What! was it for me? Did God suffer all this for so poor a creature as me." I left him waiting for the salvation of God.
Sat. July 15. I preached there again with an enlarged heart; and rejoiced with my poor happy Black; who now believes the Son of God loved him, and gave himself for him.
Wed. July 19. At half-hour past nine their irons were knocked off, and their hands tied. I went in a coach with Sparks, Washington, and a friend of Newington's. By half-hour past ten we came to Tyburn, waited till eleven: then were brought the children appointed to die. I got upon the cart with Sparks and Broughton. I prayed first, then Sparks and Broughton. We had prayed before that our Lord would show there was a power superior to the fear of death. They were all cheerful; full of comfort, peace, and triumph; assuredly persuaded Christ had died for them, and waited to receive them into paradise.
The Black had spied me coming out of the coach, and saluted me with his looks. As often as his eyes met mine, he smiled with the most composed, delightful countenance I ever saw. . . . None showed any natural terror of death: no fear, or crying, or tears. ... I never saw such calm triumph, such incredible indifference to dying. [They sang several hymns]
We prayed him, in earnest faith, to receive their spirits. I could do nothing but rejoice: kissed Newington and Hudson; took leave of each in particular. Mr. Broughton bade them not be surprised when the cart should draw away. They cheerfully replied they should not; expressed some concern how we should get back to our coach. We left them going to meet their Lord, ready for the Bridegroom. When the cart drew off, not one stirred or struggled for life, but meekly gave up their spirits. Exactly at twelve they were turned off. I spoke a few suitable words to the crowd; and returned, full of peace and confidence in our friends' happiness. That hour under the gallows was the most blessed hour of my life.
The Message of the Wesleys, Philip S. Watson, compiler (Macmillan, New York, 1964),
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THE ROAD TO ETERNAL GAIN Russ Chandler, religion writer of the L.A. Times wrote an excellent book a few years ago entitled The Overcomers. It tells the stories of twelve outstanding Christians who have dealt with significant problems in their lives. The book begins with the story of Elisabeth Elliot, who first became prominent through her account of the martyrdom of the five young missionaries who were murdered by the Auca Indians in 1956, including her husband Jim Elliot. Elisabeth Elliot recalled some of the trying events in her life through which she learned important lessons:
Elisabeth, who first went to South America to do translation work in 1952, mentioned three experiences of loss in that first year working with a small tribe of Indians called the Colorados. . . . The first calamity was the murder of the informant who was giving her information about the language and culture of the Colorados. There was no one to take his place.
A second catastrophe was the loss of all the work Elisabeth did that year. All her files, tapes, notebooks, and vocabulary compilations were stolen, and no copies or duplicates existed. The same year, Jim was reconstructing a small jungle mission station among the Quichua Indians. During a sudden flood one night, all of the buildings he had rebuilt plus three new ones were swept away down the Amazon River.
These three experiences of total earthly loss taught Elisabeth and Jim the deep lessons that Jesus taught His disciples:' "Truly, truly I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24 RSV). The practical outcome of that lesson was this, according to Elisabeth: "I had to face up to the fact in those stunning losses that God was indeed sovereign; therefore, He was my Lord, my Master, the One in charge of my life, the One who deserved my worship and my service. The road to eternal gain leads inevitably through earthly loss. True faith is operative in the dark. True faith deals with the inexplicable things of life. If we have explanations — if things are clear and simple — there's not very much need for faith.
"Through these three experiences of loss before either of us had been a jungle missionary for a full year, we came to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way and to begin to enter into the lessons that Paul describes in Philippians: 'But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . '" (3:7,8 RSV)
Russell Chandler, The Overcomers (Revell, Old Tappan, NJ, 1978), pages 15, 16.
The Pastor's Story File August / 1988 Suffering / Glory Vol. 4 No. 10 Page 7 / 46.7 THE STREETS I FEARED TO SEE
| I pleaded for time to be given;He said: "Is it hard to decide? It will not seem hard in heavenTo have followed the steps of your Guide."I cast one look at the fields,Then set my face to the town; He said: "My child, do you yield?Will you leave the flowers for the crown?Then into His hand went mine,And into my heart came He; And I walk in a light Divine,The streets I had feared to see. George MacDonald (1824-1905) |
I said: "let me walk in the field;"
God said: "Nay, walk in the town." I said: "There are no flowers there;"
He said: "No flowers, but a crown."
I said: "But the sky is black,
There is nothing but noise and din;" But He wept as He sent me back,
"There is more," He said, "there is sin."
I said: "But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun." He answered: "Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone."
I said: "I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say," He answered me, "Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you, or they."
BOB PIERCE — SUFFERING FROM OUR MISTAKES Unquestionably, Dr. Bob had no illusions about himself and his sometimes adverse affect on other people. Not long before the Lord took him home, he said, "One of the hardest things I've had to endure all my life was this temperament of mine. It's kept me busy saying, 'I know I did it and I was wrong; I have nobody to blame but myself.' It's not easy to admit, yet I've had to do it time and time again. I'd sin, or I'd disobey God, or I'd grow careless, or I'd let the purity of my motives be polluted by my own ego — my own carnal ambition or my own desires would take over. I tell you, the hardest thing in the world is to face up to reality — acknowledge the actual facts. We are what we_ are — and the Lord is Who He_ is ... and He says, 'I am the Lord. That is my name, and my glory will I not give to another.' So the secret of succeeding, as Dr. Bob Cook president of King's College, once told me, is lasting; it's failing, getting up and acknowledging that you failed, asking forgiveness where you need to, and getting up again and taking another stab at it."
I always appreciated this in Bob Pierce. He was keenly aware of his faults and deplored them openly. But he got up and tried again. He didn't sit around wringing his hands and moaning, "0 wretched man that I am!" That can be totally debilitating (and maybe a mark of false humility); it certainly doesn't glorify God and it doesn't help anybody.
Bob Pierce: This One Thing I Do, Franklin Graham with Jeanette Lockerbie (Word, Waco,
Texas, 1983), page 28.
AMAZING GRACE A violent storm at sea was the turning-point in John Newton's life. Motherless at six and sent to sea on his eleventh birthday, he soon became a teenage rebel. He was press-ganged into the navy and flogged for desertion. Newton became involved with the African slave-trade and came close to starvation while living in extreme poverty in Sierra Leone. But in March 1748, at the age of twenty-three, he was on board a cargo ship which was fighting for its life against heavy seas and rough weather. Worn out with pumping and almost frozen, he called out for God's mercy at the height of the storm, and was amazed to be saved from almost certain death. Newton's life had many twists and turns. Eventually he renounced his involvement with slave-trading and, at thirty-nine, became a minister in the church. He persuaded the young William Wilberforce to stay in politics, and joined him in the fight to abolish the slave-trade.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, / Was blind, but now I see.
Stories of Our Favorite Hymns, compiled by Christopher Idle (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids,
1980), page 10.
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THE CANCER OF UNLOVE When Amy Carraichael of Dohnavur, India formed the Sisters of the Common Life, she set forth some principles that were to guide them:
As Sisters of the Common Life we are trusted to be very careful about our inner discipline, and continually to expose every part of our inward life to the searching light of God . . . Let no least thought of unkindness move in me there. Let such a thought be impossible to me. Let it be intolerable. If I have given room to any least feeling of unlove, show me the seriousness of that sin. Break me down before Thy face because of it. . . .We are trusted to spread the spirit of love. Tenderness in judgment, the habit of thinking the best of one another, unwillingness to believe evil, grief if we are forced to do so, eagerness to believe good, joy over one recovered from any slip or fall, unselfish gladness in another's joys, sorrow in another's sorrow, readiness to do anything to help another entirely irrespective of self — all this and much more is included in that wonderful word love. If love weakens among us, if it ever becomes possible to tolerate the least shadow of an unloving thought, our Fellowship will begin to perish. Unlove is deadly. It is a cancer. It may kill slowly but it always kills in the end. Let us fear it, fear to give room to it as we should fear to nurse a cobra. It is deadlier than any cobra. And just as one minute drop of the almost invisible cobra venom spreads swiftly all over the body of one into whom it has been injected, so one drop of the gall of unlove in my heart or yours, however unseen, has a terrible power of spreading all through our Family, for we are one body — we are parts of one another. If one member suffers loss, all suffer loss. Not one of us liveth to herself.
We owe it to the younger ones to teach them the truth that united prayer is impossible, unless there be loyal love. If unlove be discovered anywhere, stop everything and put it right, if possible at once.
Frank Houghton, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, (Christian Literature Crusade. Fort
Washington, Pennsylvania), page 219.
EMOTIONALLY SEASICK A good thought from John Greenleaf Whittier to turn to when one feels emotionally and spiritually seasick:
Yet in the maddening maze of things And tossed by storm and flood To one fixed trust my spirit clings I know that God is good.
Submitted by Bernard Brunsting, Mariner Sands Chapel, Stuart, FL
THE ULTIMATE SURPRISES ... We live by God's surprises, and the ultimate surprises are ahead, beyond the grave, where our prayers will become communication face to face. Harold Myra, Living By God's Surprises, page 153.