I mentioned in my last blog post that I recently read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace. You might not have heard of her, but she just recently passed away after a lengthy battle against breast cancer. She was only 38 and left behind a husband and 4 young kids.
I read the book hoping to gain some insights into how to find peace in the hard circumstances of life. I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet but my mom is waging her own battle against ovarian cancer. Labor Day this year will mark 2 years since she was diagnosed. Without going into the details here, I’ll just say that the continual appointments, surgeries, chemo treatments, nausea, pain, loss of appetite and weight, complications, needle pokes, hospital stays and other challenges have tested not only her and my dad’s faith, but mine as well.
Meanwhile, I hear stories like Kara’s. Or that of the couple that lives on our street and recently lost their 3-year-old daughter to leukemia. Or a friend from church whose son died from brain trauma at birth. Or an acquaintance from Colorado whose daughter’s heart stopped beating the day before she was supposed to be born via c-section. Or strangers I’ve never even met — a young married couple and their 6-month-old child — who were driving when a bridge collapsed on them and killed them.
And I wonder… WHY????
Why does God allow these things to happen? Why does God leave prayers for healing and wholeness unanswered? Why does God take people when they’re young? Why does God leave their loved ones behind to pick up the pieces of a broken life?
I also wonder… HOW???
How do we trust that God is good in circumstances that seem to scream otherwise? How do we hide ourselves under His wing like a baby chick with its mother when He doesn’t seem to be protecting us from the hurt and hardship of disease and death? When it feels like He’s leaving us exposed and bearing the full brunt of this world’s fallenness and depravity?
My mom’s cancer returned in October of last year. The prognosis was not good. We are praying — begging — for a miracle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God’s grace in the hard since then, and have come to the conclusion that…
We trust God is good because He says He is. (Nahum 1:7)
We trust God’s purposes in hardship and disease because He says that His plan is perfect. (Psalm 18:30; Romans 8:28)
We trust God’s promises because He has proven His commitment to and love for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. (2 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 8:32)
We trust God’s love for us because He says nothing can separate us from it in Christ (Romans 8:37-39) and He has demonstrated it tangibly in Christ’s payment for our sins. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to understand WHY or HOW in order to trust God. We trust Him based on His character. We trust Him based on the fact that His ways are higher than ours and if we had a God that we could fully understand, He wouldn’t be big enough.
I’ve also seen the necessity of living with our eyes focused on eternity and the Big Picture that extends beyond this life. Because usually when people talk about the value and importance of suffering and going through hard things, they focus on the growth that results. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” right? Except what if it does kill you or your loved one? What if there is no “after” from which you can look back on the suffering you went through and see the growth or value?
” ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy–we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? … How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” (Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace)
We have to believe that the suffering we endure on this earth is being used for our eternal good. That the battle against cancer, disease or persecution is reaping us growth and rewards that we carry into the next life with Christ. Nothing here is wasted, even if (or when) the battle kills us.
We also have to see the immeasurable good of God’s grace in being concerned first and foremost with our souls. Since my mom’s diagnosis, my parents have started to read the Bible daily, pray earnestly and trust God in a practical way that they hadn’t before, for which I am incredibly thankful to God. Being pushed beyond your limits has a way of getting you down on your knees in humility and dependence. Regardless of whether God causes these hard things or just allows them (that’s an argument for another time), He uses the hard things to accomplish His purposes — even if we can’t see what they are right now.
“God’s purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year, or even in this lifetime. Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not even be known when believers die and go to be with the Lord. Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgment when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts and commends with special honor those who trusted him in hardship even though they could not see the reason for it: they trusted him simply because he was their God and they knew him to be worthy of trust. It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen that trust in God alone seems to be most pure and precious in his sight. Such faith he will not forget, but will store up as a jewel of great value and beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgment (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter).”
It’s hard to trust God in this way, but it’s the only way we’ll have true hope in these kinds of circumstances. I often feel the co-existence of faith and doubt like the father in Mark 9:24 — “I believe; help my unbelief!” God’s grace in the hard is that He meets us where we’re at — in the pain, anger, fear, sadness — and reassures us that He sees and He cares. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Even when our faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, He loves us. And no matter what the outcome is, He will be there for us with grace, compassion, love and goodness. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10)