Suffering is Bad, God is Good
Pastor Sam Inman
I just want to say I love you Harbor Light. I’m grateful to be a part of God’s family here for the past 19 years. You have been a really great support to my family and me. I remember when we first moved here and group of people painted the house and stocked the cupboards before we moved in on Tirso Street. I think I remember Dean and Kathy being there is that right?
Life is pretty messy right now. I’m right in the middle of complicated grief. The constant unexplainable suffering is numbing to my soul. It’s pretty difficult to make sense of it. Most encouraging things that people say just sound empty and even uplifting scriptures don’t make a lot of sense right now. What does make sense to me right now is Ecclesiastes. I’m learning to enjoy my family right now and more and more I’m seeking wisdom.
As far as help goes, I’m talking to my wife, my brothers and my parents. I’m going to a grief support group every Tuesday and seeing a therapist weekly. That all helps a little and it’s about all I can handle right now. When I come to work or go shopping or get home. I’m just asking the Lord to help me be kind and have patience. My goal today is not for you to feel sorry for me. I think I’m receiving the help I need right now. But what do I know. It kind of comes in waves and the wave just hits you, knocks you down underwater and you just get tumbled in the spin cycle for a bit.
Some of you are going through some pretty difficult and terrible things as well. You may not have lost of loved one. There’s no benefit of comparing my suffering to your suffering or yours to someone else’s. Suffering is suffering. It’s pretty terrible. You may be grieving the loss of a pet, a loss of a job or loss of a dream. And furthermore you might just be suffering from some other kinds of life changes that added together are just as difficult. Bottom line you’re suffering.
If you have suffered at all you’ve probably asked the question, “What in God’s creation is this all about?” Yeah come on, “Why does is hurt so bad?” and “Where is God?” or “Can God be that good if He can allow this?” Because this, suffering is bad. It’s the worst. Right? Can you think of anything worse than your own suffering? If you say someone else’s suffering it’s only because it hurts you so bad for you to see and that’s still your suffering.
So today we are going to take a brief journey through the subject of suffering. We’re going to do some introspection into our own pain and loss. Then you’re going to think about whether you’re ready to receive the help you need. And lastly I’d like to share insight from scripture about whom and where God is when you are suffering.
It seems today we have disguised and dismissed most suffering with a familiar term stress. Psychologists often use a list of 5 major stressors to quickly determine if someone is going through a stressful transition that will likely compromise their health. The five are: The death of a loved one, divorce, moving, major illness, and job loss. Each can cause a great deal of stress, which might lead to further prolonged suffering. Don’t count yourself out if you’re not on that list though.
There’s also the Holmes and Rahe stress scale that is widely used by psychologists. There’s a list of life events in one column with a point system next to it. It starts with the death of a spouse or child at 100 points and goes down. If you have more than 300 points it’s a pretty serious warning sign. My score was 356. Otherwise I wouldn’t be going to counseling.
The biblical assessment is pretty simple.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray (James 5:13 ESV)
You may not realize exactly why you’re so stressed out, or you may have learned to hide it, even from yourself. So I’d like to use the list from the stress scale just as a tool to help us pray and listen. I just have faith that some of you will begin or maybe continue on your journey to healing today. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes right now. Just relax. And try not to say anything right now. Visualize your mind and just open it up like a treasure chest for the Holy Spirit to sort through your thoughts. Next see a door in your heart and unlock and open it wide for Jesus to step in and take an inventory of everything it holds.
Now I want you to allow the Holy Spirit to highlight some of the memories that may be affecting you right now. And I’m asking Him to reveal to you a word, idea, or emotion that pinpoints why that thing is so painful for you. I’m just going to mention about a dozen of them. Okay.
Holy spirit I ask you to bring clarity right now to the minds of everyone hearing this message and we invite you to search our hearts and give us supernatural insight into our own pain even the things that we have been ignoring, stuffing or hiding from ourselves, others and You.
If it’s not you just let it go by and if you see something just keep in your mental inventory.
- Death of spouse or child
- Marital Separation
- Detention in jail or other institution
- Death of a close family member (e.g. parent, sibling,)
- Major personal injury or illness
- Being fired from work
- Marital reconciliation
- Major change in health or behavior of family member
- Pregnancy of spouse/partner
- Sexual difficulties
- Gaining a new family member (e.g. through birth, adoption etc.)
- Major business readjustment (e.g. merger, reorganization, etc.)
- Major change in financial state (e.g. a lot worse off or a lot better off)
- Death of a close friend
- Changing to a different type of work
- Major change in the number of arguments with spouse (e.g. a lot more or less)
- Taking on a significant (to you) mortgage
- Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan
- Major change in responsibility at work (e.g. promotion, transfer, demotion)
- Son or daughter leaving home (marriage, college etc.)
- In-law troubles
- Outstanding personal achievement
- Partner beginning or ceasing work outside of the home
- Beginning or ceasing formal schooling
- Major change in living conditions (e.g. new house, renovating)
- Revision of personal habits (dress, manners, association etc.)
- Troubles with the boss
- Change in residence
- Changing to a new school
- Major change in usual type and/or amount of recreation
- Major change in church or spiritual activities (e.g. a lot more or less than usual)
- Major change in social activities (e.g. clubs, dancing, movies etc.)
- Taking on a small loan (e.g. purchasing car, TV, freezer etc.)
- Major change in sleeping habits (e.g. a lot more or less)
- Major change in number of family get-togethers (e.g. a lot more or less)
- Major change in eating habits (e.g. a lot more or less food intake)
- Holiday or vacation
- Minor violations of the law (e.g. traffic or parking infringement)
You may have just seen some gripping images and felt deep emotions. Just hold on to those for now. We’re going to make an opportunity for you to pray or receive prayer.
Some of you were afraid to go there. You will have to go there. You can’t be helped until you’re ready. My cousin Cameron is a trained addiction counselor. He says, “It will come out one way or another, so you have to find a way to deal with it.” He’s getting ready to leave for the mission field in Hawaii and Cam and his wife Kari will actually be with us next week. The reason Cameron is right is because if you don’t deal with it, it might turn into anger, rage, addiction, depression, workaholism, an eating disorder, or passivity. That’s not to say those things are always a result of your unresolved stress of grief. If you just ignore it, stuff it or hide it, it’s only going to get worse until it is a life controlling issue. Please seek out the help you need whether it’s celebrate recovery or counseling or both.
Others of you are thinking, “What was that about I felt nothing.” And if you’re not suffering today then I hope you hold on to something from today for when you need it.
Suffering really is just unavoidably bad because everyone has to go through it, it surprises you; It beats and knocks you down. And it’s so confusing. There are no answers that I can make sense of. I do know a few things for sure though. God is good. And people need God.
King David knew all kinds of suffering. The Psalms are full of his prayers and please for God to do something about his anguish. In Psalm 17 David is trying to evade some wicked men that have it out for him. Two lines say so much about who God is to David. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Children always feel safer when you’re right there don’t they. At night Audrey just wants me to be right at her bedside for as long as possible. Teach me more math Daddy. And when she walks up and down the stairs I know she can do it, but she would much rather have me hold her hand.
A trusted parent or caretaker makes us feel safe when they are near. But I love that metaphor of the apple of my eye. Because it means He is close and his attention is focused on me. The apple of your eye means that bright spot in your eye. That bright spot is just a part of the reflection of what you’re looking at, like a lamp in the room or the sun. If I remain the apple of your eye it means you don’t take your eyes off of me.
How close do you have to look to see if you are the apple of someone else’s eye? I have pretty good eye-site and for me it’s less than a foot. Maybe like six inches. I am never that close to anyone’s face unless I’m holding her in my arms. If you have ever looked that close it’s a bit uncomfortable because it feels vulnerable to look someone right in the eyes that close. It’s pretty amazing though. And if you think about it, it’s the only way to see yourself the way God sees you. If you look God in the eyes you are looking at a reflection so you’re seeing what he sees and at the same time he’s holding you close, keeping you under his wing.
I just see God holding Jesus in his arms saying it’s going to be okay son. I’m right here; I’m not going to let him win. Jesus cries out in pain as they pierce his side and at the same time Father God is saying NOOOOO! I love you son. And I just imagine that Jesus is suffering so badly at this point that he can’t even feel Father’s love or hear his words. He cries out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” And Father just says Son I’m right here. Can’t you hear me? It’s going to be ok. And He’s right we know how the story ends.
And now I just envision Jesus with scars in his hands and his feet from the nails. He’s holding me. He’s saying Sam, I’m right here. It’s going to be okay. We’re not going to let him win. And it’s so hard to feel. I don’t feel anything. And I don’t hear him. I just say, “Jesus where are you.” He says, Sam I’m right here don’t you hear me. I love you.” And I don’t know how to respond right now. It feels like I’m dying inside. And it’s so hard just to hold on. So I’m letting go. I’m just lying down. And that feels hopeless, but my one hope is that I know how the story ends.
Doctors look for symptoms right? Have you been less patient, angrier, more distant, irritable, depressed, restless, or unfocused lately? Are you just tired weary then something is up. Today I’m not trying to therapize you. I’m just a messenger. God is saying so me,
Isaiah 40:1-5, 28-31
[Sam] Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, [Harbor Light, Fremont, San Francisco]
and proclaim to her
that her hard service[her suffering] has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I’m just a voice crying out it the wilderness of your life. Are you ready? Please be ready. Get ready for God to enter in to your suffering. He’s going to come like a flood. Make a straight path for him to flow in and fill your life. Get help with the hurt so you can have the strength to remove some of the debris left behind by that tornado of tragedy that hit you. There may be some big stones that have been there forever. Hard to move those. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done to clear this rubble but once you begin you’ll pave a path of faith in your life that will allow God to take you to places you never thought you could go. Why do you need to make a way that is flat and smooth? Because he’s getting ready to downpour and when he’s done you’re going to see more growth and fruit that you could ever imagine. Are you ready?