Thursday 7 August
With harrowing reports from Iraq ringing in our ears, Malcolm Duncan spoke from John 11 on the issue of suffering. Here is a taste of his moving message:
On 5 September 2002, at 7.30am I left the house I was staying in Fortwilliam park in Belfast and I put on a clerical collar and a suit and I got into my car and I drove to the Shore Road and I parked the car and I walked into a funeral parlour. I went into a small room and I knelt beside the coffin of my father and screamed at God, “Why?”
My father had dropped dead on the Saturday before. The only thing I had prayed for all my Christian life was that my father would come to faith. I dreamed of being able to serve him communion. But it never happened. I was angry and confused.
We got home and I said to God, “Please don’t let me have to take a funeral for at least a month.” And two days later, I had to take another funeral! For six months, I kept saying, “Why?” Eventually, I wrote in my journal, “One day, God will give me the answer to every question I have ever asked. Until then… I trust Him.”
Have you ever cried out to God, “Why?” How can we not be moved when we hear the stories of Christians around the world that are suffering such horrific persecution. At some point in their life, every Christian will go something that causes them to ask, “Why?” Mary and Martha went through that experience when Lazarus died.
The sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one who you love is sick.” Never think that sickness or death or suffering or unanswered prayer are an indication that God does not love you. There is a cruel theology in the church that says if you are facing illness or sickness it is because you don’t have enough faith – that is NOT the case. Suffering does not mean that God is punishing you.
Where is God in the suffering of His people? He is right beside them. The absence of His voice is never an indication of the absence of His presence. He promised, “Never will I leave you and never will I forsake you.”
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
When Jesus finally reached Bethany, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Her faith is hanging by a thread as she struggles to believe.
Do we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Lazarus did die but the tomb was not the end of the story.
Mary says the same thing to Jesus as Martha had, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Mary knelt at Jesus feet. She could not bring her praise to Him so instead she brought her pain.
When He saw the suffering around Him, Jesus wept. It is in the darkest moments of our lives that we grow even when our prayers are tears and sighs and groans.
Why did He cry? Jesus saw the destruction and horror of death and He entered into that suffering. He walks with you through the pain. He says, “I am here and I am weeping with you. I feel and identify with your pain. I am right beside.” He gives us permission to break our heart.
As Jesus says, “Lazarus come forth,” He demonstrates His power over death. Death was not the final word. I don’t think that God causes our suffering but He demonstrates His glory, His power and His grace through it.
Lazarus resurrection shows me that those of us who trust in Him will live even if we die. Death is not the last word for the believer. He holds our hand!
God is faithful and present. With every fibre of my being, I know that every single child of God whose life has been taken in the Middle East or Iraq or elsewhere, has passed from death to life. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
With tears in my eyes and questions in my heart, I stand tonight and say, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
God says, “Don’t think I don’t love you. Don’t think I don’t understand. Don’t think I have abandoned you. Instead, let me comfort you.”