The Problem of suffering…

*Note – This is from a Bible study commentary I gave last year…

So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” (Revelation 10:9-11 )

ekekiel eating the scrollAnd when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and lo, a written scroll was in it; 10 and he spread it before me; and it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Ezekiel 3:1)

Both Ezekiel and John are prophets whose role was to communicate to God’s people what God told them. They were both commanded to eat scrolls – which indicates that they are to internalize God’s word and commands and then communicate them to God’s people.  For both prophets the scrolls taste sweet but then become bitter in their stomachs.  This indicates that the outcome of the prophesy will be good, but there will be suffering and tribulation on the way to the good end – salvation, eternity with God.

Eating something sweet that turns bitter or sour in the stomach is interesting imagery.  It resonates with me on multiple levels.

A few years ago I had to stop eating gluten for medical reasons. I really miss good cake!  But I can make some pretty good gluten free banana bread now.  If I eat gluten now it tastes great, but my stomach hurts for a few days.

Of course, this is not really suffering – it’s inconvenience – although it first felt like suffering.

Real suffering in our lives, whether it be physical or emotional or spiritual, is hard to understand and often hard to accept. Over the last 20 years I have read more books with the title “why bad things happen to good people” or other versions of that – trying to understand suffering, wrestling with it.

We see through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that the cross is the way to eternal life – in other words, there is a sweet reward but bitterness and tribulation are on the way to that great reward.

Jesus embraced His suffering, because he embraced his Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prays:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

In His humanity Jesus felt suffering and pain just as we do – he was fully human.  His will was so in alignment with the will of His Father, that he could embrace whatever happened to him b/c he knew it was part of his father’s plan.  We too must embrace the reality of pain and suffering as part of the plan in our world that is post fall of Adam.

But How do we handle suffering?

How do we embrace it?

Fr Brian Baker spoke last Thursday here at Christ the King – he talked about Receiving the Eucharist with Reverence.  He told us that prayer is a key to reverence and knowing who God is.  And he told us that being quiet in prayer for at least 15 minutes is the way to be able to hear God.  He also said that if we ask God to help us He always will, but it may not be the way we are expecting.  He said if we run from the hard parts of life, the suffering, we won’t find God as readily.  But if we are able to face the pain or suffering and ask for God’s help in the middle of it, we will find God there and He will walk with us and help us understand.  He told us the way to be most intimate with God is to embrace our cross or crosses and there we will find God and be able to cling to Him.  If we look for  the crosses in our lives, there we will find God.

This is very difficult for me.  I have been running from pain and my emotions my whole life.  All I want is a smooth ride to the end.

And I spend so much time trying to control the circumstances of my life, trying to find the smooth ride, trying to avoid pain and suffering that I often miss out on the daily joy that God offers all of us.  How can I be present in the moment if I am trying to run the show.  That’s God’s job, and I need to let him do it.

Since we last met in November I had a bulging disc in my neck.  The pain from that was the most intense pain I have ever had.  I could not escape from it.  I had to face it, pray through it, and ask God to give me the courage to not get discouraged.  I had to be brave and not despair.  It was very challenging.  All I wanted to do was curl up in ball and cry.

While in the middle of the pain I realized how much time I spend in fear, waiting for something bad to happen.  I am letting the devil run my spiritual and mental life with fear. Fear of all kinds of things.  Fear of death, fear that my kids will die, fear that Brad will die, fear that one of us will get really sick and suffer etc.

For the last few weeks I have been wrestling with the problem of suffering.  Again.  As I mentioned earlier, my book shelves are full of books that have not helped.

Because this is not an intellectual issue.  This is about submitting to God’s will.  This is about turning over control.  This is about admitting I am not in control.

On Weds mornings I work in a soup kitchen downtown.  Two of the volunteers who work with me said to me last weds – you know Helen, we are supposed to give God everything.  We are not to worry.  He has things under control, even when we can’t see it.  We are to give God everything in our lives.

I thought “ oh that’s nice for them” but I can’t do that.

But I must.  In order to have the peace that passes all understanding we acknowledge that God is God and we are not Him.  Then we don’t have to run the show.  We can do the foot work, but we know who is the Boss.

It’s not me.  Years ago, (29 to be exact) I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and my life was unmanageable.  And yet, I keep trying to take back control and power.  And there goes my peace.

I need to Let Go and Let God.

We can all benefit from that AA slogan.  When we let go and embrace whatever it is that God has in mind for us each moment, we are living the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.  We are accepting and loving our daily bread.  God will not give us what we cannot handle.

He himself has endured the worst imaginable pain and suffering and death, and He rose victorious from it all.  He never asks us to suffer something he has not endured.  We can endure anything if we walk with God.  Read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom if you want to see how this works.

And since the way to intimacy with God is to embrace the cross (however big or small) that’s what I’m going to try to do.  And I invite you to do it with me this year.  One moment, one day at a time.

Let’s let God be God and breath a big sigh of relief at not having to tackle all of the world’s problems by ourselves.

Let’s let Jesus Take the Wheel.


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