Category Archives: Suffering

How attitudes intensify or moderate suffering

We all face difficulties of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pride, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to his teaching, delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite. That touch makes us want to lift our hearts in praise. We have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ and that change makes us want to express thankfulness. The positive effect of praise and thankfulness—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

I have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

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FOOLISH CHOICES AND SUFFERING – CAUSES OF SUFFERING #4

Have you ever wondered if your problems, or even your suffering, stem from foolish choices? We’re just coming out of two days of ice pellets and freezing rain. Life ground to a frozen halt. It would have been foolish to venture out and chance getting a broken leg.

Choices are important. I agonize over decisions, especially big decisions like whether to move to another house or what kind of car to buy. That’s not to say that I take long over the choice of what brand of toothpaste or shampoo to buy or whether to plant petunias or pansies in the garden.

But too often I allow price to determine my choices rather than quality. I once bought a pair of attractive loafers because they were half price. They were a bit tight, but so desirable. That purchase doomed me to pinched toes until I gave up. I could give other illustrations but they would be too embarrassing.

Even when I determine to balance quality against price, it’s not always easy to make a good choice in our media-saturated world. One report lists butter as harmful to our arteries. Another labels margarine as a dangerous culprit. Or take coffee, or chocolate. How do we navigate through all the shoals that we’re told can shipwreck our lifeboat?

Doubtless, bad choices can lead to great harm. And some of those bad choices are clear. Smoking. Overeating. Taking addictive drugs. Avoiding exercise. A steady diet of high calorie fast-foods. Too much sugar. Pornography. Sleeping with prostitutes. Drunkenness. The list is long; the effects devastating in terms of ill health, lost jobs and broken relationships.

Many of our bad choices lead to long-term suffering, or at least, suffering that catches up with us as we age. Why do we choose things we know will be harmful? Often, it’s to find immediate pleasure through gratifying a craving. Dare I say it, lust banishes reason? Donuts and cookies and mega-burgers taste so good! Indulge. Enjoy right now. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional indulgence but the danger occurs when indulgence becomes a habit.

The danger is magnified when the indulgence breaks one of God’s commandments. Outbursts of anger can not only shatter relationships, but, as Jesus said, even lead to murder. One pilfered item from a warehouse or an act of cheating can encourage a lifestyle of dishonesty that ultimately ends in incarceration. Envy or jealousy indulged can foster lifelong discontent. One act of adultery might ruin a marriage or promote a careless approach to marital fidelity or lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.

So why is there suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by human foolishness, indulgence, sinfulness and ignorance. We would be wise to re-read the book of Proverbs often. “He who speaks rashly will come to ruin. The sluggard craves and gets nothing…Dishonest money dwindles away…”(Prov. 13:3b, 4a, 11a).

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. There is no sin, no matter how grave, that He will not forgive if one but bows in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” Forgiveness, however, does not necessarily deliver us from the practical consequences of our sins. The forgiven smoker will still have damaged lungs. The forgiven murderer will still have to finish out his jail sentence. The indulgent eater who is forgiven may still have clogged arteries.

Let’s not blame God for the suffering we cause. Instead let’s make wise and godly choices. Let me know what you think about this issue.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

The Cruelty of Oppressors – Why Suffering, #3

Oppressors cause much of our world’s suffering. Our televisions daily project stories of suffering inflicted by the oppression of powerful and cruel men. Two years of warfare in Syria has claimed 60,000 lives due largely to the intransigence of President Assad. Meanwhile, the Taliban in the border regions of Pakistan continue to spread fear by targeting innocent villagers on both sides of the border along with coalition soldiers and Pakistani troops. As long as genuine participatory democracy fails to take root in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the future looks bleak—unless God should step in.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;…defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psalm 10:17,18).

But let’s think closer to home. In 2008 powerful institutions in the US manipulated the mortgage market and precipitated the worst recession since the thirties. The suffering of hard-working Americans who lost their homes was incalculable. Indeed, the whole world felt the fallout. Or consider North American tobacco companies who promote their cancer sticks wherever laws are lax. Then there are criminal gangs who promote drugs, prostitution, and gambling. 

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31).

Powerful multi-nationals run rough-shod over the rights of aboriginals in many parts of the world. Greedy industrialists pay workers a pittance to labor in terrible conditions producing consumer goods. Landlords keep tenant farmers in perpetual debt in Pakistan.

James warns the oppressive rich. “Weep and wail…your gold and silver are corroded…Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you…have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:1,3,4).

Religious groups are not immune. When religious men gain unbridled power, they often abuse. Consider the crusades, the Inquisition, oppression in reformation Geneva, abuses in Puritan New England and in first nations’ residential schools. Islamists today use suicide bombers and threat of terror to intimidate whole populations. Muslim villagers in Nigeria murder 500 Christians. Villagers in Pakistan try to coerce a young Christian boy to recite the Muslim creed.

Oppressors have bloodied history with their atrocities. Think Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13ff), Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8,9), Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin—the list is endless.

Power corrupts, whether it is in the hands of an abusive husband, a king, or an industrialist. In the west we are very fortunate to have democratic governments, subject to an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances. [Unfortunately, our western democracies are weakening.] The development of democracy can be traced to the Protestant Reformation with its acknowledgement of God as the Judge of all the earth, not some priest or pope. It revived a sense of individual freedom under God and responsibility to God. In France where the Reformation was weak, their revolution resulted in a period of terror. In England where the Reformation was strong, a constitutional government of checks and balances developed.

Instead of blaming God for suffering, let’s lay much of the blame at the feet of oppressors. And let’s determine to personally fight for justice and abhor all forms of intimidation and coercion. “Redeem me from the oppression of men” (Psalm 119:134).

Only in coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour can we find the spiritual resources necessary to prosper in an unjust world. And the hope of His return creates within the expectation of a future reign of righteousness.

Let me know your thoughts

Where Did All This Evil and Suffering Come From?

#2 in a series.
The universe displays breath-taking beauty. Sunsets and starry skies. Soaring mountains and spiral galaxies. Lilies and roses and frangipani. But! Every leaf that fell from the naked deciduous trees proclaims an unpalatable reality; everything has been marred by some malevolent influence. Each leaf bears evidence of the depredations of either insects or disease.

Not only in the leaves, but everywhere we look we discoverr evidence of defects. Weeds continue to choke the iris and day lilies I planted around the edge of our front lawn. Mosquitoes and black flies pester us in summer. Mice and ants may invade our homes. Birch trees die from the top down. Cankers attack beech trees. Our world often seems like a dangerous place. Floods and drought, typhoons and earthquakes, volcanoes and storms threaten populations. Human beings provoke wars, distribute poison in the form of drugs, abuse children, oppress the poor, and enslave the powerless. And too often an atrocity like the deranged gunman who took 17 lives in a Florida school occurs.

Microbes and bacteria infect our immune systems. We come down with colds and flu, hepatitis and clogged arteries, diminished memories and arthritic knees. Despite the claims of the beauty industry, an aging clock relentlessly ticks away within all of us. Whenever we honestly look in the mirror, we see its effect. Let’s face it, we will all die. One hundred per cent of us.

Why is it like this? For the origin of all imperfection and suffering, we must go back to origins; back to the historic, space-time fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. (Read Genesis 3) As the progenitors of all people, they chose to disobey God and as a result fell from original goodness into sin. Their fall not only set in motion their own deterioration and death but fractured the harmony of the cosmos. And all their progeny have inherited a sinful nature with a twisted bent to selfishness and evil. Women inherited great pain in childbirth. Painful toil in tilling the ground became man’s lot. Thorns and thistles arose along with a myriad other malevolent influences. As someone has said, “All nature is red in tooth and claw”.

Since that historic fall, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”(Rom. 8: 22). This is why the incarnation is so central to history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into our world to begin the restoration process. He calls all men and women to allow him to inject the antidote into our hearts, the antidote that will conquer our bent to selfishness and sin. He earned the right to call us to faith and repentance by dying for our sins upon the cross. Everyone who heeds His gospel call finds himself beginning to be changed from the inside out. (The new birth.) Ultimately, Christ will return to right all wrongs and to restore  the earth to a state of goodness and grace.

So, why do apparently good people, even God’s children suffer? It’s inevitable. We live in an imperfect, fallen world where bad things happen indiscriminately. Fortunately, in the lives of His children God is able to squeeze good from evil. So in spite of evil, let’s celebrate Jesus coming and look forward with hope to His return. Jesus is the promise of the ultimate extinguishment of evil and suffering.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject.

What I’m Learning From Unanswered Prayer

For 62 years, prayer has been an indispensable part of my life. Admittedly, it has often been either formal or hurried, weak or stumbling. I’m no model of a praying Christian. But like many believers I’ve often pondered the mystery of unanswered prayer.

After all, Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). But Lord, why didn’t you answer my plea for X’s salvation or my healing? Oh, I know the standard answer; “God always answers, either yes, no, or wait awhile.” I believe there is at least another reason.

Let me give you some personal background that has led me to this conclusion. Five or six months ago the date was set for my knee surgery. We immediately began to pray for results that did not include complications, as surgery on the other knee had been accompanied by problems. The surgery took place. The surgeon was pleased. Everything seemed good. But shortly we realized that it was infected. Dealing with the infection delayed healing for some time. Why Lord did this happen? Was the answer to our prayers a simple, no? And why did you not answer our plea?

In the months that followed, prayer for ability to sleep at night was also put on the unanswered prayer pile. What’s going on Lord? Do you not want my joy to be full?

Let me be clear. As a couple, Mary Helen and I have no right to complain to God. He has blessed us in abundant and unusual ways. And my quibble about pain and sleeplessness is minor compared to those who suffer with cancer or debilitating diseases or deal with a tragedy. I’m just trying to understand the many invitations in Scripture to bring our requests to our heavenly Father with the assurance of an answer. So what am I learning?

PATIENCE: God has laid bare my impatience. Why do I have to keep relearning lessons about patience? Have I taken my supposed maturity for granted? Unfortunately, for most of us, patience is something we have to keep relearning. And we can’t develop it without going through trying situations. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

EMPATHY: I’m also learning empathy for others, especially those who suffer. This will be a hard lesson. I’m not a very empathetic person. I don’t like hospitals. I don’t even want to go near them. But many in my age group have to visit doctors and hospitals often. And each of us need encouragement, comfort and love. I’ve got a lot to learn about compassion and without it I’m not much use in the kingdom. Paul reminds us of a related reason God sends tribulations into our lives. “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3). We face troubles so we can understand and empathize with the troubles of others.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP: I’m also trying to remember that I should lean on God for help more than on my own grit, experience, gifts, and abilities. During my missionary and pastoral career, I often faced tasks beyond my ability. During those years several key verses encouraged me to believe that the very unlikely could happen. One was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Another pointed me to the source of help. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God has worked in wonderful ways down through the years. But I wonder today, how much was His work and how much was me trying to accentuate my own efforts and abilities. I’m realizing more clearly, that when Jesus says, “you can do nothing,” He really means it. We may be able to build a chicken coop or send a man to the moon, but we cannot accomplish anything positive for the Kingdom without His help. And before we realize that we have face to situations where nothing we do works.

FAITH: Christians know that faith is foundational. In the case of a leper and a centurion (in Matthew 8) who came to Jesus, their faith led them to trust him for healing. But faith, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, does not always lead to healing. Abraham and the other patriarchs trusted God’s promises of a glorious future—not for them but their descendants. I wonder if for many of us today, faith requires us to trust God in the dark. Trusting God even when our requests are not met. Walking with God in apparent darkness, sure of our ultimate destination. We are to, “walk by faith not by sight.” We need to be able to say, “though He slay me, [doesn’t answer my prayer] yet will I trust him.”

Trusting God during periods when He seems distant or silent is not something unusual. Think of slaves trusting God in their misery. Think of Christians wallowing in foxholes during wartime. Think of Christians waiting for healing in cancer wards.

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Often it is because He knows that we will learn more about Christian living and walking by faith if He doesn’t respond to our every request. When He seems silent, He is probably working to make us more Christ-like in patience, faith, compassion, and a host of other godly characteristics. Lord, help me to learn more and grumble less. Help me to accept these tough but necessary lessons in discipleship.

How do you respond to this blog? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something to add to this meditation?

The Crabby Old Lady

When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Dundee, Scotland, it was believed that she had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through her meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to Ireland.

The old lady’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on her simple, but eloquent, poem. And this little old Scottish lady, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this “anonymous” poem winging across the Internet

Crabby Old woman
What do you see, nurses?
What do you see?
What are you thinking
When you’re looking at me?

A crabby old woman,
Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit,
With faraway eyes?

Who dribbles her food
And makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice,
“I do wish you’d try!”

Who seems not to notice
The things that you do,
And forever is losing
A stocking or shoe?

Who, resisting or not,
Let’s you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding,
The long day to fill?

Is that what you’re thinking?
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse,
You’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am
As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding,
As I eat at your will.

I’m a small child of ten
With a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters,
Who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen
With wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now
A lover she’ll meet.

A bride soon at twenty,

My heart gives a leap,

Remembering the vows

That I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now,

I have young of my own,

Who need me to guide

And a secure happy home.

A woman of thirty,

My young now grown fast,

Bound to each other

With ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons

Have grown and are gone,

But man’s beside me

To see I don’t moan.

At fifty once more,

Babies play round my knee,

Again we know children

My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me,

My husband is dead,
I look at the future,
I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing
Young of their own,
And I think of the years
And the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old woman
And nature is cruel;
‘Tis jest to make old age
Look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles,
Grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone
Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass
A young girl still dwells,
And now and again,
My battered heart swells.

I remember the joys,
I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living
Life over again.

I think of the years
All too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact
That nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people,
Open and see,
Not a crabby old woman;
Look closer . . . see ME!!

=========================================================

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might
brush aside without looking at the young soul within . . we will all,
one day, be there, too! In fact it might be me.

Does Anyone Love the Lonely? – Attributes of God, #6

DSCN2176 - CopyCrowds attend celebrations such as Canada Day and the Fourth of July. But millions are lonely, feel unloved, estranged, nervous, alienated and fearful. These words describe too many in our day. What a strange anomaly at a time when we are more connected than ever through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texts, and by 24-hour news updates.

In an article by André Picard entitled; “In spite of everything, pundits tell us that we have never felt more alone.” Picard writes that, “an estimated six million Canadians live in isolation. Social researchers are now calling it a hidden epidemic.”

Don’t be a lonely statistic! There is someone who is closer than our own skin; someone who loves us with an everlasting love despite our sins and foibles. God has described his care and concern for you and me in dozens of metaphors. Consider a few.

Our Shepherd: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Is 40:11). Celebrate the gentleness with which our divine shepherd protects us, provides for us, and carries us close to his heart. This wonderful image is repeated often from Psalm 23 through Isaiah to John 10.

Our Father: Far from being inscrutable and indifferent the true God reveals himself as a loving, concerned, involved Father both in the Old Testament and especially in the New. “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior” (Psalm 89:26). “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10) And so we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). He loves us, not as a group, but individually, personally, practically. He listens to our prayers.

Our Provider: Feeling empty and unsatisfied; longing for something more? “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost….listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me” (Isaiah 55:1-3) If we digest the biblical message of the invisible God, our besmirched souls will be cleansed and our hungry hearts will be satisfied as with the choicest foods.

Our Shelter: In a setting where the sun blazes down on people without mercy, burning their skin and blinding their eyes, people seek shade and protection. The Psalmist writes, DSCN1325“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Better than venturing out in the blazing desert of life without God we would be wise to daily abide in God’s presence.

Our Canopy: We know about huge circus tents and wedding tents. We can picture the tents used by desert nomads. In this metaphor, the sky is a tent! “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (Is 40:22) Yes, God sees earth’s goings-on; God sees your heart-ache and mine and He is strong enough to do something about it.

Our Friend: Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends.” “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” To prove his loving friendship, Jesus laid down his life to atone for our sins. “ ”Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 15,14,13). Imagine having the Son of God as your friend!

Our spiritual Husband: “For your maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His name—the Holy One of IMom's wedding picsrael is your Redeemer…God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5). Spoken originally of Israel, this metaphor astonishes us with the closeness and intimacy, the love, care and provision that God, like a
good husband, provides to his wife. The book of Hosea tells us that God seeks us even when we fall into deep depravity.

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know
Spirit breathing from above, thou has taught me it is so!

Have you found a friend in Jesus? Do you know God as your Father, your shepherd, your spiritual husband, and your provider? Are you assured of his love? Let your loneliness dissipate as you draw close to him.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca –Follow him on Facebook: Eric E Wright; on Twitter: @EricEWright1 and on LinkedIn: Eric Wright )