What God promises: Comfort to the Suffering

We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God promises,” and today, John Ray has agreed to share. I’ve watched John and his family wrestle with suffering through the loss of his daughter Olivia. You can read more about her story here. Consider his words and join us in the comments as we work this out.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
~Matthew 5:4

It starts around the time school kicks back into gear. As summer days slowly shorten and as fall starts to move in, so does the gathering grief. It comes, like a large rough stone dragged by a chain over a rutted road. Heave. Clunk. Heave. Clunk. Heave…a smothering panic blankets our home; oppressive, suffocating, inescapable.

In many ways the anticipation of the anniversary is worse than the actual day itself. Maybe it is because there seems to be grace for making it through the day we lost our young Olivia, just like there was grace in the weeks and months following her passing. There was revelation. There was comfort that matched the terror. There was peace of a potency that matched the poison. There was news that was truly good, shattering in it’s incarnation, utterly disorienting in its clarity, news that was sufficient to counter even death.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t happy, but it was real.

Looking back I see everything that is important in my life has been shaped by suffering. This suffering–whether inflicted through pain and death, insult and loss–is the thing that has opened me to understanding, to experience, to really value the beauty of the Gospel.

And I have found no other way to experience it.

I know I am not the first to grasp this. I know I still really don’t understand it. But I do know we are a society drunk on manipulating promises of peace, joy, health, wealth and comfort in ways that avoid the very thing necessary to truly understand and experience them. Our constant pursuit of comfort through safety and control prevents us from understanding the one necessary element to obtain it. Not only do we avoid suffering, run from it, we also demonize it. We treat suffering as if it is not the evidence of obedience or an opportunity for grace; instead, we treat it as a sure sign of sin, faithlessness, or ignorance. It is the thing to be avoided at all cost. “It which shall not be named”.

We run from being the kind of people who hear the Good News as it is intended to be heard; comfort for those who mourn, satisfaction for those who hunger, reward for those who suffer. Instead we make the Good News into a promise of the Good Life here and now, a way of having Jesus “pimp” out our already overstuffed lives.

I write this knowing there are many who deeply suffer and feel this promise must not apply to them. There are those who fight through every day and the comfort of which I write seems so far away and impossible to find. There are those for whom no amount of assuaging can compensate for the pain, the loss. To you I offer no formula or instruction, only my own witness and presence and the acknowledgement that your pain is real.

And I offer the testimony that as I emptied every ounce of pain and anger and terror into the hands of God, those hands held and hold me still. That is his promise. That his hands will hold you still.

Cover photo by D.Boyarrin, via Creative Commons.

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10 Responses to What God promises: Comfort to the Suffering

  1. Matt Mooney says:

    this. 100 x’s this.

  2. bhirschy says:

    I remember one time sitting in John Ray’s living room talking about how I wanted to provide my family (future family at the time) with a safe environment and how I felt like that was a good thing.

    John looked me square in the eyes and said, “Well, where is that? Because there is no place on earth where that is guaranteed. Where are you going to go?”

    This was one of the most important things ever spoken to me.

  3. S. Herron says:

    So what’s missing then? When I look around at churches and my brothers and sisters in Christ I wonder, why are we so averse to this? John, If what you say here is true, and I believe it fully, then what are we afraid of? Why isn’t there more sobriety to our worship and intentionality with our time? Will this ever change? Why can’t we see that there is never more than the gospel, only more of the gospel? I’m sorry to ask so many questions. They are genuine and not necessarily meant for you or anyone to answer. I suppose there are no answers to these questions. Or worse yet, I already know the answers. I pray for the gospel to run full force into the the hearts and minds of those who have trusted Christ. I pray that we would put away the attempts to heal with platitudes and pleasantries but instead be a people who are acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53:3) and offer Christ while filled with an anticipation of struggle so that we might know great joy and peace. I pray this earnestly. I pray for you and your family in your sorrow as well John that you might listen to your words, weep, but rejoice that as a child of the covenant she weeps no more. And might Christ be lifted high in all that we do and say. Amen.

  4. J.Ray says:

    Scott,
    Thanks for the words here, especially the questions.They are the kind we need to be asking, and then sitting with our hearts in our throats and our hands over our mouths while we wait for the answers.

  5. This one is getting printed and put on the fridge:
    “We run from being the kind of people who hear the Good News as it is intended to be heard; comfort for those who mourn, satisfaction for those who hunger, reward for those who suffer. Instead we make the Good News into a promise of the Good Life here and now, a way of having Jesus “pimp” out our already overstuffed lives.”
    As a cancer survivor with friends who are facing biopsies this week to see if the “suspicious spot” or the “atypical cells” are recurrence, my prayers have evolved from when cancer first touched my life and God first collided my path with His dream for cancer care…”Let the scans be clear. Let the biopsy be clear. Save them from this. Make it go away. Whatever you do, Lord, don’t let it be stage 4.” Then he brought us a single grandmother with stage 4. He brought us the Gospel. And even when it’s scary and the chances are 1:1,000,000 we are going to be safe from the pain, I am learning to run to it. Not just see the suffering. Not just acknowledge it. Not just pray. Not just ask others to pray. (those these are HUGE and very necessary and appreciated). But get in the trenches, embrace the suffering, live it with them, and be willing to be used by Him to not only share the Good News but live it out. Meeting them (aka us) in the suffering, no matter what it looks like.

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