Reflections on Joy in Suffering

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As I was in the midst of wrestling with God in prayer this morning, He reminded me of two things:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord… [for] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Romans 8:38-39, Revelation 22:13)

Why was I wrestling with God?

This morning I was informed by several of my friends in the Philippines that another super typhoon is headed in their direction.

“I am quite afraid,” one said.

And another, “this feeling of watching people hurrying in the supermarket, the super long queue in the grocer[y store], long queue at the gas station and ATM is just very overwhelming… I’m not scared at all but this whole thing is just breaking my heart and saddens me knowing that if this typhoon hits Tacloban again, dunno whats gonna happen…”

My heart went into my throat as I recalled the devastation I personally witnessed with my own eyes. I saw several hundred ton boats thrown on to dry land as if they were rag dolls. I saw houses leveled as if they were houses of cards. I saw starving families without homes, without brothers, mothers, sisters, wives, relatives.

To this day I have yet to see anything so beautiful become a wasteland of unwarranted destruction.

To this day I have yet to be as cynical about the power, goodness, and sovereignty of God as I was when I went out to feed the poor and help the sick in the city of Tacloban.

“God, not again… please not again…” was my prayer this morning.

I was angry. I was sad. I was broken that the wounds incurred by Typhoon Yolanda on friends of mine just thirteen months ago may be reopened within the span of three days.

How long, O’ Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen? Or cry out to you… but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2)

“Aren’t you in control, Lord? Don’t you care about these people? Don’t you care that their wounds are still fresh? Don’t you care that I want to see my friends again? Don’t you care that they cannot take another wave of destruction like this? Lord where are you!?”

And it was in my cynicism that the Jesus spoke to me. It was in my selfishness that He reminded me of His promises from long ago that He will be with us “even until the end of the age.”

In the midst of disaster, He is there.

In the midst of pain, He is there.

In the midst of death, destruction, brokenness and healing He is there.

To all of those who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior He promises,

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer… for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God… I will be with you, even until the end of the age… I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand… so we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone [or anything] do to me?” (Revelation 2:10a, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:6)

In Luke 13:4-5 Jesus tells a story about a tower in a place called Siloam that fell and claimed eighteen lives. Jesus says, “Were these that died more guilty than anyone else? I tell you no!” (Luke 13:4-5a)

The point?

Sometimes natural disasters occur due to the entropy created by broken people living in a broken world. And sometimes these natural disasters claim the lives of thousands. Thousands of individuals who were no more guilty than the rest of us. Thousands of individuals who “did not deserve” such a fate.

It was in this moment that my “sadness turned to joy.” (Psalm 30:10)

Joy that my cynicism was rebuked by understanding that instead of God having been aloof to – and even the direct causation of – typhoon Yolanda, He was there with them suffering as they suffer so that He might clothe them with the joy that comes from knowing that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And that one day, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

God spoke clearly to me, “Why do you feel as if I am aloof? As if the world is not changing? Because your cynicism has tricked you into thinking that asking the only One who can actually make a real difference in the world to act in accordance with His will is useless. Your cynicism has led you to believe that your opinions, your emotions, and your reasoning must be the only thing that will change the world for the better.”

But ‘I am the Lord, the God of mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

In Tacloban, and even this morning, God proved to me that impotence is not weakness when Christ is at the center. For it is only through our powerlessness that His power will shine like the noon day sun through us.

Abegail, Tina, ate Beryl, Matt, Sel, Aira, Chris – all who I met in Tacloban – each one of you will be forever in my heart as examples of what it means to rejoice in suffering, to have faith when everything points towards faithlessness, and to stand firm knowing that living in a fallen world means experiencing the pangs of suffering due to human brokenness.

Each of you are an example of what it means to be unimaginably powerful in the strength of Jesus Christ through the witness of the Holy Spirit in times of great suffering.

Typhoon Yolanda brought with it death, sorrow, and destruction.

But God used her to “work all things to the good for those who love Him” through world gathering unity, supernatural joy, and trial bearing perseverance.

The world is full of immeasurable brokenness and suffering.

But the world is also full of people who stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ that proclaims “the destruction of the works of satan and the abundant life” that we long for day by day. (1 John 3:8, John 10:10)

My friend Aira, while commenting on her uncle preparing their home for the next wave of destruction, said it best,

The most important preparation is the preparation of ourselves for what might happen. Surrendering our whole life to the Life-Giver and securing a relationship with His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, each one of you, for surrendering your entire lives to Jesus, and for setting an example for people like me of what it looks like to “bear the cross” given to us no matter what trials we encounter.

Each of you are a living, breathing, testimony of what I mentioned earlier,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Nothing in all of creation will separate you from His love.

Not even typhoons.

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