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By Bro. Tom Johns USA

The Problem of Pain

We are surrounded by human suffering and pain. Over the years, I have witnessed young lives being snatched away after succumbing to incurable diseases and accidents, children die at tender ages, infants born with brain tumors, families going through terrible circumstances, people afflicted with mental illnesses, and the list goes on. I have heard prayer requests from devoted born-again Christian parents for their child with a birth defect, for an inoperable tumor, and for reversal of paralysis, among other heartbreaking situations. In most cases, even after some temporary relief, the person stays in the same condition or dies of further complications.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to be part of a study on the roles of Job’s friends, their counsel to Job, and how God was displeased with them. God said, “My wrath is kindled against you [Eliphaz] and your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). What kindled God’s wrath against Job’s counselors? Certainly, they were not maliciously blaspheming God; they were instead desperately trying to justify God’s actions. While doing so they were accusing Job of secret or hidden sins.

It is wrong to suggest that our actions have no consequences. Jonah fled from the presence of God, and he found himself inside the belly of a big fish, praying for a miraculous deliverance (Jonah 2:1-6). Also it is wrong to suggest that something bad happens only when we do bad things. Job was a righteous man. In Job 1:8, God testified, “For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and righteous man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” His miseries were not the result of secret sins as his friends had falsely claimed. When we act insensitively towards the plights of others, we make the same mistake as Job’s friends.

For further elucidation, we may turn to James 5:11:“We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and had seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” Job’s counselors failed to communicate this important message about the fundamental character of God, and they spouted only the superficial knowledge which comes from a peripheral understanding of God. Thus God’s anger was kindled against Job’s friends, who neglected to convey the merciful nature of God’s dealings with man.

Ever since that study and ensuing discussions, I have been thinking more and more about God’s compassion. God’s ultimate purpose in putting Job through so much suffering was to communicate to Job and to us His great compassion and mercy. We do not understand how God worked all things for good, but it obviously was done. How can this be communicated sensitively to someone facing terrible tragedies in life? Will such preaching make much sense to a woman who just has buried her husband, crying out, clutching to her belly, which holds her first child, yet to be born?

Often we pray for miracles, but miracles seldom happen. When we are in the ditch and lay wounded due to the beatings we have suffered, we pray for a “Good Samaritan” to show up, sweep us out, carry us to the inn, apply oil to our body, and provide food to curb our hunger. But hardly ever do we see that happen. Even if some such things do happen, we overlook those miracles because of other looming challenges staring us in the face which are more horrifying than the previous challenges. We tend to forget to appreciate the goodness we just have experienced and start fretting over the next impending disaster.

These may not be the stories of all. But I am sure that there are at least a few of you who could relate to these situations.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

In the face of these realities we are asked to trust God and believe He does things to demonstrate His compassion and mercies. The Bible has a good number of incidents besides what happened to Job to illustrate this truth. One that particularly stands out is the life of Joseph from the Old Testament, who suffered many trials in life. But skipping over to the New Testament, I would like to examine the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

It is interesting to see how God dealt with Mary, the vessel God chose from eternity past to bring the Son of God to this world. The news of her pregnancy must have brought the first shock. It is hard to believe, as some would try to say, that every virgin in those days were hoping to hear such news. If so, why did Joseph have to be instructed not to put away Mary? Why were even Jesus’ own half-brothers unconvinced of Jesus and His divine origin? Why would not the Pharisees and scribes spread the palm branches or coats in His path and welcome Him as the Messiah?

There is every reason to believe that Mary had to suffer harsh words and evil gossip, just as any other woman who happened to become pregnant without the consummation of marriage. God did not announce this event in the midst of flashing lightning or piercing thunder. It was not an event as we saw in Mount Sinai. It was brought to Mary by one angel with no fanfare. God could have chosen glorious circumstances; but He chose not to. Mary and Joseph could reasonably have asked why God decided to put the mother of Jesus through such humiliation.

Jesus had to go through the normal gestation period in the womb of Mary. Mary had to travel to Bethlehem, fully pregnant, covering a long distance. Considering the gruesomeness of travel conditions, it must have been very difficult. We do not read of any “heavenly chariot” which transported this tired mother of Jesus while she was providentially fulfilling God’s promise of Him being born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). Mary was not received with welcome signs and there was not anyone fighting over receiving Mary and Joseph as honorable guests. On the contrary, “there was no room for them in the inn,” and Jesus was laid in the manger. The Creator of the world, and everything in it, found to be lacking a place to rest His head, at birth and even as an adult (Matt. 8:20). Why didn’t God make it easy on Mary and Joseph as they carried out this most important mission?

Jesus, the Son of God, was circumcised on the eighth day. At the end of the forty day purification time, Joseph and Mary brought two turtle doves to the temple as an offering. It seems as though they could not afford a lamb as some other richer families could have (Lev. 12:6).The carrying of the Son of God in the womb for nine months did not come with a “lottery winning.” Joseph and Mary remained poor. God could have made them rich; He chose not to.

We do not see any heavenly manna pouring over Joseph’s house during Jesus’ stay there. In fact, Joseph continued his physical labor to provide for the family. He was known in the neighborhood as a carpenter or mason (Matt. 13:55). God could have set a scrumptious table at Mary’s house every day. After all, it was the Son of God who lived in that house; but God chose not to. In the city of Nazareth, “the Child grew and became strong increasing in wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus must have increased in wisdom as he grew to the full knowledge of His own divine origin and purpose of incarnation. God could have avoided all these and brought Jesus as a grown mature Man to this world; but He chose not to. He assigned Jesus to the care of struggling, normal parents.

Mary and Joseph were not extraordinarily spiritual in discerning the mysteries surrounding Jesus. When Simeon said “my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30). Mary and Joseph did not understand much. At the temple, when Jesus told his parents that “He had to be in His Father’s house,” they may not have understood the spiritual implications of his statement. There was no instant spiritual maturity or insight they gained supernaturally by having the Son of God under
the same roof.

Mary must have waited patiently for 30 some years for vindication. At the wedding of Cana, she must have felt it could be time for her acquittal. She approached Jesus and informed Him of the shortage of wine. But Jesus distanced Himself from her by addressing her as a “woman.” The term “woman” was not derogatory, but was more formal. In today’s terms, it has the same meaning as “lady” or “madam.” Why was He acting so “strangely” to his mother? By now, we do not see Joseph in the picture. He could have died or been incapacitated by now. Nothing seems to go smoothly for Mary.

At the time of the crucifixion, Mary must have been devastated like the disciples. She must have sensed the fulfillment of the prophetical words of Simeon and might have felt the writhing pain of the “sword piercing through her soul”, while Jesus Christ was being crucified (Luke 2:35). All her efforts seemed to have been wasted. Indeed, most of us would also feel dejected after enduring repeated disappointments. Nothing seemed to go well for Mary. There are times when we feel that no doors are open; we are surrounded by thick walls and total darkness. She must also have felt the same way.

We do not read anything about Mary after the resurrection of Jesus. There was no special appearance to Mary from the Son of God whom she carried in her womb for nine months, or at least no record of it. For us, it is an unfinished story. It is possible that Mary was in the crowd at some point, even at the time of the ascension. But we do not see Jesus walking to her, thanking her, or giving a hug, as any mother could reasonably expect. Her name was not even mentioned further in connection with Jesus as her son in any special way. Acts 1:14 makes a casual reference to Mary, but then she is no more to be seen. The New Testament does not give any account of Mary seeing the finished portrait God was creating with her life. Job, at least, was able to see a conclusion for his miseries. He was blessed beyond measure even while he was alive.

True Stories

God wants His people to be patient. The premature death of a loved one will not be the end of His plan for us. A handicapped child may bless our spiritual life at the end. A humiliating experience may bring glory later.

I know of a Christian couple who takes care of three grown children with “fragile X syndrome.” I talk with those parents often. They take turns coming to church, since at least one person must be with the children at all times. Now the children are in their twenties. Both the boys are around 6 feet tall and physically well built. The girl is a little more manageable, yet needs constant care. All in all, they have 3 physically grown children with childlike mental capabilities. The parents’ lives are confined to the neighborhood they live in. They hardly could take a vacation together in the last twenty five plus years. The boys tend to break household furniture when they are excited, so they do not even have good furniture in the house. The father or mother has to rise around 4 a.m. every morning to make breakfast and feed the boys. They get hungry often and more than normal children. This has been their life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for twenty plus years. Yet I see them with smiles and in cheerful spirits. I am not sure why God gave them these 3 children. These parents take care of them like precious gifts from God. They know that they bear the image of God, although they carry around seriously marred emotions and underdeveloped brains in their “overgrown” bodies.

I also know of a young man, barely forty years old, whose doctors have confirmed he must use the “self-cath” procedure to empty the bladder for the rest of his life due to dead or inactive nerves. One of his family members, who is from a different Christian denomination, visited and assured him that if he were to join their group, his sickness would be healed! But this young man knew better and did not heed that advice.

When I am dissatisfied with my lot, I often think of these dear saints, and it helps me jump up from my pity pot.

Miracles and Miraculous Healings

When we fail to see God’s goodness even in the midst of trials, we drift into doubts and fears. When the so-called “healing ministries” prove to be farce, they drive us to depression and dejection. The miracles described in the Bible authenticate the prophets and apostles God had raised at that time, and they are never the norm. Why do we call them “miracles” if they are daily happenings at our beck & call? The young man who has to go through the self-cath procedure for the rest of his life may not enjoy a miraculous cure. But he can cling on to the promise of God “that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I can’t explain how; but it will be.

God did not resort to miracles while bringing salvation to this world. Yes, there was the miracle of the virgin birth; but that was more of a perceived taboo than anything so desirable. God chose ordinary people to carry out extraordinary tasks. We do not see miraculous lifting of burdens while carrying out those assigned tasks. Even the apostle Paul had to engage in “tent making” while fully immersed in the ministries to support his personal needs. His prison cell remained cold, and he desperately needed a blanket to keep him warm (2 Tim. 1:16 & 4:13). No heat vent opened up from heaven.

I remember reading about our pioneer North Indian missionaries who had to undergo terrible adversities while enthusiastically engaged in evangelism. The late brother T. A. Kurien of Sagar (MP) had to fix his bicycle tires multiple times while travelling to rural areas with rough terrain. Often he had to push his bicycle several miles to locate someone to fix it. God never miraculously intervened and inflated those tires. God could have; but He chose not to.

The Perseverance of the Saints

Mary was given the stewardship of the Son of God for a brief period of time and she proved to be faithful as a perfect stewardess for that task. It is reasonable to believe that her life, as a young mother to a homemaker to an older mother, was filled with the normal trials and challenges. Some of us are granted an opportunity to see the finished portrait at least through a veil, but others, like Mary, may have to wait longer even to have a glimpse of it. My friends with fragile X syndrome children have yet to see a spark in their lives.

God would honor His people as they persevere through trials. We desperately want to see the finished portrait. Even at the time of our death, God is not done with that portrait. He is still weaving it as we leave footprints of obedience during our lifetime on this earth. We are called to live our Christian lives through the trials of each day. It was not easy for Mary and certainly is not easy for me and you. But God’s promise remains firm: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

As we fail to find a Good Samaritan on our trail; or eagerly looking, yet fail to find a miraculous sign from heaven; or see no sign of a celestial chariot to transport us out of misery; we still can depend on His words as we see in Psalm 34:18-19: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” Such deliverance comes at His perfect time. We are challenged to live our earthly lives displaying our faith in God. We are encouraged as we struggle through, knowing that ultimately God would show us that He indeed is compassionate and full of mercy.

by Bro.Tom Johns, USA



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