Questions about God’s existence and questions about my own salvation have rarely bothered me. I’m blessed that on both counts the Lord has gifted me with confident assurance. But there is one question that has periodically troubled me over the years. Why do some people seem to get much more than their fair share of pain and suffering in life?
I must have been barely out of my teenage years when that question hit with particular force. The friend of a friend was a girl who had been born with a hole in her heart. Many surgical procedures had failed to correct the problem—it was the days before open heart surgery. This young lady lived with the handicap of not being able to do anything that was even remotely physically demanding and she was prone to succumb to every bug that came her way. I was invited to a wedding in her home and there I met her father and mother and two siblings. Each of them struggled with some disability or handicap. Here was a home that had more than its fair share of pain and suffering. Since then I’ve often thought that one day in glory I’d like to ask the Lord why He gave so much hardship to a family like that. I understand that in a fallen world we all get our share of suffering. No one is totally immune but some seem to get more than their fair share. Why?
Of course it’s pointless to ask such questions. God is sovereign. He is certainly not accountable to me for what He does. And yet the questions persist. What’s the point of it? What is God achieving through it?
Over the years I’ve read many books on the problem of pain. And of course I’ve read the book of Job a dozen times or more. Just recently, however, I’ve been reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s new book, “A Place of Healing”. Its subtitle is “Wrestling with the mysteries of suffering, pain and God’s Sovereignty”.
Why I was keen to read this book is because I knew that this would not be some armchair theorist’s views about the problem of pain and suffering. This book was written by a woman who broke her neck in 1967 when she hit her head on a sandbank while diving into a lake. She has spent almost half a century in a wheelchair.
The amazing thing is that by the grace of God Joni has not only come to terms with her handicap but has gone on to find a fulfilling ministry, “Joni and Friends” that ministers to handicapped people and sees itself as an organisation that helps the church care for those with disabilities.
Many of you will be familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada. She wrote a book telling her story—which was later made into a movie in which Joni played herself. A later book, “A step further” is one that I’ve seen on many a Christian’s bookshelf. She is also known for her beautiful mouth paintings.
After reading this book I’ve suddenly lost my desire to ask the Lord why he sends some people more than their fair share of pain and suffering. Joni has answered that for me in her very candid sharing of the her present journey—not just with her handicap but more so now also with debilitating pain.
What I appreciated most is that her answers are grounded in Scriptures. I found myself looking at some Bible verses in a way that I never had before—now through the eyes of this gifted but severely handicapped servant of Jesus.
But there was another blessing that came out of reading this book.
Before I entered the pastoral ministry we spent an extra year in Geelong, marking time to await the arrival of our fourth child before setting off on the adventure of a vicariate in Tasmania. During that I time I did some regular pastoral work and preaching in a Victorian country church. A lady in that congregation had been stricken by MS and was now wheelchair bound. A friend of hers took her along to a healing service in a charismatic church in a nearby town. Her friend had convinced her that the Lord was going to heal her from her MS. The next time I called I found her sadly depressed. She had gone to that healing meeting in her wheelchair and had returned in her wheelchair. Her friend’s response had been that her faith must not have been strong enough or that some secret sin had not been dealt with because otherwise surely the Lord would have healed her.
I remember being angry with this lady’s friend at her insensitivity and for assuming that it’s God’s business to heal everyone here and now—if only their faith is strong enough. I wanted to find that woman and confront her with the story of Job and with Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
Joni deals with that issue in her book. She relates how she has often been told that her faith is lacking or that she is harbouring some secret sin. Instead Joni makes a powerful Biblical case for the truth that God, for His own good reasons, does not wish to heal every illness or pain in this life.
And the good thing is that this case is not being made by someone who is healthy and well but by someone who has spent nearly half a century in a wheelchair. That gives her arguments added credibility.
Worth a read…!