By WALTER ALBRITTON
There are bewildering questions for which I have no answers. Why do men suffer? If God is good, why does He allow us to suffer? If there is a reason for our suffering, what is it? To these tough questions, I must say, I don’t know.
I do know that as much as anyone in the Bible, Saint Paul helps me grapple with these questions. His eighth chapter of Romans is one of the greatest passages in the Bible. Paul speaks of “groaning” in the pain of life but reminds us that we “were given hope when we were saved.”
Paul explains that we were created to worship, love and serve God. But we have worshipped created things rather than God. Our disobedience has separated us from God. God in his mercy sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins. When we surrender to Jesus, we are given hope.
Paul describes all creation as waiting on the tiptoe of expectation for God to rescue us from death and decay. As Christians, we hope for the new bodies God has promised us. We know what Paul means when he says we are “groaning.” Groaning in the misery of suffering and pain is a common human experience.
In his book, “The Problem of Pain”, C. S. Lewis presents one of the most bewildering questions of the ages: “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.”
Lewis insists suffering is necessary. He explains why God allows suffering: “God is conforming us into the image of His Son — and that requires suffering.” That makes sense to me. I believe it helps, when we are suffering, to remember that our Lord Jesus suffered also, willingly dying on the Cross so our sins could be forgiven.
While I have no brilliant answers to questions about suffering and death, I do know we can choose either despair or hope. God has given us the freedom to live in despair or live in hope, and I choose to live in hope. When my heart is heavy because my friends are suffering, I go to this eighth chapter of Romans and choose to believe with Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God which we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we choose hope, how do we keep it alive? One thing that helps is to remember who God is. Paul tells us that while God has many names, one of His wonderful names is “the God of hope” — “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). That is a verse worth memorizing.
What is the evidence that God is the God of hope? Two stories in the Bible beautifully affirm this: 1) the Father running to embrace the prodigal son; and 2) Jesus offering breakfast to Peter on the beach. Both these stories are overflowing with hope.
THe God of hope can fill us so full of joy and peace that we too may overflow with hope. What makes that happen? The power of the Holy Spirit.
How does God fill us with overflowing hope? He blesses us with persons of hope. Think of persons God has placed in your life who are persons of hope. Give thanks for them.
When he was a young boy, the great painter Benjamin West decided to paint a picture of his sister while his mother was not at home. He got out the bottles of ink and started, but soon had an awful mess. His mother eventually returned and saw the mess. Instead of scolding him, she picked up the portrait and declared, “What a beautiful picture of your sister.”
Then she kissed him. Later in life, he said, “With that kiss, I became a painter.” No doubt you are aware of the great power of a loving word of encouragement. You have been blessed more than once by such a word from persons of hope in your life.
God loves us so much that He gives us the freedom to discover new persons of hope. We can choose to live around persons of hope. Spend time with people who say, “Well done;” not, “You could have done better,” or “You will never amount to anything.”
Negative people, negative words, influence us greatly. But we can choose not to spend much time in the presence of those who put us down. We can choose to discover new persons of hope. We can. We must. You can. You must. You will. Right?
God has put wonderful persons of hope in my life. One is Coralie McDavid, who at 85 had a back that was “killing her.” She could hardly walk. But she refused to live in despair. Swimming relieved the pain in her back. Soon she got back into the business of serving others and, living in hope, has celebrated her 95th birthday. She is a servant of Jesus who is overflowing with hope.
God invites us to be persons of hope. To do so we must give up anger, resentment, guilt, complaining and worry. The way to overcome despair and disappointment is to live in hope. Living in despair is going against the grain of the universe. To live in hope is to be aligned with the grain of the universe.
If we are to keep hope alive, we must rid our hearts of anger, guilt, resentment and despair. Jesus is alive. You can reach out to Jesus and ask him to cleanse your mind of destructive attitudes and then fill you with joy and peace so that you can overflow with hope. You can claim fresh, new hope from the God of hope.
He invites us to come to Jesus and let our hope be grounded in the assurance of our salvation. My first son David died in my arms, a few weeks after his third birthday. All these years since his death I have longed to hold him again in my arms. And I cling to the hope that a loving God will give me that joy one day. If I as a father have such a longing, surely our heavenly Father has an even greater longing to gather all his children in his arms in that house not made with hands.
At the time I was angry with God for allowing a precious 3-year-old boy to suffer and die. I was ready to drink from the fountain of despair. But God sent a man who saved me from that, a man who told me, “God hurts when you hurt.” That piercing thought gave me hope that God was indeed a Father who suffered with his children and would give folks who were suffering hope for the future.
You will be wise to surrender to Jesus, acknowledge him as your Lord and Savior, love him and serve him as long as you have breath, and live in hope that beyond this vale of tears there is eternal joy and peace reserved for all believers. Putting your life daily in the hands of Jesus is the ultimate way to keep hope alive!