This verse is a reminder that, in the midst of pain and suffering, God is with us and is waiting to show His love to us. How will you respond to suffering?
A couple of weeks ago we began talking about storms in Life – those times in life when bad stuff happens to us and we suffer. We asked the question “why do storms happen” and we answered it by talking about what sin has done to the world we live in.
Today I want to get more personal. Why do storms happen to me? Did I do something to deserve this? Is God punishing me?
At issue here is ultimately this question: Does God cause storms to happen? A lot of people seem to think He does. In Biblical Jewish thought all things, good and bad, were attributed to God to show He had sovereignty over all things.
The reality is that God has created this world with basic laws in effect. There is cause and effect. So, since God created the world and He created how this world works, in some ways He can be said to have caused bad things to happen. In some ways.
My body has been given many senses. Like most people, 5 senses would be the right number. I can taste, touch, hear, see and smell. All these senses help me to discern, among other things, when I might be in danger.
Like you, I was taught early on to look both ways before crossing the street. I remember one fateful day when a friend of mine forgot this rule. I have no idea which ways he looked or how long but it wasn’t enough. He started across the street and got hit by a car. He was fortunate and only broke a few bones. They healed over time and his life, eventually, got back to normal. But what happened, I’m sure, still sticks with him today. Do you think he pays more attention when crossing the road now? It was a lesson he should have never needed to learn. He has the same five senses I have. In fact, he’s had them all his life. Somewhere between his eyes and his ears, he should have seen the danger coming and avoided it.
My friend suffered the consequences from not paying attention to the natural laws God set in order. Physics tells us that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. My friend and the car proved it. I can’t walk through walls. Can you? I can’t see in the dark. I can’t stare into the sun. I can’t jump from the top of the Empire State Building. I can’t breathe under water. And, contrary to what my mother occasionally told me while I was growing up, I can’t grow potatoes behind my ears. There are a lot of things I can’t do without experiencing the natural laws God set in motion. And when I try to do them anyway, I shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen. From a broken nose to going blind to just plain getting myself killed. Those are the rules and it doesn’t make sense to fight against them.
Why do storms happen? Because the world is messed up. We talked about that a couple weeks ago. Why do they happen to me? Well, that’s a bit more complicated. I’ll offer two reasons: first, because storms do happen and sometimes we get caught in the storm; second, because we set them in motion when we break the rules.
So storms happen. The world is a mess and, sometimes, we get caught in the rain. A part of my morning ritual is to check the Weather and find out what the day looks like. It often determines how I dress and whether I should pack my umbrella. Sometimes I’m working outside and I just need to know if I get do the job I need to do. So having a good prediction of the weather helps me to avoid getting caught in the rain.
Sometimes I can see the storms coming. I watch the skies and I know when storms might happen. Then, when a few drops come, I’m ready to get inside and stay safe and dry. Sometimes there’s just no avoiding the storm.
A number of years ago my brother and I went to a Christian music festival just outside of Lincoln. The festival was in Riverside Park in Milford. It was in the summer of 1993 and it had been a very wet year. There was flooding all over that end of the state and over in Iowa. Riverside Park had its river way out of its boundaries and there was mud everywhere. The festival was called Love-fest and that year we nick-named it Flood-fest and Mud-fest!
It was a hot hot day – over 100 in fact. But the music was great. We’d already seen a lot of good bands on the stage. But the headliners that year were Whiteheart and Degarmo & Key. Whiteheart was one of my favorite bands and I slushed through that mud all day to hear them play. About 45 minutes before they were set to play, the announcer came out and told everyone that there were some nasty storms down south of us with tornados and all sorts of neat stuff. It was all headed our way but it wasn’t going to hit until around 10:00 or so. So, just to be safe, they chose to move the last two bands up so we could be sure to get them in before the storms hit. Good news! No more waiting. Whiteheart was coming on stage in just a few minutes.
Wow! What a concert! Whiteheart came out full of energy like they always did. They lead with the song “His Heart was Always in It” and lead Singer, Rick Florian, was all over the place. About five minutes in he was sliding across the stage on his back when the sound was cut and the announcer rushed back out onto the stage to stop the concert. He says things were developing a lot quicker than they thought and that we all needed to take cover as soon as possible. What a let-down.
So my brother and decided the concert was over and we headed towards our car, parked two miles down the road at my sister’s home. We got a few hundred feet down the road when some nice couple offered us a ride. We took the ride and they dropped us off at a gas station just a little ways from my sister’s house. As we walked down the road, lamenting the untimely end to our concert, we started to hear a strange sound. It was coming from behind us – some sort of whooshing and gushing. It sounded like a waterfall.
We had one of those movie moments. You know the type. The ones where everything goes into slow motion, two people turn to look behind them, see what’s coming, and get that look of absolute horror on their faces. You know, like when there’s an explosion and you have to run as fast as you can but no one can run that fast. In the end the force launches them forward somewhere just to the left of the screen. What we both saw was a literal wall of water moving towards us. It was one of those moments when some strange sound comes from somewhere deep within you and you just run. Did we make it to the house safe and dry? Nope. Three seconds in that rain was enough to be drenched to the bone.
That rain was unavoidable. We got caught in a storm we couldn’t avoid. That happens in life sometimes. My story is funny because no one got hurt, just really really wet. Not all storms end so well. Life storms are no different. Sometimes people get hurt. Innocent bystanders that got caught in the rain. That’s you and me sometimes.
Back in college I had a friend who was hit by a drunk driver. It was a Spring break and she was heading home, along with a friend, to Arkansas. There was a drunken man driving the opposite direction on this lonely stretch of highway. I’ve driven it before – a nice highway with two lanes on either side of nice grassy divide. This drunkard stopped at a convenience store to buy more alcohol. He was so drunk that the clerk refused to sell him anymore alcohol. He left angry and took off down the road. Another traveling couple was in that store and the encounter with the drunk man scared them. They had lost a child to a drunk driver years ago. So they, and the clerk, called the police and told them what they had seen. There was an officer about a mile back down the road so he turned his lights on and sped up to try to catch the drunk driver. He caught up with him just in time to see him drive into the center median, get thrown from his vehicle, and leave his car to continue up the embankment and directly into the path of my friends. They never saw it coming.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why didn’t God stop this? What kind of a God lets things like this happen? I just can’t believe that, if there really is a god, that He would let this sort of thing happen. Have you ever heard this before? I’ve heard it many times as a justification for why a person doesn’t believe in God. And this is the kind of story that brings that line of reasoning straight to the front.
In Ecclesiastes 7:15 the teacher of wisdom says, “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness.”
Back at college we were all asking similar questions. Why her? She was a good person. A happy person. Someone you enjoyed being around. Someone who loved Jesus with an infectious love. I mean, if God would let something this terrible happen to someone like her, then who’s safe? Does He really watch out for us? Why her? Why me? Then the answer came: Why not her?
I remember dropping by the hospital on my way home from visiting my future seminary in Jackson, MS. My friend was a mess. All sorts of broken bones. And yet she was chattering away at how wonderful the Lord was. He had saved her and her friend and she was spouting scripture and witnessing for Jesus like crazy.
Listen, I don’t know why she got hit by a drunkard that evening any more than I don’t know why I didn’t get hit by a drunkard that evening. Other than to say this: we live in a world messed up by sin. Sometimes it’s the general kind of sin we’re all born into in this fallen world. Sometimes it’s the sin of a man whose life has somehow driven him to such levels of irresponsible drinking that he nearly killed a friend of mine.
By the way, consider these statistics from 2009:
1. 33,808 people were killed in traffic accidents. 10,839 of these deaths was a result of alcohol (32% of all traffic deaths)
2. Drunk drivers kill someone approximately every 48 minutes
3. 181 children age 14 and younger died in alcohol related accidents in 2009. Over half (92) were riding WITH THE ALCOHOL IMPAIRED DRIVER!
4. In 2009 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence. This is less than 1% of the amount self-reported by adults. (147 million self-reported episodes of drunk driving)
5. An average drunk driver will drive drunk 87 times before being pulled over!
6. 1 in 3 people will be involved in an alcohol related crash in their liftetime
7. 75 percent of drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended continue to drive.
Sin destroys lives. It causes storms to rage that sometimes catch innocent bystanders. Sometimes the reason something bad happened to you is just because bad things happen as a result of this world being damaged goods. Sometimes the reason something bad happened to you is simply because of someone else’s sin – and you just got caught in the middle. Could God stop these storms from happening? Could He stop them from raging over you? Yeah, He could. Does He? Sometimes. But sometimes will never mean all the time.
I don’t like getting caught in Life’s storms any more than you do. I don’t like it when I, or those I love, get hurt. Would it help if I had a reason given to me for my pain? No, not really. It won’t justify it and it won’t make it go away. But I also have to ask: what kind of person would I be if I had never experienced pain? How could I tell someone, who is going through a major storm in life, about how Jesus will be there for them if I’ve never experienced it myself?
In II Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Yeah, the comfort we receive from God helps us to comfort others when they are in need. Why me? Why not me?
Sometimes the storms we experience are not caused by a messed up world or by the sin of another. Sometimes, I go through storms of my own making. Sometimes, the sin is my own and so are the consequences. Sometimes it’s my sin that causes the storm that overtakes a few innocent bystanders. I’ve had to say “I’m sorry” a few times, what about you?
God created the world. God made the rules and there’s no changing them because I want to do something that is contrary to the natural laws of this universe or is contrary to the moral laws of God.
The bigger question is this: since these storms in life are going to happen, how will you respond when it happens to you?
The story of Joseph, in Genesis, chronicles the terrible circumstances of a young boy sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. I can’t imagine being betrayed by your brothers and being ripped from your family. All sorts of bad stuff happened to Joseph but he always trusted in God and allowed God to work through him. You know the story.
James 1:2-4 says, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
You can choose how you respond to suffering. You can lose your faith or you can go deeper into it. You can respond positively by building yourself and others up or you can respond negatively by engaging in destructive behavior and/or losing your faith.
Why me? Why not me? Why you? Why not you? Will you be the one who goes through the fire and comes out the other side stronger than ever?
I’ve watched people go through trials or times of doubt and turn to alcohol and drugs to escape reality. And I’ve watched people go through tough times and come out the other side proclaiming loudly how Jesus was with them every step of the way. I’ve seen some discourage while others encourage.
Which one are you? You can choose how you respond to the storms in your life.