More on the other side of ask: When bad things happen

April 20, 2010 — Leave a comment

As I have been going along in the six-month prayer challenge, to encourage myself to pray in faith, I went to Hebrews 11 with its pantheon of faith heroes: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, Rahab, Gideon Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. I read the glorious accounts of people who triumphed in awful circumstances:

who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again…

I started to cheer inside, filled with hope and encouragement. I was ready to keep on persevering. But in the middle of verse 35, suddenly the tide turns, and not for better:

Others were tortured and refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Oh. I had never really noticed that part before. And as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t an isolated passage. I remembered the flogging of the apostles, [Acts 5] the stoning of Stephen [Acts 7] and Paul’s gory list in II Corinthians 11, to name a few. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.[Hebrews 11:13] They were all following after Jesus who pleaded with the Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him, and then endured the pain of being crucified.

It is so easy for me to think “If I keep the rules, everything will be fine and I’ll be exempt from suffering. If I do the right thing, I’ll get the right result.” I would rather forget that in this world we will suffer and those we love will suffer, including innocent children. But we will. It’s an unfortunate given of our broken world.

So why do I keep on praying when bad things still happen?
Paul wrote a very long chapter about this [I Corinthians 15] in which he reminds us that the reason we can keep on praying and keep on trusting God is because on the other side of suffering, Jesus was raised to glory and death has been swallowed up:
If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless…
If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world…
If the dead are not raised, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” …

Why do you think I keep risking my neck in this dangerous work? I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I’d do this if I wasn’t convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn’t be the end of me? Not on your life! It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live.

Sometimes I’m staring into the mouth of a real lion, and sometimes it’s the mouth of a lion called discouragement, hopelessness, and despair. But when resurrection undergirds the way I live, I have hope that the struggles won’t last and at the very end God will lift me from defeat and take me to be with Him. That is how I can pray on sunny days and on dark days and through the blackest night. I know how the story ends. And that’s why I want to work at keeping ‘a long obedience in a single direction’, even when that takes me right into the mouth of the lion–for that long walk of obedience is taking me home.

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