Tag Archives: pain

In a World Full of Questions, a Few Answers Matter Most

 

It is no proof of superior intelligence, but even as a young man I was theoretically sure that I would not always be a young man.

As I (rarely) contemplated middle or old age, though they seemed light years away, I figured that a major consolation of being old and crotchety, say, 45, would be that by then I would probably have found answers to a great many of life’s most vexing questions.

I’m an incredibly vibrant 60 years old now. Since I can’t imagine much worse than living to be 120, I’ll admit that 60 may, at the very least, bump the outer range of middle age.

The bad news (which is not really bad since it means I’m still seeking and inquisitive) is that I have more questions than ever. The good news is that the older I get, the more I realize how few of those questions really matter much. In fact, I’d say that life’s biggest questions could be numbered without getting much past the fingers of one hand. (I can probably do with five, if you would later let me add a related question or two beneath a couple of these.)

Does God exist?

What kind of God is he?

Has he revealed himself to mankind and how?

Is he absolutely good, absolutely powerful, and absolutely loving?

And, if the answer to that last one is yes, then why does God allow pain and suffering?

These are questions of belief. That does not at all mean they can’t be approached rationally; it does mean we will always, even when we’ve seriously and diligently sought their answers, still have to say, “I believe that . . .”

And, it seems to me, even after we’ve come to confident peace about the first four, and even the fifth, we will repeatedly face situations in our own lives and the lives of others that bring us back pretty regularly, and sometimes poignantly, to that last one.

Two words are “the answer.” Free will. Of this, I am sure.

And two more points here, one of which I know, and one of which I believe. 1) “Knowing” the philosophical answer to the “problem of pain,” does not take away pain. Agonizing pain is still agonizing. 2) With all of my heart, I believe that our deepest pain hurts our Father even more than it hurts us.

In The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott asks, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

He writes, “I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, . . . detached from the agonies of the world.”

But he continues, “Each time after a while I have had to turn away . . . to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, . . . plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”

God suffers to one day end all suffering.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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Why Does a Good and Powerful God Allow Suffering?

 

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It’s one of the oldest questions in the world. And maybe the hardest: How can a completely good and powerful God allow suffering?

The question ranks among the handful that truly matter. As the question asked most often, most poignantly, in the midst of the deepest shock, pain, and perplexity, it defies the easy answers we let leak from our lips when we’re short of answers and our highest wisdom would be silence. Pain is the solvent that melts away glib answers, plastic platitudes. The real answer, like all real answers, is not easy.

It is given through tears. It requires rephrasing the question: “How can a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the gift we call “free will” which gives life and love meaning but necessarily carries the possibility of pain. Unlike puppets dangling from a divine string, puppets who could never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, we can choose for good or evil. If the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope mean anything at all? Only in a free universe are our choices invested with real meaning and significance as they open our lives up to genuine joy.

Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if they had no choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your four-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead? Real choices must have real consequences.

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds, and pain and evil and wickedness seem to have won the day. Most of us have seen such times. And all of us will. But thank God himself that we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain.

It’s a truth that rips our hearts apart, but God himself could not create a universe where beauty and goodness could mean anything real if there were no possibility of evil and thus pain.

To seek an easy answer is to ask to be deluded. The answer of the Christian faith—not of the sideshow barkers who often claim to speak for our faith—is anything but easy. God is so good, so powerful, so loving that through his own unfathomable pain, he took our hurt into himself. Literally. Genuinely. Powerfully. Forever. Christ’s sacrifice means that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished. Oh, Lord, come quickly, and may it be so!

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through an exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give us to look up for the light of the morning and trust that it will come.

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Reminder That God’s Light Is Always There

 

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As if it happened yesterday. That’s how clearly I remember the experience I’m about to relate. Not wanting to make too much of it, I’d hate to make the opposite mistake by failing to say to the Giver, thank you.

By the way, the weather guy is predicting ridiculously high winds and detestable blowing dust today. He didn’t say “ridiculous” and “detestable,” but they will be. Around here, weather folks rarely ever miss when they predict wind and dust, apart from which, our climate would be almost perfect, which I suppose is like saying that Jack the Ripper would’ve been a fine guy except for the unfortunate murderous streak in his nature. Anyway, living here we deal with it.

In this fallen world, trouble is like blowing dirt in west Texas; it goes with the territory. And we all go through seasons when the difficulty is particularly painful.

My family and I have been incredibly blessed, so as I give you the background to my simple story, I don’t mean to whine, just to tell the truth. It was the sort of time everyone faces from time to time. You’ve been there (or, sorry, if you’ve not been, you will). The difficulty driving you nuts tends to be the last thing you think of when you go to bed and the first thing you think of when you wake up. That’s the bad news; the good news, and you’ve probably also learned this, is that such times force you to more prayer. And prayer, even when it may well have more to do with desperation than “righteousness,” is not at all a bad beginning and ending of the day.

But even prayer has its temptations. Lengthy prayers in the midst of some difficult times can be a mistake. Short ones are the ticket. The long kind too easily become just one more way you allow yourself to wallow in the mud rather than to trust in the Almighty.

So I waked up that day and, true to form, picked up the problem. I wandered into the living room, sat on the hearth, and, frustrated at myself for being so faithless and, truth be told, impatient with the Almighty’s seeming slowness to deal with the difficulty, just breathed a rather ticked off petition, “Oh, Lord, can you just get us through this!?”

And that’s when—that’s exactly when—as the whispered words were still hanging in the air and barely out of my mouth, the deliciously warm, blindingly brilliant shaft of sunlight blazed through the window and hit me in the face.

It was both amazing and surprising, and not. From several mornings’ experience, I knew that, at that exact time, the sun and our windows are lined up. The sunlight washes over the cross hanging in our window and emblazons in a field of flaming gold yet another cross, its shadow, on the opposite wall.

So most of what happened was really no surprise; it was just, once more, breathtakingly beautiful. But the light hitting me in the face, right at that moment? A complete surprise.

I’d not call it a miracle, just a very nice gift and much-needed reminder that even in windblown, dark times, God’s children live in the warmth and light of the cross. Sometimes I need to be hit in the face by the light of his brilliant beauty to make me remember that it’s always there.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

  

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Suffering Is Often What Makes Growth Possible

 

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We know it, don’t we? We don’t like it, but we know it: we grow through suffering.

We dislike the accompanying book-end truth almost as badly: too much unbroken ease, comfort, and “success” constitute far more serious dangers to our souls than suffering and difficulty ever do.

Author Philip Yancey says that the amazing German theologian and pastor Helmut Thielicke was asked, years ago after an extensive tour of the United States, what he considered to be the greatest “defect” of Christians in America. His reply? “They have an inadequate view of suffering.”

Not just mistaken. Or wrong. Or misguided or naïve. Not just faulty or illogical. He might have truly said any of those things.

But the word he chose was “inadequate.” Just the right word, I think. Weak. Not up to the task. Not strong enough. Not able to stand the stress of any kind of real test.

A bridge may look fine. It may even look beautiful. But the only way to truly determine its strength is by testing it. Drive something heavy across it. See if it stands when gale-force winds lash it and waves beat against it. If its strength is illusory, you’ll soon know. If it is inadequate to a real test, that truth will soon be made obvious.

Now, real testing is never enjoyable. The tests that come to bridges, cultures, and individual lives are no fun at all. But come they do, and come they will.

In “The Lord’s Prayer,” we’re taught to pray simply for such earthly and non-glitzy concerns as our “daily bread” and, immediately, for what we need daily just as badly, the forgiveness we covet for ourselves and, inseparably linked to it, the mercy we desperately need to extend to others. Do we want mercy? The test comes in how willing we are to extend it.

But then comes another daily need, a recurring petition, “Lead us not into temptation.”

I’m told that perhaps a better rendering would be, “Lead us not into hard testing,” a petition I think many of us find ourselves praying with deeper poignancy the longer we live, particularly at those times when that cow’s already pretty much out of the barn. Times when, though we’ve no doubt the “testing” and trial could get even harder (with all of our hearts we pray for mercy that it won’t), we know for sure that it is already very, very hard.

Then with the psalmist we also pray earnestly, “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge / until this time of trouble has gone by” (57:1). And we pray that, if the suffering must be endured, “Dear God, may we not miss the shaping, the molding, the tempering that your Spirit can work in our souls only when the fire is hot and the anvil hard.”

In his fine book (what a title!) Creative Suffering, the faith-full Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier writes, “That which disturbs our lives, puts us out, irritates us, annoys us, affects us, makes us suffer—severely sometimes—does not make us grow and develop, but does make growth and development possible, on condition, of course, that we are not destroyed by it . . .”

Talk about an “inconvenient truth.” But true nonetheless.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!      

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Dear God, How Could You Let This Happen?”

 

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We’ve all had times when through our pain and tears we ask, “Dear God, where are you? How could you let this happen? How long can you stomach this kind of atrocity before you break in and do something to stop it?”

Maybe it’s a senseless mass murder on the order of the 9/11 attack. Or maybe no famous skyscrapers have been felled but through the suffering or loss of someone you loved more than life itself, your whole universe has crashed in and you are amazed that the sun still comes up every morning as if nothing had even happened.

“Dear God,” you cry, “how can you be both all-loving and all-powerful and allow such pain and evil to endure?”

It is an excellent question. What’s harder for me to understand than why we ask such questions is why we wouldn’t, though even if God were to detail the reasons he allows pain (and miraculously enable us to comprehend), I doubt we’d like the situation more.

To skeptics who point to pain and say, “See! There is no God and there are no answers!” I’d say, “You are wrong.”

To Christians who mouth plastic platitudes, “Well, it was just God’s will, and real faith is  happy to blindly trust and ask no questions,” I’d say, “I  think you are wrong” even though I affirm with all my heart that faith is indeed all about trusting God. But it was God who made us capable of asking such questions. (Just spend some time in the Psalms if you think the faithful don’t ask such questions of God and, at times, ask them in deep anger and perplexity.)

Why does God allow pain? It’s one of the Top Few biggest questions of all. I think author Wendell Berry gives an important clue when he shows Jayber Crow, his main character in the book by the same name, mourning the loss of a young man from his little town killed in Vietnam. Jayber asks, “Why? Why didn’t God just come down and put an end to such horror?”

Then Jayber realizes the same question has been asked before. When God did come down, we hung him on a cross and taunted him, “If you really are God’s Son, come down!” As he showed us the depth of his love, we dared him, “Show us your power!” Thousands of times since, we’ve demanded the same thing, but “Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.” Why?

Jayber says through tears, “I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.” Why didn’t Christ come down from the cross? Why doesn’t God break in right now?

“He didn’t. He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.”

He loves us too much for that.

Where is God in our pain? Even when we hurt too much to believe it, God is hurting with us, grieving more deeply than we can possibly understand. In our darkest times, “God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding” because of his love. And the power? It comes, too, but later. Even before the amazing power of the resurrection came the almost incomprehensible power of love freely, willingly, given for all.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


In Music and in Life, the Last Note Is the Longest

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In music and in life, the last note is always the longest.

Whenever I’m teaching a new audio/video volunteer at church how to punch the buttons, play the songs, set the levels, I always warn them at some point about “audio whiplash.” Punching “stop” or “pause” while the music is still playing does to folks’ ears what slamming on the brakes in a car does to our necks. It hurts! So you always wait for the music to come to a “full and complete stop,” as flight attendants redundantly warn airline passengers, or you slowly fade it out. Either way, you let us land slowly, gently.

Waiting is always hard, and, yes, waiting for that last note to play out is hardest of all. It’s hard for me, too. It’s all I can do to force myself to wait, wait, wait to punch the “stop” button so as not to chop off even the slightest audio reverberation.

I need to talk some good audio engineer friends about this, but I figure they have some descriptive term for that last note, waiting for it, and what happens if you don’t. Maybe cutting it off is such a rookie mistake that professionals aren’t even tempted to, but I would be!

When I’m behind the mike in the sound booth, I know (usually) to be still and wait even after I’ve sung the last note of a song or a phrase or re-take. Wait for the silence. Then wait to hear in my headphones the voices of the engineer and producer from the control room, so I know it’s safe for me to talk, too.

But sitting behind the engineer in the control room as the musicians are recording tracks gives another point of view. I’m utterly amazed at their skill. I’m listening. I’m watching. I’m loving it. Sometimes I’m holding a mike and singing the “scratch track” to serve as a reference and for them to “play to.”

But then comes the last note. My last note ends before the musicians.’ And invariably my eyes go to the computer monitors in front of the engineer. I’m watching the audio wave files on the screens. Though it’s okay to breathe, I’m probably not. Usually, I’m holding my breath, staring a hole through the monitor as that last line levels out and the very last reverberations, echoes, overtones, all fade to silence. And I’m marveling at the engineer’s patience as he waits, waits, waits to stop recording.

It doesn’t matter how long it really is, that last note is the longest of all. Waiting for it to fade takes almost forever.

Dear Lord, give us the strength to wait for that last note to play out. If it’s a note of joy, beauty, love, or laughter, may we take it all in and wait for the sweet silence that will make our whispered “thank you” richer, deeper. If it’s a note of pain and suffering, help us still to drink it in, wait for it to fade, and open our hands to receive what you’ll give us in the silence. Whatever its tone, help us to hear it all, wait for the silence, and find waiting to meet us again your sweet hope, your real presence.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Out of the Depths” Comes a Cry for Help and Hope

 

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I love the Psalms.

They teach us to pray. They teach us to be honest with God. In each one, at least in a verse or two, and often in every verse, we find ourselves and our own feelings.

Consider, for example, Psalm 130. Ah, here’s a psalm for real people, flesh and blood humans who haven’t got life all figured out, who make mistakes regularly, whose lives have plenty of room left for growth. Real people with blood in their veins.

Someone once poked fun at the Puritans by chiding that they thought themselves so holy that they had to hold on to the huckleberry bushes to keep from inadvertently ascending.

The writer of Psalm 130 is under no such delusion. Driven to his knees and to his Lord by his own weakness, his cry for help and mercy becomes our own cry for mercy and grace. No wonder this psalm has through the centuries often been used in the worship and liturgy of God’s people to express their need, their confession of sin, their trust.

The psalmist (probably not David on this one), starts off “real” and stays that way: “I’m in a mess, and only you, my God, can save me!” The NIV renders this, “O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”

Eugene Peterson is right on target, as usual, in his paraphrase (The Message): “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Listen to my cry for mercy!”

This cry comes from “out of the depths.” The psalmist is sinking in his trouble. He’s drowning and headed for oblivion, and he knows it. If you’re drowning, you don’t politely whisper, “Say, would you help me please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe I may be drowning.”

I’ll never forget the day my son Joshua and I went, believe it or not, rafting down the Nile in Uganda. We had great guides, but a Class 5 rapid christened “Silverback” just about did us both in.

We knew our chances of riding the raft all the way through that one were virtually nil; the right plan is to ride it as long as possible before the inevitable dunking and downward plunge. It is incredibly difficult to get your breath in that kind of white water even when, after what seems like thirty minutes down below, you finally bob up (which you do by relaxing [?!] and trusting your vest). The muted underwater world and the green glow you saw overhead as you floated upward has finally turned back into the deafening but welcome sound of crashing waves. You see bright light and foam and froth; you desperately need air, but all you seem to be able to suck in is foam and spray. Seems such a shame, you find yourself thinking, to get to the surface and still drown!

What Silverback did to me, life at times does to us all. And we find ourselves fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies and success seminars. We discover that we’re in the same boat as all humans. We are not “a cut above” and our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!”

He does. And the psalmist’s words in this psalm become ours: “If you, God, kept records of wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped” (The Message).

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


One Day Death Itself Will Die

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Somebody was going to die on that Thursday.

Oh, I know. Somebody is going to die every day. Somebody is going to die before this sentence ends, but chances are it won’t, and can’t, affect you much.

But on that Thursday two weeks ago, the links that would lead to tragedy were already chained together, and someone not far from where I live and closely tied to a number of people I love was going to die.

The tragedy was set in motion on Wednesday night as lightning struck out in a field, hitting one of the big sprinklers on the farm. Its now-lightning-welded connections became one major link in a very unlikely but deadly chain of events that mindlessly conspired to send 480 volts through a pump housing. Whoever touched it would die a millisecond later. Guaranteed.

It could easily have been one of the farm employees. Or the father of that well-loved farm family. Or the son about to turn 30, married just five years with two little sons of his own.

But Thursday somebody was going to die. And it was the son.

As I looked into the eyes of that father and that mother, standing near the lifeless body of their son at the emergency room, a young man who had been filled, far more than most, with life and joy just a little while before, the kind of son any parents would be proud of, a boy not only loved but intensely likeable, it tore my heart out. And right now, again, I weep for them all.

On one hand, I can’t imagine being in their shoes. On the other, . . . This young man was buried on his 30th birthday. I have four sons near his age, one who is just 10 days younger and will be 30 this week. And all of mine do work just as dangerous.

Life is dangerous. And unpredictable. And unfair. It’s good that we don’t dwell always on those facts, but an event like this slams them back into our faces.

No one can make sense out of this kind of thing. And even if we could somehow understand it, do we think we’d like it better?

I know some reasons that even God has to allow pain and suffering in this world now. Even God can’t make powerful things (like electricity), which bless us in so many ways, totally safe. The same tools that can spare life can take it away.

I know that death is part of this world because of man’s sin. God loved us so much he made us free creatures so that we could choose to love him or not. Even for God, to create us free to love means creating us free to hurt and be hurt and open to tears.

I’m not sure why anger is one of my first reactions when people I love are hurting, but it is. (Read the Psalms, and you’ll see God can handle that.) I’d be last in line to blame anyone for asking where God was on Thursday.

But I think the answer is that in a way we cannot now imagine, God was there, hating the pain and suffering and loving that son and that family with a fierce and divine love.

Somebody was going to die on that Thursday. Nothing could have stopped it. But life and love and joy and laughter will have the last word forever because the Father who is all love allowed his Son to die on a Friday long ago so that death itself will die.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A “God With Skin On” Gives Us Hope Even Through Tears

I just hugged my five-year-old granddaughter a bit longer even than usual. She doesn’t know anything about what happened last week at Newtown, Connecticut. She doesn’t need to know. I wish I didn’t. The media had a duty to tell us; I doubt they have a duty to wallow in it.

On one Sunday just before Christmas several years ago, I found myself gazing at the front of the sanctuary and watching silhouetted shepherds themselves gazing upward in wonder, one of them pointing toward a brightly shining star just feet away from the arrangement of three crosses also displayed before us. It was a poignant reminder that in God’s wisdom Bethlehem and Golgotha are forever linked, two sides of the same amazing story of God’s love.

The Baby of Bethlehem drawing his first breath of air in the world he had spun into existence eons before was more than a baby. He was Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh, God who came into this world laying aside the robes of royalty, willingly clothing himself in humanity to fully experience our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and our tears.

I love the story told by author John Drescher about a little boy lying awake terrified by a storm one night. From his dark shadowy room he cries out to his father, “Daddy, come, I’m scared.”

Daddy replies, “Oh, son, God loves you and he’ll take care of you.”

But the boy isn’t satisfied, and he shouts back, “I know God loves me and that he’ll take care of me, but right now I need somebody with skin on.”

Our world did, too. And so God came “with skin on.” Immanuel. God with us. God sharing fully in the human situation from “the trauma of birth to the violence of death.” God feeling everything a human being can feel.

Christmas assures me that the God I worship is no absentee landlord who lives a million miles away leaving the poor tenants to aimlessly “do their own thing.”

Nor is our God a heavenly bureaucrat lost somewhere on a cloud shuffling paper and handing down rules to complicate a situation he knows nothing about.

God is not the sort of military officer who proposes daring offensives but has never led a charge from anywhere more dangerous than a warm command post where he might fall off a chair as he sits safely moving markers and flags around on a map.

Christmas assures me that God has been at the front. He’s seen the blood. And the most precious of all was his own Son’s who died so that one day death itself will die.

The wondrous story of Christmas is that with those stunned shepherds, all the angels and the universe itself watched awestruck at the depth of God’s love as he became what we needed most—Immanuel, God with skin on.

When in this twisted world, a madman tries to “out-Herod Herod” and more innocents die, a “God with skin on” who fully shares our pain and our tears is the God we need—and the God we have.

Bethlehem’s manger and Golgotha’s cross. A “God with skin on” gives them both meaning. And gives us hope through our tears. 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


God’s People Are “More Than Conquerors”

 

When St. Paul stakes with words God’s claim of sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives and proclaims the Almighty’s promise of ever-present and never-failing love, the great apostle does so with his eyes wide open.

“What can separate us from the love of Christ?” he asks, and when he lists among the weapons of the enemy, “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,” his list is much more than hypothetical. These are the words of a man who has opened his eyes on many mornings and seen these very darts of Satan aimed ominously in his direction.

Long before Peter Jackson’s breathtaking motion picture trilogy captivated the hearts of theatre audiences, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien was my all-time favorite book. (Tolkien thought of it as one but the publisher thought one massive volume would be massively daunting to readers, and it became three books). I’d far rather spend one day in a hobbit hole with Frodo Baggins than a week in a mansion with any king or president or head of state I can think of.

Some of my favorite lines in the first of the trilogy’s books,  The Fellowship of the Ring, are these as the faithful dwarf Gimli comments to the king of the elves: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” And Elrond the king answers, “Maybe, but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

The Apostle Paul had seen the nightfall. He’d seen trouble, hardship, persecution, and all the rest. He’d been on the receiving end of the very worst of Satan’s weapons. And that makes his resounding affirmation of faith all the more impressive and trustworthy. No empty words, his.

Paul had indeed seen the nightfall, but still he writes with utter confidence, not in his own strength but in the strength of his King: “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God!

God’s people are more than conquerors even in the midst of tragedy when tears seem to be more constant than any other companion. God wraps us up in a Father’s embrace in the midst of our tears, and the Almighty cries with us. Remember Jesus’ tears before the tomb of Lazarus?

God’s people are more than conquerors even as they are lying flat on their backs wracked with the pain of physical disease because they know that through Christ all pain and suffering will one day be forever banished and, even now,  the disease that can kill our bodies can never kill souls filled with God’s genuine life, and one day death itself will forever die.

God’s people are more than conquerors, and nothing in all of creation or beyond can take away the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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