I held the dear saint tightly as she wept. She has served the Lord faithfully and lovingly, even radically, for most of her life. Now, her mind is failing. Physicians have told her that she is in the early stages of dementia. She watched her husband slide into the hazy confusion of mental deterioration before he died and she fears the future holds the same for her. Is her suffering and/or fear the result of some sin? Do her tears reveal a lack of faith that would allow her to ‘claim her victory?’ There is a kind of triumphal Christianity in the land that would say, yes to both of those questions. Suffering has no place in the theology that see God as the Dispenser of perpetual happiness! But, my study of the Word reveals something different.
The Bible teaches the Believer to live in victory and to embrace suffering: two themes that seem, at first glance, to be in direct contradiction. How do we reconcile Jesus’ words- “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV) with this- “So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:19, NLT)?
First, we must conquer our culture’s love of “now.”
We have little patience with problems that persistent beyond a few days. We crave the satisfaction of our desires right now, many of us convinced that we are entitled, as children of a good God, to a better life right here and right now; however we might define it. Christians are not immune to this impatience. We expect God to heal us, now! We demand freedom from our pain, now! We think that we should attain spiritual maturity and depth of intimacy with God, now! We think that Jesus should step in and fix the things that trouble us, now! But, God does not work in our limitations of time. His desires for us span our lifetime; and beyond into eternity.
Second, we must try to understand the difference between momentary happiness and the greater work of grace.
When I am wrestling with temptation and the fight exhausts me, I just want God to come now and ‘do something!’ When pain, of body or emotion, gnaws away at me, I want something or someone to soothe me. And that is natural. However, the Word reminds me, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NKJV) For me, it takes greater faith to walk willingly with God through fiery trials, than it does to holler long and loud for Him to ‘get me out of this mess!’
Third, we allow for mystery!
I have no idea why God allows some of his saints to pass through dementia on their way to Heaven. That makes no sense to me! But, then again, neither does electricity or nuclear physics! I lack the knowledge to grasp how much of life works. Charles R. Swindoll in Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life says, “We’re not supposed to have airtight answers! Why? Because our understanding is earthbound. . . . Our focus is from the ground up. . . . We see now, He sees forever. We judge on the basis of the temporal; He, on the basis of the eternal. . . . His vantage point is infinity.” [Discipleship Journal : Issue 32. 1999]
In the book of James there is this direct instruction- “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13, NKJV) What is prayer? It is the communion that we enjoy with Him – ranging from praise, to petition, to weeping wordlessly, to shouting in exultation, to silent contemplation, to watchful waiting…. and more. To think that prayer is only making a list of wants and grievances to be recited before the Lord, bracketed with a Scripture and ‘I ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen’ is both immature and foolish.
My God reveals Himself as the Creator of Awe-inspiring Majesty and as a tender Father. Relating to Him, in faith, in both ways can be a stretch, but it is exactly the stretch that I need to make to remain steady. And, I would urge that you do the same.
Are you suffering? Pray! But not just a simplistic, childish prayer that says, “God, if you love me, get me out this trouble right now.” Instead, talk it over with the Lord. Tell Him the desire of your heart. Ask boldly of Him, even as you confess His goodness and His greatness. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NKJV) One author writes, “The angry person bangs, the guilty person lightly taps, and the confident person knocks. If I know I am asking and seeking with the right spirit and motives, I can confidently knock. Believing in my status as God’s child, yet accepting His sovereignty over my life, helps me exert just the right amount of pressure. That kind of knocking reveals my reverence and respect for God’s omniscience. ” [Discipleship Journal : Issue 32. 1999]