December 5, 2012

Why Is This Happening to Me? (Comfort Service)


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,  who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

When tragedy strikes or when life becomes particularly difficult for you, do you ever ask yourself, ‘why is this happening to me?’   If you’ve had such a thought, you aren’t alone.  From the days of the Old Testament Psalmist to the present, myriads of Christians have asked that same question.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re having more than your fair share of sorrow and grief, and it simply doesn’t seem fair.  If that’s how you’re feeling today, I want you to know that it’s very natural to feel like that, when you are in the midst of a particular difficult period in your life.   But friends, how you respond in such circumstances, may well shape the rest of your life.

Many of you may remember a very aggressive media personality who became known for his caustic comments and cynical attitude toward life, Gordon Sinclair.  For many years, until his death in 1984, Gordon was the voice of CFRB at 11:45 a.m. with his 10 minutes news report followed by  ‘Let’s Be Personal’ a segment in which he spoke his mind on current issues.

Gordon Sinclair was a broadcaster who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if those comments criticized and offended other people.   Nor was he shy about letting his audience know that he was an atheist.  He often criticised individual Christians as well as the Christian Church, calling Christians hypocrites.   There is no question but that Gordon was a great news reporter, but he was also a man who bore a heavy burden.

You see, he hadn’t always been so cynical.  In fact at one time in his life, he’d actually been a member of a Christian Church, but that all changed  the night his daughter died tragically.  That tragedy left Gord with a deep and open wound.  He was never able to find healing for the hurt and anger he felt, and so for the rest of his life he blamed God for what had happened..

A few weeks ago, I say saw an ad for a TV program entitled:  ‘God on Trial’.  Putting God on trial is what many people attempt to do when they are wounded by a personal tragedy.  They put God on trial by blaming God for all the painful things that have happened to them.

It is virtually impossible to explain to a wounded person why a particular tragedy or loss has happened to them.  Any attempt on our part to do so, is almost certain to drive a wedge between us and the person who is experiencing that suffering.  From a human point of view, there may well be no rational meaning to what has happened.  But that’s not to say, that from God’s perspective, there is no explanation.

However, there’s an illustration that I remember from my youth that may help to shed some light on this issue.  And perhaps you’ve had an experience similar to this.

Some one (whose name slips me at the moment), told me about an experiment he’d recently done, and the outcome of the experience.  This fellow had found a cocoon, attached to a branch.  Being a person who was curious about nature, he broke off the branch and took it, along with the cocoon to his home.  Over the next several days he watched to see if anything would happen.

Then one day, he began to notice some activity from within the cocoon. It became obvious to him that the creature inside was attempting to break out of its enclosure.  Soon a tiny opening appeared, as the little creature struggled. But all of a sudden that activity stopped.

Wanting to assist the creature, my friend gently enlarged the opening, allowing the butterfly, (for that’s what was inside) - to emerge.

Once outside the cocoon, my friend fully expected to see the butterfly unfold its wings and eventually take off.  But instead what he observed was a wounded creature with a swollen body and deformed wings, which never took to flight.

What my friend learned from this experience was that, -  it’s the struggle to break free which enables a butterfly to grow strong and be prepared for flight.

Suffering and personal loss can affect us in many different ways.  It can make us cynical as it did for Gordon Sinclair.   It can drain us of all our energy and resourcefulness, and leave us an empty shell of a person.  Or, in a very mysterious way, it can make us stronger and more committed to our faith than ever before.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit two women in a seniors care facility.  When I went into the first woman’s room, I found her lying in her bed, with her body turned so that she was facing the wall.  But as soon as she became aware of my presence in the room, she made a supreme effort to turn over so that she would face me.   It was obvious, from the expression on her face,  that making this move caused her great pain.  But she made no comment about the pain,  instead she greeted me with a smile and immediately began asking me about the church and her many friends in the congregation.  “Tell me what’s happening?”  “How are my friends doing?”  That was how our conversation went.

I left that woman’s room feeling uplifted.  She was such a delightful person and so interested in the world outside, that she was an inspiration for me.

I then walked across the hall to the second woman’s room.  I found her sitting in a chair.  It was obvious that she was still mobile;  still able to take her meals in the dining room; and not noticeably in pain.

However, from the moment I entered the room, the conversation was decidedly negative.  She complained about her family, saying that they didn’t visit her enough.  She complained about the food and the care she was getting.  She even complained about some of the other residents, who annoyed her because they were so forgetful, and would ask her the same question more than once.

Now, I had no way of knowing why this woman was so negative.  Perhaps there were things in her past life, which might explain her behaviour.  But what I observed, that day,  was a person who saw herself as a victim, and in her hurt, she wanted the whole world to know that she was a victim.

It’s very easy to feel that way especially when life has dealt you a particularly heavy load of sorrow, - particularly at Christmas time, when you see so many others around you, who are happy and excited and full of life.   But when we are feeling low and left out of those joyous emotions because of our loss and pain, - it may be well for us to remember that the Bible teaches us that -  it’s not what we suffer,  but rather how we suffer that matters most!

The apostle Paul experienced more than his fair share of suffering during his lifetime.  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, he tells us about some of his suffering, saying:

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. (II Cor. 11:24-27)

With a life’s story like that, Paul had ever reason to be cynical and angry, but that’s not how he responded.  Listen to his words, a little earlier in this same letter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,  who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.   (II Cor. 1:3-5)

You see, Paul had learned that God can turn human suffering and personal tragedy, - as evil and unjustified as it may be, - into something good.

God doesn’t try to explain away our suffering.  Nor does He simply say that all things have a purpose.  But what God does do, if we allow Him,  is help us use the experience of our pain and suffering for the glory of His Kingdom.  We may never receive an answer to our soul-searching cry for an explanation of pain, but if we trust God and remain faithful to Him, we will know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God is with us, sharing our pain; and that because of it,  we will be better equipped to help others when they are suffering.

If we remain open to God, God will provide us with companionship, compassion and comfort in the midst of our suffering.  But He will also enable us to use this experience to reach out to other people, so that we can offer them companionship, compassion and comfort in their suffering.