Pushing Through Recovery and Seeking a Meaningful Story.

Two and a half weeks have past since my full thyroidectomy and lymph node removal surgery, and I am reluctant to admit that it has become difficult. The first couple weeks I was pushing through the pain of the surgery and the little inconveniences of recovery, but the process of healing in that regard was relatively simple for me to push through mentally. It was surgery after all, it made sense that pain would come, and it made sense that I would be down for the count for a week or so with all of the antibiotics and anesthesia in my system.

Now, however, since my wound is healing very nicely, and I’m gaining more mobility in my neck, I desperately desire to be able to go about life normally, but my body will not allow it. I feel very tired all day and while I can go out for a chunk of time–even the majority of the day or the majority of an evening–I cannot make it through a full day of walking around or even talking without getting exhausted. I really do not want this to be a woe-is-me blog, so please bare with my transparency and honesty.

It is definitely a mental battle. I have never been forced to rest for this long. I am used to being able to get up early, exercise, accomplish an extensive “to-do” list each day and feel pretty energized even at the end of the day. Deferring law school a year because of being diagnosed with cancer four days before starting was difficult, but not as difficult as dealing with the frequent thoughts I have these days:

“What are you doing with your life now?”
“Why are you just sitting there?”
“Why are you wasting time?”
“How are you helping others by laying on a couch?”

I have committed myself to a daily devotional each morning and have learned that if I read immediately when I wake up, I can read what I planned to before my nausea and exhaustion settles in. It has certainly helped start my day off on the right foot and kept my spirits high. I look forward to being able to read more throughout the day and growing more in knowledge and understanding. For now, it is hit or miss each day if I will be feeling well enough to read and comprehend. It’ll come though, I know that.

I want to make a difference in this world, and it is hard for me to be confined to my apartment for much of the day. I want to go out and talk to people. I want to love strangers, seek justice for the oppressed and pursue opportunities that place me in optimal position to impact people for good.

Right now, I need to seek more silence and prayer. There is nothing else I can do at this point, and I am finding peace in that. From living in California, working four jobs while going to school full-time and being part of a world-class percussion group to—-> moving to Chicago, being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, having no school and work only two nights a week for a couple hours…I do not think it is an accident that I’m being forced to slow down. It is time to truly evaluate what I want the rest of my life to look like when I complete radiation and get back to full health in the next few months.

I am so thankful that my favorite author, Donald Miller, just released a new book called “Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story.” It looks like it is going to be an excellent resource for planning a life that has a meaningful story. I hope that while I’m quarantined for radiation treatment, I can spend time working my way through this book. I meet with my endocrinologist on Monday to talk about the treatment.

In everything though, I continue to be reminded of how blessed I am and how beautiful the people in my life are. Thank you for your encouragement and steadfast love through this journey. While I like to pretend I can do this all on my own, I am willing to admit that I am wrong. I would not be where I am today without all of your love and support. If you have made it through the end of this post, you are one of those people, and I just have to say from the bottom of my heart–Thank you.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Ps. 73:26

Joy in Suffering

Nearly three years a go, I was here for Francis Chan’s talk about finding joy in suffering. I stumbled upon it today, and it resonated much more boldly. As the reality of facing cancer begins to weigh on my heart, I found great encouragement in sitting back and watching this 50 minute video.

In an era of a church that has hurt so many people, a church that has often strayed away from the simple command to love God and love others, a church that has brought so much pain to those I love dearly– I wish I could apologize face-to-face to each of you, as a Christian, for the pain Christians may have brought you at some point in your life. I struggle with the lack of sensitivity and focus on the Gospel and the person of Jesus in many of our churches today. If each of us truly focused our eyes on Jesus Christ, his words and his actions–how he loves so desperately every person, even those who persecute him–how much different would the church look? Now, many churches articulate this kind of action, but when it comes to actually living out a life that resembles Christ, that’s where you lose people. (At the same time, I am not discounting so many people who are faithfully seeking to follow Christ’s example and are making disciples to do the same…unfortunately, I think the former overrides the latter most of the time.)

When you spend time with Jesus, alone with Jesus, in prayer with Jesus, it is impossible to approach others with anything less than love and compassion. He molds your heart to be more like his. However, even the Scriptures show that those closest to Jesus–those who sought him most genuinely–suffered like him, as well. Still, in every case, it was throughout that suffering that these individuals felt Christ most closely. It was during these moments that the reality of the Holy Spirit became much more apparent.

Jesus is the ultimate comforter, and if life is always comfortable and moving smoothly, why would we ever seek Him? Why would we seek His comfort if we are fine on our own?

In this video, Francis Chan puts it simply:

“I’m not one who wants pain, but I’m one who wants Jesus.”

I resonated with that statement so strongly. I do not want to be going through cancer right now, especially at the start of my law school career, but I do want Jesus. I want to know Him, I want Him to be beside me during all of this, and I want to feel His comfort in a way I have never before. I want my heart to grow closer to His, to become more passionate, to love more deeply and to care about others more intimately.

I empathize and can say that I am adopting apostle Paul’s attitude right now and cannot wait to see how this suffering brings me closer to Jesus:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christand be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-10

A biblical survey on human suffering

Why does pain exist? Why do good people suffer? How is suffering used for God’s purposes? Stories of suffering permeate the Bible and these passages bring insight into God’s purposes for suffering. The following study will give a broad survey over suffering as it is found in the Bible. Specific topics covered include the origin of suffering, the relationship between sin and suffering, forms of suffering and God’s purposes for suffering, with additional attention given to the story of Job and the expectation of suffering for Christians.

First, it is important to recognize the origin of suffering. When the earth was created, it was made good (Gen. 1:31).  Soon after, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6), and sin entered the world for the first time. God said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle…” and then He stated the pain would dwell in lives of people from that moment forward (Gen. 3:14). Therefore, when sin entered the world, “suffering also entered in the form of conflict, pain, corruption, drudgery and death.”[1] Because of the fall of man, the world is no longer free from the adverse consequences and suffering resulting from sin.

Sin and suffering are related in a couple of ways: suffering can be the result of living in a fallen world (i.e. natural disasters; Mk. 13:7-9; Lk. 13:1-15; 2 Chr. 7:13-14; Job 15:20; 2 Pet. 2:12-13) or it can be a direct result of sin.  Suffering as a direct result of sin is God’s judgment, and people bring it on themselves. For unbelievers, suffering as a result of God’s judgment can be “reaping what they sow” (Job 15:20; Gal. 6:7-8), as well as eternal punishment (Ps. 1:6; Prov. 10:16, 12:21; Mt. 25:41-46; Jn. 3:18; Rev. 20:11-15).[2]

Ungodliness and oppression also bring God’s judgment and suffering. Ungodliness leading to suffering is when an individual sins and suffers from the consequences of this sin. For example, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and a direct consequence he had to suffer was that she became pregnant (1 Sam. 11:5). Oppression, on the other hand, “involves sinning and forcing others to suffer the consequences, or imposing our sin on others” (Ps. 44:24, 43:2, 72:14; Job 35:9; Deut. 26:7, 28:33).[3]

Suffering can take several forms including physical, spiritual, mental and emotional, as well as interpersonal. In the Bible, physical suffering is mentioned the most (Job 14:22; Rev. 21:4), exceedingly in the examples of childbirth (1 Sam. 4:19; 1 Chr. 4:9; Isa. 13:8, 21:3, 26:17-18, 51:2; Jer. 6:24, 22:23; Hos. 13:13; Mt. 24:8; Jn. 16:21; Rom. 8:22; Rev. 12:2) and “agonies of approaching death” (Hos. 13:14; Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:55; Heb. 2:9, 14-15; Rev. 21:4).[4] These ailments were addressed specifically in Genesis 3:16, 19 at the Fall (cf. Rom 5:12-21). While physical suffering is noted most frequently, the Bible also mentions spiritual suffering (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46), mental and emotional suffering (Isa. 13:8; Jer. 4:19; 2 Cor. 11:28) and interpersonal suffering, (people hurting people because of their sinful natures; Ps. 41:9; 2 Cor. 2:1-4). [5]

While sin offers an explanation for the entrance of suffering (in all its forms) into the world, the Bible provides insight into God’s purposes for suffering outside of judgment. When sin and suffering entered the world, the need for the redemption and the grace of Jesus Christ was created. Christ was sent to suffer and die for the sins of the world, and so that He may rescue man from the entrapment of sin (Mt. 1:21) and “deliver man from suffering, corruption and death (Rom. 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:26).”[6]  John Piper wrote the following about the purpose of Jesus Christ’s suffering:

    The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The highest, clearest, surest display of that glory is in the suffering of the best Person in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. Therefore, the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God 2006, 89).

While this display of glory and grace is key to understanding the presence of suffering in the world, there are other reasons for suffering the Bible dictates. One common belief is that suffering is a result of divine punishment, and the Bible mentions instances where this is true. In the story of David and Bathsheba, when David learns Bathsheba is pregnant, he orders for her husband to be killed to cover up his sin. As punishment for the adultery and cover-up, God killed the child that was born (1 Sam. 12:15). While suffering can be punishment, it is important to remember that suffering also exists outside of punishment and sometimes the righteous suffer.

The story of Job illustrates suffering outside punishment and suffering of the righteous. Job was an upright, God-fearing man, with great wealth and a large family. Satan challenged God and claimed that Job was only faithful because he had everything going well for him. Satan claimed that if Job were stripped of his possessions, then he would curse God (Job 1:11). God allowed Satan to test Job and despite Job’s outstanding character and lifestyle, he was put through an intense amount of suffering. It is important to note that God gave Satan permission to test Job, but God is the One who holds the ultimate power over suffering: “Though Satan is regarded as having power to make men suffer (2 Cor. 12:7; Jb. 1:12; 2:6), they suffer only in the hand of God, and it is God who controls and sends suffering (Am. 3:6; Is. 45:7; Mt. 26:39; Acts 2:23).”[7]

Job’s flocks, possessions and children were all taken from him and his health was compromised, but still Job remained faithful. Even when his wife urged him to curse God, Job said, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). However, despite his faith, Job became frustrated because he did not know the reasons for his suffering.

He lamented his situation and his friends tried to convince him that his suffering was a result of terrible sin he committed. However, this was not the case. Job cried out to God and God responded to Job with “a series of questions no human could possibly answer.”[8] Humbled, Job remembered God’s power and justice. Job did not suddenly understand why he suffered, but “he disowned his presumption and confessed that God’s plans and purposes were infinitely beyond his understanding.”[9] In the end, God restored Job’s fortunes and blessed him (Job 42).

The story of Job shows that not all suffering is divine punishment. While God never articulated to Job the reason for his suffering, Job was tested by Satan and he learned “that we can’t have happiness without sorrow, that either one is meaningless without the other … Happiness is not a reward, and sorrow is not [necessarily] punishment.”[10] Job’s life illustrates that suffering is compatible with happiness and even might be considered inseparable.

Because not all suffering is punishment and a direct result of our sin, there are other reasons God allows suffering. Just as Job was tested, there are several other instances in the Bible where God uses suffering to “yield holiness and righteousness by testing, purifying, disciplining and giving endurance and maturity” (Ps. 66:10; Jos. 1:3, 12; 1 Pet. 1:7).[11] Similarly, Romans 5 and James 1:2-4 focus on suffering that leads to perseverance and building character.

Also, similar to the story of Job, there are several ways God uses suffering for His purposes even if those suffering do not understand the reason behind their pain (Ps. 119:75; Jn. 9:1-3). For example, God can use suffering to benefit others, “Suffering is the likely consequence in this world of any whole-hearted sacrifice for a great cause: suffering through and for others.”[12] Suffering can also be used to encourage people to pray (Judges 6:1-7; 2 Chr. 7:13-14; Ps. 107:4-6, 10-13; Hos. 5:15; Zech. 13:9) and read Scripture (Ps. 119:71), as well as to “identify believers with Christ and His gospel” (Acts 5:41; 2 Cor. 1:5; Gal. 3:4, 6:12; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 1:8, 2:3, 3:12; Heb. 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16, 5:9).[13]

Suffering is also used in the Bible to redirect the paths of God’s people (Prov. 3:12; Judges 2:22-3:6) and to “bring [people] closer to God in dependence and fellowship” (Ps. 119:67; Rom. 8:35-37).[14] The presence of pain can be seen as “a test that shatters self-sufficiency and teaches [that] real strength comes from God and from conformity to God’s will.”[15]  Finally, suffering is also seen in the Bible as a way to serve the kingdom of God by “glorifying Him (Jn. 9:1-3; 1 Pet. 4:16) and spreading the gospel” (Acts 8:3-4; Phil. 1:12-13; 2 Tim. 4:16-17).[16]

For Christians, suffering is expected, because Christians are called to share in Christ’s suffering (2 Cor. 1:5-7; Mk. 10:39; Rom. 8:17).[17] While Christians can suffer in many of the ways previously mentioned, suffering for faith and for doing what is right is expected (1 Pet. 3:17). Christians are warned that this will occur (Mt. 5:10-11, 24:9; Rom. 8:17; Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 4:13), and are commanded by Jesus to pick up their cross daily and follow him (Lk. 9:23). This is exemplified in the lives of the earliest Christians who suffered persecution in the beginning of the church.[18] While suffering is expected, there are also expectations for how Christians respond to suffering: “Christians are called to follow Christ’s example in relieving the suffering of others and bearing it patiently when it comes to themselves, not returning evil for evil but overcoming evil with good (Cf. Rom. 12:19-21).”[19]

In conclusion, five central claims that can be formed in Scripture regarding suffering include the following: suffering is often directly related to sin and its consequences; suffering can be divine punishment, but often is not; suffering is most mentioned in the Bible in regards to physical pain, but there are spiritual, mental and emotional, as well as interpersonal forms of suffering; suffering can be used by God for numerous purposes (often outside of our knowledge); and suffering is expected in the lives of Christians.

A passage that I will be resting on over the rest of the semester will be Job’s response to God’s answer. It is a great reminder that even if I may not always know the reasons for my suffering, God is all-powerful and his purposes are far beyond my knowledge:

    I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6)

[1] Inter-Varsity Press, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3 (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1980), 1491.

[2] Henry W. Holloman, Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2005), 522.

[3] Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 126.

[4] Holloman, 521.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Inter-Varsity Press, 1491.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The Lockman Foundation, Life Application Study Bible (NASB) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 882.

[9] William J. O’Malley, Redemptive Suffering (New York, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), 77.

[10] O’Malley, 64.

[11] Holloman, 523.

[12] J. Moltmann, On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics, trans. M.D. Meeks (SCM Press, 1984), 109.

[13] Holloman, 523.

[14] Inter-Varsity Press, 1491.

[15] Marie A. Conn, C. S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light Among the Shadows (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2008), 45.

[16] Holloman, 523.

[17] Inter-Varsity Press, 1491.

[18] Holloman, 522.

[19] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 4., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 649.