Monthly Archives: August 2008

Where is God when it Hurts?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and
wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know full well.”
Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

I had a recent hospitalization. Recent in fact: it was just last week.

If CS Lewis is right, that “pain is God’s megaphone.” then what is he trying to say to me?

I woke up as normal, petted the cats, and wandered off to breakfast. Hmm big choice: eggs and 1/2 bagel, oatmeal, polenta, or cheerios? Yeah not a huge selection, but when you’re on a budget, predictability in cost becomes a factor.

So, I decided on Cheerios and Milk. A good way to start the day. Or so I thought. About 15 minutes after eating them, my stomach became nauseous.

Things never settled. I got sicker as time progressed. Then the vomiting started. I couldn’t keep any water down. Uh oh, this is serious!

I called my doctor, who by now only knows that I call if something is seriously wrong said: “Get your butt on over to the Hospital.”

I timed things and drove the 2 miles. Despite my condition, I sat in the waiting room for 4 hours with a bucket. I’ll bet that had to be a site to see.

By then I was in so much pain from vomiting about 20 times, you can only imagine. “Okay God, you have my attention! What’s up?”

I wasn’t understanding what was happening to me or why. They ordered a Cat Scan. “Oh God, this is serious!”

What I didn’t realise, was HOW serious. I had a blockage in the small intestine from scar tissue from a previous stomach surgery. “Great! What do I do now?”

It turns out the Doctor said: “We are going to continue IV fluids, and you are NPO!” (nothing by mouth.) How is that going to fix anything?

As I lay there, and pondered all of this: fearing, wondering, hoping, crying, praying, alone. A lot of scripture came to mind. But Psalm 139:14 was the strongest. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” If I am so wonderfully made then you screwed up God! Why am I lying in a hospital bed, wincing in tremendous pain?

Then as I meditated on the scripture, it became clear. It wasn’t about being “wonderfully made at all.” It’s a control issue.

Even in times like this, God is still in control. You mean God knew about this? Why would He let me suffer so? Ahh the refining fire, is no place for fun.

I began to experience peace, even though I was in great pain, simply because I knew I wasn’t responsible for the outcome of this. God was. Nothing ever escapes God’s omniscience or omnipresence.

I had to realise, that despite all this: God was still in control. I am not! I AM wonderfully made, even though it hurts.

As Larry O. Richard said: This may be one of the most important values of suffering. If life on earth were a constant joy, why would we fix our hope fully on the grace to be brought to us at Jesus’ return? If life on earth were without difficulty, how would we remain sensitive to our need for God? If life on earth were without trials or persecution how would we be forced to choose between commitment to Christ, and comfort or ease?

As Peter said, suffering does have value. It reveals the genuineness of our faith, and brings praise to the Lord.” (“The 365 Day Devotional Commentary”, Larry O. Richards, Victor Publications, 1992, pg 1109)

And that’s what I learned. Good lesson, God!


Purposes in Life

Simple question really. Why are we here? Have you ever thought of that? What is my purpose in life? Why am I on this rotating ball of boredom? The answers may surprise you.

I had made acquaintance with Mike Williams eons ago. I never really knew him well, but he stood out in a crowd, with a long mop of red hair. I guess it must have been the Irish in him.

Mike was a singer in a Christian Band. And he was good at it. Kids from all walks of life, would gather to hear his story. He would tell them stories from the Bible, and of his friend Jesus.

One day, I found out Mike had AIDS. How he acquired it, is of no concern. That he had a deadly disease, is what mattered.

Some of the other members of his band were going to drive out to Tucson from San Diego to meet with him. Since I wrote for a Christian Heavy Metal Magazine at the time, (“Gospel Metal” aka Keith Day), I was invited to tag along.

I asked Judd flatly: “Aren’t you afraid of getting AIDS?” “Well” I said, “I sure am. I am not sure this is a wise idea.” Judd said: “No, I’m not afraid.”

“Why aren’t you afraid Judd?” I queried. He said, “Because I know that God will protect me.” Ahh a 23 year old guy had just taught a 43 year old guy, a valuable lesson. But this would not be the last lesson learned on this sojourn to the Sonaran Desert.

As we approached Tucson, I said to Judd, “What do we do now? I don’t know how to treat Mike, I don’t know what to say.” And about one million other excuses seemed to exude from my tongue.

I watched Judd closely. I had a strange feeling God would use him again, to teach me. I just had to be open to God using anyone in my life, even if that person was younger and less “experienced.”

When we arrived, the door to the trailer flew open. There was Mike, with that long mop of Red Hair. Well, at least that didn’t change. But, what do I do? Do I shun this guy as a modern day leper, or do I welcome him as a brother in Christ?

Ahh the next move was Judd’s. Judd embraced him warmly, and nearly hugged the stuffings out of him. I had to make a split second decision? What was I going to do? Maintain a “safe” distance, or greet him as a brother?

I watched what the 23 year old kid did. He didn’t judge. He was just glad to be with his friend. Then I remembered what Judd had said earlier: “I’m not afraid, because God will protect me.” I turned to Mike, and warmly embraced him.

In that instant, God transformed me. From being a cowardly lion, to a person of compassion and mercy. It is one thing to see death, but to see Mike, whose body was literally wasting away, was quite a shock. This sure didn’t look like the normal healthy person I knew from a year ago. He looked emaciated. Ahh but do we “judge books by cover, or by
content?” as Martin Luther King so aptly said.

I decided to judge not by what I saw. It was revolting. In that instant, I saw Mike as a brother. One deserving of my love and compassion.

I was not finished with Mike. About 4 months later, I drove back out to Tucson. This time to say “goodbye” as he was suffering so. I asked him, “What can I do, to help you?” His answer surprised me. “You’ve got a car, right?” “Yes,” I said. “Let’s go see a movie.” “What? do youwant to go to a movie? Okay, but you’re buying the popcorn!” So we got in my car, and drove around Tucson, for awhile, and arrived at the theater.

“What movie do you want to see, Mike?” “Tom and Huck (1995)” was the reply. So we watched the movie. I spent more time watching Mike then the movie. He enjoyed just getting out, and doing “normal” things. I was glad I was able to distract him for a few moments, from all the suffering I knew he was experiencing.

When we returned, I asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes” he said. Please massage my feet with some of that olive oil over there. I was quite humbled, and crying inside, as I massaged his bony feet. That image has never left me.

The last night I was with Mike, I said, “Mike, I want to ask you a very hard question. It is hard for me to even ask this question. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“I’ve seen you suffering with this affliction, and there is nothing I or medical science can do to alleviate your condition. You WILL die. Mike, what has stopped you from putting a gun to your head, and ending it all? The words just spilled out of my mouth. I gasped. I thought, “Oh my God, what did I just say to him?”

Without hesitation, Mike said, “Because I know that God will heal me. Either in this life, or the next.” Mike found the ultimate healing a few weeks later. I had learned yet another valuable life lesson.

I have faced many adversities in my life. I am facing one not unlike Mike’s. I don’t have AIDS, but I do have a life threatening condition. “Lord” I’ve prayed. “Mike never gave up on you. My faith is wavering. All I want from you is to emerge from all this with my faith intact, just like Mike showed me.”

God answered the question, of why I am here in these scriptures:

2 Cor 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. NIV

That’s why we’re here. To show God’s love and compassion, to any of those God brings into our life.

E. Paul Ryan —
August 29, 2007