“The word God has given is ‘passing through.’ Passing ‘through’ the broken-up gate (Micah). Passing ‘through’ the stoning crowd (Luke). Passing ‘through’ the wall of waves (Hebrews 11). ‘By faith, they passed through’ – not on one side, avoiding the place of difficulty, but through.” 13 November 1902
Passing through difficulty. Not around, avoiding the source of pain, but through it. There really are no short cuts through difficulty.
I think back on the example of my parents, decades ago, when I was in college. Acute financial reverses left them few choices. Bankruptcy or the long, seemingly impossible task of paying back each creditor – with no immediate source of income. I watched as they sent out the carefully (prayerfully) crafted letter promising each person/corporation that they would pay their creditors equally, as the money came in, until their debts were resolved. I don’t know over how many years that process took place – but I do recall when we, with my parents, offered a prayer of thanksgiving, the last payment paid. Passing through. . . .
I remember a particularly difficult place in ministry when it became obvious that all the explanations and efforts on our part (and of the staff) could not, was not sufficient to satisfy our critics. Every “solution” had a problem and, frankly, it seemed that there was not a plausible way out of the situation. But to simply keep on keeping on. . . regardless of discouragement, in spite of misunderstanding. . . . During that time, I consulted my mother, who gave words of counsel that were backed by life-experience: “You just keep moving forward with what you need to do – for your family, for the church, for yourself – and leave the rest in God’s Hands.” Passing through. . . .
These two situations, reported in brief, are insignificant compared to the suffering I have witnessed through 45 years of ministry. But the reality is the same: there is no short cut through suffering. The loss of a loved one – the work of grief goes on and on. . . betrayal of a spouse or friend – the pain and effort to forgive (over and over again). . . disease – symptoms, tests, diagnosis, treatments, ongoing uncertainty. . . the disgrace of a family member – followed by a rollercoaster of hopes and setbacks, hurt and humiliation. . . .
Suffering for (and from) others – with (or without) fault of ones own – comes in different shapes and sizes. But the reality is the same: there is no short cut through suffering. “By faith, they passed through” – not on one side, avoiding the place of difficulty, but through.”
Lilias draws on Old and New Testament texts to underscore that reality. “The word God has given is ‘passing through’“: deliverance promised the remnant of Israel when their King (Messiah) would break down the gates and go out before them to Jerusalem (Micah); Jesus walking through the crowds of angry people (Luke); the Children of Israel passing through the wall of wavesof the Red Sea on dry ground (Hebrews).
Suffering is a given of our broken world. “We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fires,” writes Oswald Chambers. “If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying it should not be.” (June 25, My Utmost for His Highest)
The “why?” of suffering is beyond the purpose of this post and, for that matter, my intellectual grasp. (see Philip Yancy’s Disappointment With God; C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain.) . But Scripture repeatedly addresses the “how” of experiencing difficulty. There are many reassurances for the believer on the path through suffering. Jesus, Himself, embraced fully our pain through His life on earth and His death on the Cross. Moreover, He promised “I will never leave you.” He will be there for us, in the midst of our pain – if we reach out to Him.
C. S. Lewis wrote, in The Problem of Pain, “Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says, somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something but cannot, because our hands ‘are full’ – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.”
Face it: no one really wants to suffer. But, in the midst of the inevitability of the same, we do have a choice: to learn what we can from it – about ourselves, about God, about others – or waste it. “If the world is indeed a ‘vale of soul-making,’ it seems on the whole to be doing its work.” (C. S. Lewis)
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you…”
Painting: Diary 1906