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Many of you may remember the Kris Kristofferson song that was a popular one during the seventies. Now while there are certain elements of that song which will creep through in this message, this is more about the age old question of “Why does God allow terrible things to happen?”

In particular, the aspect of “why does this have to happen to me?”

This can be a most perplexing question, especially to new/young Christians and those who do not believe at all. We look around us in the world today and we see people dying of cancer, killed in accidents, struck down be debilitating disease and so the list goes on. I guess it is only natural to ask that question as to why a God of love let’s these things happen.

The first part of the answer is found in the teaching of Christ. In John chapter 9, we read of the story of the healing of the blind man, the one blind from birth (9:1). Now this narrative deals about many aspects of the ministry of Jesus, but it is the question and subsequent answer to be found in verses 2-5 that are of most interest to us here.

2. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3. Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Now the part that stands out, to me, in this passage is the bit that says: “ but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

Let’s take a look at how this applies to other things that appear to be against the God of Love.

At the top of the list is the fact, conveniently ignored by many, that God is Holy and, therefore, cannot do evil. We need to be aware that God does not cause sickness, nor does He desire it to happen. Theses are caused by the sinfulness of mankind.

One of the great answers to this aspect is to be found in the Book of Job. Not just in select verses in the book but in the whole story. Here is a man who one could say was very prosperous and was under God’s blessing. Then, in what appears as an instant, he loses everything. Now, if anyone had cause to curse God and complain it was Job, but as we read his story, we discover that all Job could do was thank and praise God. Somehow, this man had a view of the bigger picture than most if us are able to see. When we get towards the end of the story, we find that God comes to his rescue and severely criticises those who had criticised Job’s “righteous stand”.

The second aspect is the fact that each of us, by virtue of our nature, is not perfect and, therefore, we are subject to committing sin. Keep well in mind that as far is God is concerned there are no degrees of sin, you either sin or you don’t. The little white lie and a mass murder are both sin in God’s eyes and we need to keep that picture before our eyes at all time.

Now, with those two things in mind, we must expect that there will come a time when God will allow us to pass through the “Furnace Of Affliction” so that the rubbish that is attached to our lives can be burnt off, leaving us a better person and more usable by God in the future. Now the level of rubbish to be removed from our lives will vary from person to person, but, like precious metals, any rubbish that we have in our lives makes us impure and needs to be removed.

Usually, the best way of removing this rubbish is to pass us through a time of testing so that we are removed from relying on ourselves and return to relying on God. Depending upon how stubborn we are, this will require a varying degree of “heat of purification” to be applied, just as in the refining process of precious metals.

Lucky for us, God does not allow us to have the total punishment at the one time, otherwise none of us would survive the trials. God has promised that none of us will be tested beyond our capabilities (though my personal experiences have, all be it wrongly, questioned, at the time, whether I have been pushed too far). However, He will certainly stretch us beyond our comfort zone, otherwise there would be no test.

Often it is not until we are brought to our lowest point that we are able to start learning and listening to what God is trying to say to us. He needs to point out to us why we need to make the changes in our life that are necessary.

So therein lies the first reason of why the suffering is brought upon us.

There is another reason which many would rather overlook. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “A lesson learnt without pain is a lesson easily forgotten.” Now the implication of that saying is that if we learn things easily, we will tend to forget them easily but the things we have had to battle hard to learn are ones that stay with us.

Why, then, you might ask, does he let us suffer in many ways to achieve this?

I believe that the greatest reason for this is experience. If we are to help others in their times of trial, can we honestly feel their pain if we have never experienced that pain ourselves? The answer is a clear No! Sure, I can read about it for years and I can come to a level of understanding but unless I have felt the pain, then I cannot fully understand.

Before I continue this line of thought, let me digress a little to the life and death of Jesus. He came to Earth to save us from our sins by providing the sacrifice required for sinners to return to God. No-one will really argue that part. He also came that He might be our representative before God. Now by living in heaven, Jesus had never experienced what temptation was nor what it was like to suffer. By being born as a man, He gained that experience and, as a result, could better plead our case before God, because He now understands what we go through.

None knows of the advantages of experience more than I do, and I say that quite sincerely. Whilst I have not experienced all the bad things that can happen, I have certainly experienced some of them.

At the top of my list is that of suicide. I am a survivor of this terrible calamity that, sadly, is all too common in our world today. Many, many years ago, I was allowed to walk down that destructive path and to ultimately experience the absolute horrors that are there. I was allowed to go so far as to be able to see the horrors of what awaited such a fate and to this day, some thirty five years on, I still have the vivid picture in my mind of that horror that I saw and yet, try as I may (and I have had many attempts) I cannot find words that go anywhere near describing those horrors. The picture is etched in my brain but I cannot share it with others because there are no suitable words.

However, I look back and I can genuinely say it was a great experience. I have lost track of the number of people I have been able to stand beside as they commenced that same walk as I had done and be able to guide them out of it and give them a fresh hope for the future. It sometimes takes so little a trigger to send you over the top and if there is no-one there to help you, then there is no stopping. It’s like starting down a steep and winding road in a motor vehicle, only to discover you no longer have any brakes. There is a common statement I have heard in every such situation: “You’ve been there, haven’t you.” Yes they recognise, in their spirit, that you are not talking words but experience. They know that you truly understand. As a result of this, they know that you will say things that are true and not just words.

Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying that you need to get out there and get yourself as many nasty experiences as you can so that you can help others. What I am saying is that when these experiences strike at your heart, then remember the lesson (and you will) because God will bring someone into your life after that experience that you will be able to help through theirs, because they are not as strong as you were and cannot make it on their own, but need your help  and gentle guidance to help them through.

Now there is a third reason for the trials of suffering. That is so that we can be brought to a stage where God can do a mighty work in us. This was hinted at earlier, but I will now expand on what  I mean. We, being human, always want to rely on our own strength to do things but, sometimes our own strength is nowhere near enough. But we let pride and arrogance get in the way of God helping us to do the task He is calling us to do.

Again I will return to personal experience to illustrate this matter, though it is certainly not an experience that is unique to me. In fact, St Paul covers this very subject in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

That last sentence is the power - “For when I am weak, then I am strong” - for what Paul is saying here that only in his personal weakness is God able to use him with mighty power and strength.

In very recent times I was forced, by a very special person in my life, to fall into a total mess in my life through betrayal, despair and, yes I admit to it, bitterness. That feeling took me down so far that I was afraid that I was taking that awful walk once again in my life. I reached out to friends around the globe to pray for me, but, unbeknown to all of us at the time, God needed me down there to start a new ministry. They certainly prayed and gave me strength, but God had a plan.

The first part of this was to write and record a new song called “Crying In The Silence”. Now you may feel like saying that I could have done that, especially if your find the song and read the words, without having to be taken down to the bottom. The answer to that is, maybe. What I could not have done was write the words and then sing them with the emotion that the song needed in order for it to do the job God had designed it for. Neither would I have had the passion and desire to take that song and turn it into the project that is now starting to touch the lives of abused people the world over.

Now, though I could not have said this at the lowest ebb of my walk, I have nothing but praise for the person who reduced me to that state (not sure if they know about this or not at this time) because that person, unwittingly let God use them to take me down to where God could get me to do what He needed me to do. From out of something awful was born something powerful and beautiful.

That is the way God sometimes lets us walk, so that we become useful to Him.

A final one for this message is going to be simply put, though it is far more complex than I will talk about here.

This is because the person (or persons) were brought into this world with a special task to do. Once the task is done, He chooses to remove them from the suffering and pain of this world and take them home to be with Him. I have heard a number of testimonies over the years of people who lost young children, often through sickness or painful experience, but who were able to honestly say that the child had changed their lives around from a destructive path to one of hope. They admit, only too readily, to the grief and pain that the death of a loved child caused them, but they can see that by that child’s life and/or death a big change was made in their life that has benefited many others.

God, in His infinite wisdom has decided that they have been obedient in what they were to do and are rewarded by an early return to heaven. I certainly have not had that experience to me personally, but I have certainly had people close to me who have attested in that way.

Now I am not going to say that these are the only four purposes for suffering that can exist. What I am saying is that when you are suffering, look inward and see what the purpose might be and then, with the strength that can only come from the Holy Spirit, do as St. Paul has written, “In everything give praise and thanks to God.”