Something to Hold On To
I had an opportunity to attend a play recently, ‘The Women of Lockerbie’. The main character was the mother of one of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 that could not let go of her son and move on with her life because she did not have ‘something to remember him by’; it was as if she did not have that something, she had irretrieveably lost her son. In the play, she was shown as wandering the local hills around Lockerbie, wailing in despair, and had not her son’s luggage been found (as it was later in the play), she would have continued in that manner for the remainder of her life, in an enforced isolation that would have separated her from everything and everyone. In the last scene of the play, she and the women of Lockerbie washed the clothing of those lost in the disaster, achieving a type of justification and redemption.
The play was powerful… in all the wrong ways.
The human condition is one of suffering, because we live in a broken and fallen world, but we are not equipped, as ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ illustrates, to deal well with it. From a secular, humanistic viewpoint, the only way in which suffering can be dealt with is to turn to other people, who oftentimes are in the midst of their own sufferings, or concerned with other issues, unable to comprehend someone else’s suffering in a meaningful way, and therefore equally unable to provide the necessary levels of comfort, compassion, mercy and love that will not only address the hurt, but actually heal the hurt.
I was stricken by the dialog in ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ in that there was not a single mention of God (except for the blaspheming of His Name by one of the characters)… not a single mention of He who is unarguably humanity’s greatest consolation for the difficulties it faces.
This having been said, in Holy Scripture we read of the One… Jesus Christ… who suffered not only as no man has ever suffered: but who suffered for us:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:2-12)
In ‘The Women of Lockerbie’, much was made not only of the necessity for the people to come together and collectively bear the tragedies that befall them; but also (and I think disturbingly so) for the ability of the people to, by doing so, accomplish a healing of themselves; there was a sense of ‘we can, and we must, handle this…’ as if people in their own internal strength could meet and overcome all obstacles against them. I do agree that there is a necessity for people to share tragedy that befalls one or another of them; we are social in our nature, and not meant to live an existence in isolation from others. I disagree that people have the ability to conquer all obstacles in their path, not only for themselves but for others as well; this stance smacks of an impertinence that is not becoming to us: largely because we have no hope of being able to accomplish such a goal. For those who would say to me ‘Well, doesn’t your attitude mean that we should fatalistically accept that we as humans can accomplish nothing, therefore we should give up and not even try?’
No… it means nothing of the kind.
What it does mean is that human efforts will, oftentimes, not accomplish what we intend them to. We must plan and undertake those efforts, of course… but we mustn’t be blinded by the sin of pride to believe that we have no need of help outside ourselves.
Read again Isaiah 53:2-12 above and then understand the following more clearly (italic emphasis mine):
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)
God ordained Jesus… before the world was created… to suffer for all humanity. That is the enormity of God’s love for us, and Holy Scripture provides ample proof that Jesus well understood the mission of redemption that He had been given by the Father:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:11-12)
Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:22-25)
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16)
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47)
It is important to understand what Jesus offers us through the suffering that He endured (italic emphases mine):
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. (Acts 3:18-20)
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 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. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:9-11)
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21)
In the above passage from 1 Peter, it is important to note that, especially in the midst of any suffering we go through, that we are conscious of the presence of God, and an an extension of that consciousness, we must make a decision, however difficult, to remain in His presence… we need to be comforted knowing He is always alongside of us. “doing good” I believe means that we turn over our sufferings to God, who in the person of Jesus Christ can carry us through it… He knows what we are going through because He has already endured it, in every moment of time throughout the history of humanity.
It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
Doing good is trusting in God’s sovereign judgment and control over our lives, believing that He will deliver us from our suffering in accordance with His knowledge of what is best for His glory and for our ultimate good. Doing evil is walking away from God, deciding that He cannot help us because He cannot understand what we are going through, and further deciding that we, rather than He, know best what to do.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2)
When we turn to God in the midst of suffering and uncertainty, we set aside what we think is important, and are concerned for what the will of God is. This is trust… which is central to a meaningful relationship with God: You and God cannot both be in control.
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)
Doing good is continuing to trust God, which there is every reason to do because He is faithful, despite our almost constant unfaithfulness to Him. Bear in mind that God knows everything in every moment of time, including the outcomes of every situation:
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isaiah 46:10)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Rest absolutely assured that God has only the best outcomes in mind for you:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
JESUS IS WHAT WE MUST HOLD ON TO!