Joni Ereckson Tada must live her entire life as a quadriplegic. Her condition is the result of injuries incurred when, as a teen-ager, she dived into a pool of water and struck the bottom. She is confined to a wheelchair, must have others care for her daily needs, paints with a brush held between her teeth and, despite all that, has a glowing testimony of joy in her life.
My baby sister, Susan, was born with only one hand. She spent half of her first two years of life in the hospital because of additional physical problems. She was equipped with a prosthetic arm between the ages of 3 and 4. Through all this trouble, she was a happy, cheerful little girl who brought smiles to the faces of the people she met. At age 5, she was struck by a car and killed.
Why would a loving, sovereign God allow these things to happen? Were they some form of punishment for some sin of Joni or my sister? What sinister plot lay behind this sad situation?
Perhaps you, too, are in some such place in your life. It could be physical pain, emotional anguish, financial straits or even spiritual darkness, which has, seemingly for no cause, oppressed you.
It is all too easy to assume that God is "getting even" with us for some sin, when we experience such pain, sickness and discomfiture. But is that true?
Let's look briefly at a biblical example dealing with this matter from John 9: 1-12. In John's Gospel we read:
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'
"'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'" John 9:1-3.
The disciples had this same outlook when they asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (They actually went another step to inquire whether his blindness was a judgment on his parents' sin.)
Christ's reply revealed God's plan to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate his works. The most unlikely situation is an opportunity for God to be God.
Jesus said, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (Verse 3) By so doing, he elevated both the man and his condition to an incredible level. He was selected as a channel for the display of God's power and grace.
Jesus then proceeded to heal the man. Afterward the man praised God for his work in his life.
In our time of stress and pain, may God find us willing to allow him to "display his works in our life," even as this man did. This may be through healing. It may not involve healing, but through our consciousness of his grace and presence with us as we walk "through (this) valley." Psalms 23:4.
Let us ask God to give us such confidence in his love, power and purpose that we shall continue to believe him through even the dark days.
"...Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Psalms 30:5.
You and I may not be so well known as Joni, but we are no less well loved by God, the heavenly Father, than she and my baby sister are.
When we are in stress and pain may we be able to pray: "Oh, my heavenly Father, please help me, just like Jesus at the cross, to see beyond the immediate pain of my situation to your ultimate purpose and glory."
Charles G. Thornton is the associate pastor at Peninsula Grace Brethren Church, 44175 Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. Sunday worship services are at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Bible classes are at 9:45 a.m.
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