Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Question That Never Goes Away

The Question That Never Goes AwayThe Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book by one of my favorite authors is excellent. If you have ever suffered or you are in the midst of suffering I highly recommend this book. It will challenge you and bring comfort to your heart. I trust you will enjoy the quotes below.

Faith, I’ve concluded, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

Virtually every passage on suffering in the New Testament deflects the emphasis from cause to response. Although we cannot grasp the master plan of the universe, which allows for so much evil in pain (the Why? question), we can nevertheless respond in two important ways. First, we can find meaning in the midst of suffering. Second, we can offer real and practical help to those in need. In his book The Problem of Pain C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I hesitate to disagree with Lewis, yet that image makes me uncomfortable. It calls to mind a football coach on the sideline yelling at his players through a bullhorn, and some readers may infer from the metaphor that God dishes out something to get our attention. I don’t think Lewis intended such an inference, and for that reason I would change the image from megaphone to hearing aid. When suffering strikes, it gives us, the afflicted ones, an opportunity to turn up the volume and attend to crucial messages that we might otherwise ignore.

Were it possible, we might look beyond the reach of our knowing… Then perhaps we would endure our griefs with even greater trust than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unfamiliar. … Everything within us steps back; a silence ensues, and something new … stands in the center and is silent. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

"Despair is suffering without meaning," he wrote; and "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." – Victor Frankl

A University researching pain recruited volunteers to test how long they could keep their feet in buckets of freezing water. They observed that when a companion was allowed in the room, the volunteer could endure the cold twice as long as those who suffered alone. “The presence of another caring person doubles the amount of pain person can endure,” the researchers concluded. All too often our pain-denying, death-denying culture does just the opposite: we put suffering people in hospitals and nursing homes, isolating them from normal human contact. Two out of three people die in such institutions, often alone. Every survey shows that a person who is connected with a caring community heals faster and better. Known “enemies of recovery” such as stress, guilt, anger, anxiety, and loneliness are best defeated by a compassionate community.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to respond to the human predicament not by waving a magic wand to make evil and suffering disappear but by absorbing it in person. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” wrote John in the prologue to his Gospel. In the face of suffering, words do not suffice. We need something more: the Word made flesh, actual living proof that God has not abandoned us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Only a suffering God can help.”

Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates the verse in John as “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” What kind of neighborhood to Jesus move into? To answer that question requires a brief history lesson. A succession of great empires tramp through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Syrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. When Alexander died, a series of successors carved up his territory, the most infamous being Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the Jews iconic villain until Hitler.

Frustrated by military defeats elsewhere, Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts, he sacrifice and unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary.

Antiochus’s actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt led by the Maccabean’s, a triumph commemorated in the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod their "King of the Jews." After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels’ stirring chorus of “Glory to God... and on earth peace.”

This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future.

“When God seems absent, sometimes it’s up to us to show his presence,” he told me. Often the world only knows the truth of Immanuel, “God with us,” because of his followers.

“People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis then they did at any other time.” We discover the value of suffering only by suffering – – not as part of God’s original or ultimate plan for us, but as a redemptive transformation takes place in the midst of trial.

“This is not the worst thing to ever happen! Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, eat away peace, destroy confidence, kill friendship, shut out memories, silence courage, quench the Spirit or lessen in the power of Jesus.” ~Margaret, a Scottish woman suffering with throat cancer

"Affliction is the best book in my library," said Martin Luther. … pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. We are concerned with how things turn out; God seems more concerned with how we turn out.

“You can protest against the evil in the world only if you believe in a Good God," Volf also said. “Otherwise the protest doesn’t make sense.”

“I believe that God can and will generate good out of everything, even out of the worst evil. For that, he needs people who allow that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.

I believe that God will give us each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on Him alone. Through such faith all anxiety concerning the future should be overcome.

I believe that even our mistakes and failings are not in vain, and that it is not more difficult for God to cope with these as with our assumed good deeds.

I believe that God is not a timeless fate, but that he waits for and responds to honest prayers and responsible action." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Death, said Bonhoeffer, is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.

… that the issue is not whether I agree with someone but rather how I treat someone with whom I profoundly disagree. We Christians are called to use the “weapons of grace,” which means treating even our opponents with love and respect.

I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace. Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.

God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst. ~Henri Nouwen

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