Some time ago I read of a woman and her daughter walking through an airport, hustling to make a plane connection. The little girl’s face was covered with a mask, which allowed her to see out through it, but was protecting her from everything else. It did not take much observation to discern that this little girl had been a burn victim. The long sleeves and long pants, as well as the mask, were all the telltale signs of serious injury.
What this girl needed the most was to heal and recover. The author of the story was able to interview this woman and discovered they were on their way to visit a renowned physician who would be able to help her with that recovery. She had found a physician who would help her — if she would let him.
You know, in one sense we are all burn victims. There is not a person reading this article who has not, at one point in time, suffered some intense infliction of pain. There is no one who has never “been burned” somehow or in some way. Oh, it may not have been a physical burning, like the little girl in the airport. But we have all suffered some intense and very painful experiences in our lives, and the questions that arise from these burns are very familiar: “Why? Why me? How will I ever get through this?”
The whole book of Hebrews was written to people who were asking questions just like those and more. And repeatedly, God answered them with the same words: “Trust me. Trust Christ. Without faith it is impossible…”
In past sessions here, we have seen that through faith God delivers His people through miracles as well as through various acts of providence. But, even knowing this the question becomes, “When? How much longer will I have to suffer?”
In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: “The Good Book says, ‘God will provide.’ My only question is who will provide intil God provides!” Of course, the real question for each of us is: How will I make it through until He provides relief from the pain and suffering that I am facing?’ In Hebrews 11, the Bible’s Hall of Fame, we have also seen that through faith, God sustains His people in and through their time of suffering. He allows suffering into our lives for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). And He will see us through it all. All He asks of us is to trust Him, to live our lives dependent upon Him, believing that his plan for us is ultimately better than anything we could ever arrange.
But that then leads me to ask another question related to this whole subject: If I have faith, why am I still suffering? The answer to that question is one word, simply God! You see, the message underlying the testimony of all these heroes of the faith (in Hebrews 11) is that God (and God alone) decided whether you will suffer or whether you will escape suffering. Having faith is not the ultimate determining factor in whether you suffer or escape. God is! God’s sovereign will and wisdom, and yes, God’s love. And believe it or not, there is a reason why God allows the suffering to come into our lives. We may not be able to totally understand the whys, but one thing we do understand is that Romans 8:28 is still true: “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
To me, this is immensely comforting. It is a great relief to know that there is a higher explanation for my pain or my pleasure than whether I have enough faith. Would it not be horrible to have to believe that on top of all your suffering you had to add this: it must be because I lack faith? No matter where we are, it is not helpful to us to assume that the amount of my faith in living determines whether I live or die.
I cannot look into the face of the dying and say or imply, in all good conscience and in loving loyalty to the Word of God, “If you had faith, you would live.” Rather, I will say, “Trust in God, because whether you live by faith or die by faith God will take care of those who trust in him. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And ultimately, it is God, and not we, who decides when and how we die. He has his purposes. They are hidden from us. And faith means we believe they are good.
That same message, in one sense, is the message of the Christmas season. In Isaiah 61:1, we read that the Lord sent the Messiah Jesus “to bring good news to the afflicted… [and] to bind up the brokenhearted.” His purposes are to heal the injuries of every burn victim who ever lived on the face of the earth. That means you, and that means me. And that, my friend, is the comforting message of the Christmas season. So the next time you get burned, don’t just cover it with salve, turn to the Savior.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He may be reached at [email protected].