Suffering & Hope

ImageIt’s an age-old question – “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

As you know from the headlines… suffering is real in our world.

–      Boston Marathon bombing

–      Poisonous letters sent to the President

–      N. Korea nuclear threats

–      Stabbings on college campuses

–      Fertilizer explosion in West, TX…        

This hits home as some of us know runners who were involved in the Boston, and my niece attends Baylor University, in Waco TX, about 20 miles south of the explosion in West, TX. The university is donating blood and clothing to victims this week.

–      How many people have to suffer?

Many people have asked me, “Why do these bad things happen to people?”

How would you respond?

Where is the hope today?

Why is our “fear” increasing?

Where is God in all this trouble?

How does one respond to these events if there is no god, or if they don’t have hope to hang onto?

Hudson Taylor (Missionary to China, 1900) said, “You can trust the LORD too little, but you can never trust Him too much.”

Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way? Proverbs 20:24

Stop and think for a moment about the word sovereignty. There’s a small word nestled in the heart of it, the word reign: sov-reign-ty. 

Sovereignty means our all-wise, all-knowing God reigns in realms beyond our comprehension to bring about a plan beyond our ability to alter, hinder, or stop. 

Let me go further. His plan includes all promotions and demotions. His plan can mean both adversity & prosperity, tragedy & calamity, ecstasy & joy. 

His plan is at work when we cannot imagine why it seems so unpleasant, as much as when the reason is clear and pleasant. His sovereignty, though it is mysterious, has dominion over all issues, all heartaches, all helpless moments. 

Even when we cannot explain the reasons, God understands the situation. 

And when we cannot see the end, God is already there… at the end, nodding, “Yes, that is My plan.” 

Let’s look to the bible, in the book of Mark, to see how Jesus relates to our suffering…

Previously, Jesus experienced the Lord’s Supper with his followers and warned them not to fall away.

Now we move into the Garden of Gethsemane scene, where Jesus prays to have the situation change, the disciples with Jesus fall asleep (not once, but 3 times) and Judas comes to betray Jesus with a kiss of affection. 

I’ve often wondered why this author Mark, has such a gloomy description of Jesus’ arrest. Don’t most Americans believe in the “meek & mild”, warm & fuzzy Jesus, who loves children and wouldn’t hurt a flea?  Sadly, yes.

Here at Crossroads, we like to be real about who Jesus is, what our needs are and how Jesus relates to our real-lives.

3 words in this passage of the bible in Mark, stick out to me as Jesus relates to our suffering:

  1. “Abba” (Mark 14:36) – Jesus talks to God like a boy talks to daddy

As Jesus prays in Gethsemane, we are granted one of the most moving insights into the intimacy of His relationship with the one who sent Him. All three other gospels record that in His darkest hour, Jesus addressed His prayers to the “Father.”

         However, Mark’s Gospel reveals that Jesus used the same word to address His Father as the child crying on the playground, the intimate Aramaic word, “Abba”. Mark uses the original language, moving away from Greek for the moment, to drive home the point about Jesus’ intimacy with God.

         This is the only time in the entire Bible where Jesus addresses Yahweh as “Abba”, and he is doing it at the time of His gravest vulnerability. It might have been the very first word on Jesus lips as a child – the first word spoken by the incarnate God – and now it would also be one of Jesus’ last words, “Abba”. 

         When life hurts, like we’ve seen this past week, it becomes more important than ever to cry out to God like that child on the swing, remembering that He is first and foremost, Abba, Father.

         If the word “father” is full of positive human associations in your life, then by all means bundle them together, double their meaning, and apply them to the Creator God… “daddy”.

         But if, on the other hand, you had no dad, or he is absent, abusive or cold, then you, perhaps like Jesus who had no biological human father, can reserve for God alone the wonderful name “Abba”, Father. 

2. “Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36) – Jesus begs for another option 

What kind of prayers do you pray? How “real” do you get with God?

Are your prayers just nursery rhyme – comfort sayings? Or do you let God know your real needs? 

The depth of our prayers directly correlate to how much we trust God to “take it” from us. Do you hold back, or do you think God can really handle it?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was utterly honest about His fear. He knew that His mission was to “suffer many things” (Luke 9:22), but he still asked God to take the cup of suffering away from Him. This is not the kind of thing that messiahs are supposed to pray. In fact, it’s a prayer that runs counter to God’s revealed purposes. But in this heart-rending request, we are assured that it’s okay to grieve, to cry, to plead with God and to wonder why.

         In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s affirmed as something that expresses His heart. God accepts our honesty. But as we’ve seen, when life gets tough it’s easy to forget who God is. It’s even easier to pretend to be something or someone we’re not.

 God doesn’t like pretending – God allows pain & suffering for some reason. Maybe we’ll never know why He allows such suffering and pain, but we can know for sure, that God doesn’t like when we pretend that “everything is okay” when it’s not. He doesn’t like to play church, play at marriage, play at prayer, play at the “doll-house” life. We know this b/c Jesus didn’t pretend that he was “John Wayne” in the Garden of Gethsemane and just “take it on the chin.” No – Jesus cried out at the top of his lungs, with bloodstained sweat, “TAKE THIS CUP FROM ME.”…

What is your cry?

It’s important to be real with God. Look at Peter: He sleeps when Jesus needs him most, he cuts off a guy’s ear, he gets scared and denies being a disciple, he’s nowhere to be seen at the crucifixion, and he doesn’t believe the women when they say they’ve seen the risen Lord.

         This is the great apostle of the Christian Church; Peter, depicted in a thousand stained-glass windows; Peter, author of entire chunks of the Bible; Peter, who walked on water and first called Jesus the Son of God; Peter, from whom the Roman Catholic Church proudly traces the papal succession. In telling Mark these stories for inclusion in his Gospel, Peter refuses to play the superhero and made it okay for you and me to handle our Gethsemane poorly too. He permits us to struggle and fail and get it wrong, over and over again.

Get real with God, it’s not going to hurt you.

3. “Yet, not what I will, but your will” (Mark 14:36) – Jesus gives into love

 To choose God’s will over one’s own personal preferences, is, according to scripture, the defining of human opportunity. The first Adam, way back in the original garden, passively gave into his own will, over the will of God the father. Down through the course of history, we have each sown and reaped the consequences of that first poor decision, ages ago.

         Now in the Garden of Gethsemane we find the NEW ADAM, Jesus, make another choice that will reverse the one made at the dawn of human history. Every human instinct of survival cries out against what Jesus knows He must do; every rational argument insists on self-preservation

Have you ever been there?

And subtler voices, too; the promise that a single submission of His will, Jesus would become a sin offering, and even more terrifying prospect – separation from God Himself. No wonder Jesus cries, “Father, take this cup from me.” I’m sure there were tears in the Father’s eyes as well.

“Yet”… that single word from Jesus halted the work of evil for a moment. The Father is listening, “Yet, not my will” says Jesus, “but your will be done.”

The way to subvert the power of evil and darkness in this fear-torn world, the way to re-assemble the bomb’s blast in Boston, the death in TX, the fear of more gunshots in schools… is for us as believers in Jesus’ Christ, one by one, to submit our will to the Father and say, “yet, not my will, but your will be done.”

Why do bad things happen to good people?  We may never know for sure.

But one thing I know, we are called as Christ-followers, to bring hope to the pain, joy to the sorrow, love to the broken and healing for the hurting by submitting our will to God’s will… “Not what I want, God, but what you want.”


There is hope in the world because of what Jesus went through, because of his suffering, because of Jesus’ trials. If Jesus didn’t go through the garden, the denial, the betrayal, the arrest, the “rigged” trial with the religious leaders… if none of this would have happened the way it did, God would not identify with our suffering, loss, sudden attacks of pain.

Listen to this story of hope…

Boston Marathon: “Medals for everyone who ran that day”.

Touched by the spontaneous generosity of a stranger in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings., a 25-year-old runner from Cambridge, Mass., turned to Facebook to find her Good Samaritan.

The marathon rules insist only race finishers may collect a race medal, and Laura Wellington was half a mile from the finish line when the two bombs went off Monday and the race was abruptly halted.

A passing stranger — a marathon participant himself, as it turned out — saw her sitting on the curb in tears and gave her his medal.

On Tuesday, curious to know who the kindly man was, Wellington put her story of Facebook. “I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time,” she wrote, adding she had “slim” hope of finding him. “This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be OK.”

Her Facebook posting quickly went viral (nearly a quarter of a million “likes” by Wednesday evening) and a few hours later she had a name: Brent Cunningham.

Cunningham, 46, a native of faraway Sitka, Alaska, population 9,000, had just arrived in Anchorage for a business meeting late Tuesday when he learned Wellington was looking for him. By Wednesday, they had contacted each other on Facebook but had not yet had a chance to talk by phone.

“This is the craziest story,” he told the Star by telephone. “I never thought we’d connect again. Why would we? How would we?”

Cunningham was running in the Boston Marathon on Monday and had crossed the finish line about half an hour before the deadly explosions. He got his medal and was making his way back to their hotel with his wife Karin and their 17-year-old daughter Megan when they came across a young woman sobbing. She had a race number but no medal.

The woman — they never learned her name — told them she panicked when she heard of the explosions, knowing her family was at the finish line waiting for her. But she had only now made contact with them and learned they were safe. She was so overjoyed she sat down and dissolved into tears.

It was cold and windy, and Karin placed a blanket around Wellington for comfort. Cunningham asked if she had finished the race. She said no.

“Then I just knew what I had to do,” he said.

Cunningham took off his medal and slipped it around her neck. Wellington burst into tears, as did his wife.

“I just wanted to let her know she was amazing. I said, ‘You’re a finisher in my eyes.’ That was that,” Cunningham said. “She was so emotional she couldn’t talk. And I’ve been emotional about it at least five times since then.”

Cunningham, regional director of Alaska Young Life, a Christian outreach ministry for teens, said this was his first Boston Marathon and possibly his last chance for the coveted medal.

He had dreamed for years of running the race, and it took him about two years to qualify. Even then, he qualified by only 90 seconds. However, his time on Monday of three hours, 41 minutes was too slow to qualify for a spot in next year’s race.

He said he hopes to qualify again “some day” but has no regrets about giving Wellington his medal.

“She needed it more than I needed it. I just wanted her to know that ‘you’re worth it.’ With everything that has happened, our world is looking for hope. My whole life is about loving God and loving others. That’s who I am.”

She has not offered to give the medal back, and he said that in any case he wouldn’t accept it.

Carol Hughey, an office administrator for Sikta Young Life who has worked with Cunningham for 12 years, said she is not surprised by his gesture.

“He’s just a sweetheart,” Hughey said. “He is a man who would literally give you the shirt off his back”.

Published by Reid Olson

I was a pastor who still knows a personal connection with God and I like to share thoughts and insights to make God's Kingdom a little more tangibly, while sharing conversations on leadership insights. Now I'm a funeral director, still seeking to share about Jesus.

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