Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Using Past Blessings to Overcome Present Sufferings

What if we felt like we never “tasted” the goodness of God? What if all we know in life is complete suffering and abject depravity? How do we respond when all we can’t see any good in life?

In the movie, the Grey, the main character, John Ottway, played by Liam Neeson, has endured trial after trial. After we are told that his wife has left him, and that he has even tried to commit suicide, the plane he is traveling on in the arctic crashes into the tundra. Throughout the movie, all of the rest of those who had survived the plane crash die by various causes: starvation, drowning, hypothermia, or at the jaws of a pack of wild wolves. At the climax of the movie, Ottway sits alone in the wilderness, pleading for God to show him a sign---anything to prove that God is real, that God cares about him, and that God will save him from this predicament. Following a few moments of silence, Ottway states matter-of-factly, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

As the title of the movie suggests, Ottway could not see the brightness of the blessings of God anywhere. Everything about this particular movie is colored by a grey despondency. For so many of us, the accumulation of a seemingly unending line of personal sufferings, events without any readily apparent redeeming values, beats one’s attitude into despondency. As a result, we feel like we have no hope for help from Heaven, and that we must, like Ottway, “do it ourselves.”

In contrast to Ottway’s mentality in suffering is the example of King David. While King David experienced numerous and multiple different types of sufferings, he did not live in “the grey” of a Godless despondency. Even in his most difficult days, he trusted in a good and sovereign (all-powerful) God who He knew was using David’s sufferings for greater purposes.

In Psalm 63, David writes, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, As in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because you steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Psalm 63:1-3.

The difference between David and Ottway was not that David endured less significant trials. What kept David’s faith alive through difficult days was a reflection upon all that God had done for him in the past and to trust that God would similarly use the present sufferings for his ultimate good. David saw the past blessings provided to him as a demonstration that God loved him. This promise was, in itself, more precious to David than even his own earthly life. David’s reflections upon certain past blessings (his time “in the sanctuary”) keep him going through difficult days. For us, it can be the memory of past experiences, when we are walking along the mountaintops of life, in the sunshine with God, that could maintain our faith in a good and sovereign God even through the dark valleys of life. If we were to continually remind ourselves of these past experiences of God in our life, resulting in blessings to us both large and small, then we should be able to keep praises of God “continually on our mouths.” (Psalm 34:1). Then, when nothing seems to be going right in life, we can bring these blessings to mind, and use them as footholds of faith when we otherwise can’t see the benefits of suffering.

Both of Ottway and King David have, like many of us, experienced forms of suffering that, at the time, appeared to have no redeeming value. The key question for us is whether we will respond by succumbing to the “do it yourself” mentality of fighting through suffering without God (i.e., “in the grey,” ) or using past blessings from God as evidence that God is loving and powerful, and in so doing, living in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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