Hospitals are sometimes cheerless places. People learn news that alters their lives forever. Sometimes for some people hospitals become safe zones where they feel safe. For others they are restrictive places where personal freedoms are severely curtailed. For others still they are almost second homes. For Claire, who had been in the hospital 11 times in 8 years and who had finally agreed to have her leg amputated in order to cut back on her hospital visits and life threatening events from severe infections there were mixed emotions on her 12th visit. Claire knew all the warning signs and could tell when she’d be a patient in a local hospital again, but this time came as a surprise.
Because it was a surprise Claire was angry and resentful. She was also depressed. Meg, one of the hospital Chaplains came to talk to Claire. Claire, who takes her faith seriously, welcomed the opportunity. Claire was again facing a potentially life threatening situation and after several episodes of these situations she was faith weary. She was angry that she was hospitalized again. Her heart kept rejecting the news. She’d scarified a leg to help insure episodes like this didn’t happen again. What else would be required of her? She had a lot of questions. She hoped the Chaplain would have some answers.
Meg was very kind, and she wanted to know Claire’s medical past. So as simple and short as she could make it Claire condensed things to a nutshell and her pain, and that of her family were uncovered. Claire admitted she was struggling with the purpose behind God choosing to allow this episode that threatened her life. She admitted she couldn’t help wondering how much sacrifice God would require of her family and herself.
The Chaplain mused aloud, “You say you know God doesn’t cause you to suffer but that He does allow it and you believe He does so for a purpose. Perhaps a purpose you can’t understand this side of Heaven but a purpose, nonetheless. Correct?”
Claire nodded in agreement. Meg continued, “So I wonder what if instead of believing God has a purpose in your suffering you consider instead that gunk happens in all our lives and Jesus helps us through it. So maybe there is no purpose in your suffering, maybe it’s just Jesus helping you through the gunk. Maybe if you shifted to thinking of your suffering as not having a purpose it would be easier to accept, it’s just something that happens.”
Meg prayed with Claire and her husband and during the long hours in the hospital Claire thought about the Chaplain’s words. Claire had a lot of time to think when confined to a bed in the intensive care unit. On one hand thinking that all the trials and tribulations and sufferings of the last eight years were simply “gunk” getting thrown at her and Jesus was helping her get through it seemed wrong. Yes, Jesus was helping her through the gunk, but no that it was without purpose.
Job came to mind. Job was allowed to have his belief in God to be tested by Satan to prove his faith would hold up to the challenge. And in his suffering he said, “But those who suffer he delivers to their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (Job 36:15 N.IV.) God communicated to Job during Job’s suffering and used the suffering of Job to show His glory and His might. So, yes, Job’s suffering (physical, loss of children, loss all he owned, and the loss of the respect of his friends) had a purpose. God proved Satan wrong. God proved He was faithful to the one who loved Him with all their heart and soul.
Still Claire wondered, since she was no Job, what purpose could God have in her suffering? She often cringed when people referred to her as an inspiration or called her courageous. She didn’t want the pressure that came from those labels. So she dug deeper into scripture, who was right? Meg’s belief that all of what Claire had gone through was simply life’s gunk Jesus helped her through or Claire’s belief God had a purpose for all of it; a reason for her suffering and her families suffering which was right? Peter, she found, had something to say about the subject.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” I Peter 1:3-9
There were comfort in Peter’s words for Claire, there was assurance. If the only reason for the sometimes ceaseless pain, the repeated life threatening events, the suffering was to refine their faith then it was worth it. That was purpose enough. James too had words of assurance for Claire to read.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Lastly Claire ended her search with words from Paul. Paul who surely suffered persecution for the deliverance of the Gospel but who also knew physical suffering from some “thorn in his side” from which he prayed for deliverance and did not receive it. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. ” Romans 5:3-5
The Chaplain was right that “life is messy” and sometimes “gunk” does just get thrown our way and as believers in Christ He does help us through those messy, gunky times. But Claire knew she was right too and for her it confirmed a foundation of her faith in God. God allows things in our lives that are messy and painful “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
Claire realized that God doesn’t call us to go through hard times for no reason. Sometimes we bring upon ourselves a consequence from our sin that is painful. Sometimes other people act and the consequences from their actions (sins) cause us pain. Yes, sometimes life just gets all gunked up. But God does allow suffering in our lives for a purpose. Maybe to strengthen our own faith or someone else’s; maybe it is to build our character or to teach us perseverance or maybe we won’t know the reason until we are in Heaven and somehow then, Claire doesn’t think it will matter then at all.
However, for now, Claire knows to think that her suffering is just life’s gunk Jesus gets her through diminishes her hope. So with all due respect to Meg, Claire will continue to believe God has a purpose for all things in her life, even the suffering.