Summary: Do our struggles and suffering have a reason or a purpose? God can use our struggles and suffering to bring Him glory. But we must make our struggles all about God, and not about us.
A. As I meditated on suffering and struggles this week, these ideas came forth in my mind:
Suffering is paradoxical.
Suffering is bad and good.
Suffering is painful and helpful.
Suffering is confusing and enlightening.
Suffering isolates and builds community.
Suffering may lead to death or to life.
Suffering is no joke, but can spawn joy.
B. Martin and Gracia Burnham married with mission work in their hearts.
1. For 17 years they served God in the Philippines.
a. With 3 children born on the mission field and valuable skills in the ministry’s aviation program, they were acclimated and essential to the mission.
b. Martin was single-minded, and Gracia was gracious and supportive.
2. Then why didn’t God block the bullets?
a. Why did God allow Gracia to be shot and allow Martin to die?
3. On May 27, 2001, while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a beachside resort, Martin and Gracia were taken hostage by a militant terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden.
a. The captors chained the couple to guards, marched them through the jungles, and rationed their food.
b. For more than a year, they endured 17 firefights and were either running for their lives or were bored to death.
c. Their health deteriorated, but their faith remained sturdy.
d. Martin said to his wife, “We might not leave this jungle alive, but at least we can leave this world serving the Lord with gladness.”
4. A premonition led Martin to write a farewell letter to his children, and the premonition proved accurate.
a. On June 7, 2002, the 17th and final gun battle the Burnhams would experience began.
b. Philippine Rangers attacked the terrorist camp and Martin and Gracia were caught in the cross-fire.
c. When the guns were silenced, Gracia was freed, but Martin had been killed.
d. One bullet had entered her leg, and another took his life.
e. Gracia was left a widow, and we are left to wonder why.
C. How do we understand and explain such a tragedy and such suffering?
1. And as we are thinking of theirs, many of us wonder how do we explain ours?
2. There is so much struggle and suffering around us that we find hard to understand.
3. Conflicts in the world and conflicts in our homes.
4. So many demands at work or so little work opportunity.
5. The pile of bills on our desks or the diseases in our bodies.
6. We haven’t been taken hostage, but we are suffering and we wonder why God isn’t doing something or why He is so silent.
7. God knows and sees what we are facing, yet how do we understand it and explain it?
D. Some people look at all the struggles and suffering of life and conclude there is no God.
1. This certainly gets God off the hook, but is not an especially encouraging conclusion.
2. If there is no God, then there is no real rhyme or reason for life or for suffering.
3. If you or I have a soft landing and end up with a trouble free and prosperous life, then we have hit it big on the wheel of fortune – we’re lucky.
4. But if, on the other hand, our life is filled with struggle and suffering, then we just got unlucky!
5. If there is no God, then not only is there no divine reason, there is also no divine assistance, we are on our own and are without help or hope.
E. Many people don’t choose the “there is no God” approach to life, but rather think that when it comes to suffering and struggles that God has either messed up or is powerless to do something about it.
1. Maybe God doesn’t like the suffering He sees, but He lacks the power to change things.
2. Or maybe cancer cells crept into your body when God wasn’t looking.
3. Or maybe God was so occupied with the tornado in Kansas that He forgot about the famine in Uganda.
4. Is that the kind of God you imagine or believe in?
a. Is your God a bumbling Creator or an absent-minded Maker?
b. Does Scripture support such a view of God?
c. Does the creation around us offer that kind of evidence about God?
5. Isaiah declares this about God: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding. (Isaiah 40:28)
6. With this in mind shouldn’t we conclude that the Maker of heaven and earth can keep our travels safe and our bodies healthy?
a. Of course He can, then why doesn’t He?
F. Some people believe that God can, but doesn’t, because He is mad at us and is punishing us.