This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Ghassan Khalaf (from Lebanon. Amidst bombings and destruction, Brother Khalaf faithfully visited victims of war to encourage them in their faith), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 11-14)
It was one of the darkest periods of war in Lebanon. Beirut was like an open hell. Gun shells were showering over a vast area for several days. Many people were killed.
After the fighting stopped, I went to visit a young lady to bring her my sympathy. She had lost her husband in the final skirmish and was left with three little children. She was weeping and grieving--friends were trying to comfort her. When she noticed me, she shouted: 'I don't believe in God, don't speak to me about Him. He does not care for us. He let us die. He is just watching us.'
A wave of compassion came over my soul. Thousands of people in my country say the same words. After she calmed down, I said: 'Dear lady, what you have said about God would have been all true, if He had not become flesh and died on the cross to redeem us and to prove that He does care. God in Christ was involved in our situation and because He has passed through suffering, He is able to help those who suffer. Do you believe that?'
A moment of introspection: Frustrated in her prayers, a young Lebanese Christian concluded that God didn't care about her or her loved ones. Perhaps she had boldly prayed in the midst of growing peril, trusting in the promise of Psalm 50:15 ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will praise me.’ And yet, God hadn't delivered her or other Christians. Peril became injury and wounds; injury and wounds led to death; death elicited disbelief in God's caring. Yet God did care, and the introduction to the book of Hebrews (ESV) notes that "The letter to the Hebrews was written to encourage Christians in a time of trial. It does so by focusing on the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ." Hebrews 2:10 says "For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering." 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 exhorts "If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." The verses that follow perhaps at points, describe the experiences the young Christian woman had faced in Lebanon. Yet the apostle Paul wrote the church in Rome, saying "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18)
Neither Jesus nor we would judge this young woman, who had experienced the horror of the world's hatred. We would weep for and with her. Yet, Jesus might say to this woman, and to us, "Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20) He would perhaps continue by identifying with her, and telling her that He, too, was hated "without a cause." (John 15:25b) He may also remind her "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) God's answers to prayers may not come when we want them to, in the manner that we wish it to, or in the form that we ask. But it is important to remember that God does care; He answers prayer. Speaking about His disciples, in a prayer to His Father, Jesus reported "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." (John 17:14-15). In her grief, having lost her husband and being left to raise a family of three children with no foreseeable income to help them meet their needs, the young Lebanese woman expressed her frustration and anger--but misdirected it toward God. Her words might be our own, yet we know that Jesus has warned us that we also live in a world that hates us. Ghassan brought balm for her aching heart, and his words left a changed person: 'Dear lady, what you have said about God would have been all true, if He had not become flesh and died on the cross to redeem us and to prove that He does care. God in Christ was involved in our situation and because He has passed through suffering, He is able to help those who suffer. Do you believe that?' She nodded.
We know that God answers prayer; His answer may be "no", or He may redirect us with, "but you need this other..." May God find us faithful, saying "I must tell Jesus all of my trials; I cannot bear these burdens alone." He has said He welcomes prayer; the Psalmist says "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live." (Psalm 116:1-2) God inclines His ear to hear our voices and our pleas for mercy. If tempted to deny God's care for our plight, perhaps we might also say, with the father of an afflicted child, "I believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24b) Again, Ghassan's affirmation teaches that God became flesh and died on the cross to redeem us and to prove that He does care. If we focus on the troubles, the pain, the grief, and do not keep our eyes and our minds on Jesus, we may find ourselves overwhelmed and fail to see God's hand at work. In many ways, we are like our Lebanese sister, focusing on the pain of life's hurting. Like her, in each of our lives, we need the Savior; we need the "Abba Father" (Romans 8:15-17) that comes from the Holy Spirit, and reminds us of the suffering for Christ's sake that is a favor in our lives. We serve a God who cares; we serve a God with our willing praise, with our unfettered thankfulness, with our peace, which the world cannot understand.