Why does suffering happen? This is the age old question. Why do good people suffer? We all heard stories this week out of Texas, stories of lives lost. Alyssa Ramirez, 18 was the homecoming queen and student council President. She was on her way home from the prom when her car was swept away by the waters. Now her family must pick up the pieces of their lives after her death. I am sure they are asking “why?” Why did our daughter have to die at such a young age? Why are we left behind to grieve? It’s not fair. When these things happen, we wonder “How can God let these things happen?”
Laura McComb and her daughter are missing from their home in Wimberley TX after the home was knocked off its foundation. Her husband is in the hospital with severe injuries. Their son was found dead a couple of days later. How must that husband and father feel? Waiting for word on his wife and daughter? We live in a world where disasters happen every day. And we wonder, “How can God let these things happen?”
Why are some children born into wealth and others into poverty? Why are some born into loving homes and others born into abuse? We have no good answers. Yes, there are some systems that create poverty. There are some political forces at could lift people out of poverty and they fail. We have systems in place to try to protect children from abuse, but sometimes they fail. Everyday good people try to make a positive difference. And yet bad things still happen, and we wonder, “How can God let these bad things happen?”
Our scripture for today is one of those Old Testament stories about suffering where God seems to be the cause of the suffering. I have mentioned before in recent messages that the Jewish people were taken to live in exile in Babylon. It appears from scripture that God allowed this suffering to happen as a punishment. The people were practicing idolatry and they were disobedient to God, and so God allowed the Babylonians to take over the Jews. They were taken to live in exile in Babylon. We don’t like to think about God as a punishing God but that is the God we sometimes see in the Old Testament.
So we find Jeremiah, the Prophet, writes a letter to the people who are living in exile. He is trying to encourage them, to be their pastor. He tells them to make the best of it while they are living in exile. Because the exile won’t last forever. He says:
“Build houses and make yourselves at home.
“Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.
6 “Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.”
He basically tells them, “Even though you are living far away from home, make the best of it, and continue to receive the blessings of home, food, and children.”
Then he tells them, that their exile will last 70 years, a whole generation, but then he gives them a word of hope. This is the high point of letter. He says to them, “God has a message for you, and this is the message:
“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
You see, God can’t stay angry with them forever. God promises to bring them back home. God has plans for them, plans to care for them. God will not abandon them. God has a future for them, a future they’ve hope for.
I believe this is the message God has for us when we are suffering. God promises to show up. Our suffering cannot last and God has better things planned for us.
Now, let me be clear. I do not believe God causes our suffering in order to teach us a lesson, did you hear me? That is bad theology. I do not think God sends floods to teach us a lesson. I don’t think God makes some people poor to teach them to be strong. I don’t think God causes some people to be abused so they will learn from their abuse.
I think bad things just happen. Suffering just happens. Sometimes because of nature. Sometimes suffering happens because other people sin. Sometimes it just happens by accident. Suffering happens. I don’t believe God causes suffering.
But when suffering happens, we have to decide how to deal with it. And Jeremiah gives us a word of hope from God when we are suffering. God has a better plan in mind for us. God wants what is good for us. God wants us to live out our hopes and dreams. That is God’s desire. It is NEVER God’s desire that we suffer. That is not God’s nature. God wants us to have abundant life.
That does not mean we won’t suffer, but when we do, that is a time to look for something good, and to watch for the other side of suffering.
What do you do when you are suffering? Jeremiah invites us to lean into God. To put our trust in God. I believe God suffers with us when we are suffering. I am sure God is suffering with those who are grieving for lost loved ones in Texas this week. They need time to mourn. There is a time to die and a time to be born as the writer of Ecclesiastes said. But there is also a time to plant and to dream. Once the mourning has passed it is time to live. It is time to live life to the fullest and to give our lives to God.
Jeremiah reminds us that when our suffering has passed, God has plans for us. Do you know God’s plans for you? Plans to give you the future that you hope for? What is that future you hope for?
I believe God has a plan for you, and it is connected to your deepest hopes and dreams. But we have to discover that plan. That path to discovery is what we call discernment.
Discernment is when we listen to God in prayer. Do you want to know God’s plan for you? Then we all need to be in relationship with God. This is not a passive thing. We can’t just sit around doing nothing, and expecting God’s plan for us to unfold. We need to be active partners in this relationship.
For example, if God has a plan for you to have a new career, to be a teacher, perhaps, then you have pay attention to that plan, and get an education and do the preparation to be a teacher. You can’t just wake up one day and “poof” you are a teacher.
If God has a plan for you to have a life partner, because you long to have someone with whom to share your life, then you have to be out there meeting people and looking for that life partner. You can sit at home and expect that the person will just appear from thin air. We have to work with God.
Do you want to know God’s plan for your life? Have you asked God? Have you spent time in prayer? In quiet time? Really listening? Have you asked God to show you a direction?
Now, sometimes we pray to God and we get a clear answer. We ask for direction and we get it. But sometimes we pray and we get that answer that I hate: “wait, not now. Be patient” God may have plans for us, but God may not be ready to put those plans into action yet. It just may not be time. In God’s time, the plan will be revealed and put into action. We are called to be patient. But the plan is there, nonetheless.
I believe the message of this scripture is clear. God has plans for us. That is our comfort. When you are suffering, and you feel like your life has no direction, take heart. God has a direction in mind. God has a plan. God wants you to live with joy and with direction. That is the message of this scripture. God has plans for your life, plans to give you the future you hope for.