Do You Not Care?

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:37-38)

Jesus-sleeping-in-boat-at-peace-in-storm-500x348Do you not care? You can hear the desperation and accusation in the words of the disciples. Don’t you care about us, Lord? You can heal the sick and lame and cast out demons for others. Don’t you care that we, your disciples, are dying?

It’s the same question that Job is asking throughout the book of Job. Don’t you care about me, God? Why is this happening to me?

Job lost his property, his children, his health and wealth. All of it was gone. His friends were no help. They insisted that Job must have done something wrong that God was punishing him for. But Job cried out, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me…the terrors of God are arrayed against me…make me understand how I have gone astray.” Later he says to God, “Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”

In other words, do you not care, God, what is happening to me? Where are you? Like the disciples, Job feels that God is absent, that he is sleeping on the job. He, too, was drowning in a sea of despair and grief and pain. Do you not care, God?job 3 friends

It’s the same question that you and I often ask in the midst of our pain and struggles. Do you not care about me?

Do you not care that I am drowning in debt with no conceivable way out? Do you not care that my spouse and I are unable to have children even though that is one of our greatest desires? Do you not care that my loved one is dying? Do you not care that I have lost everything that is most important to me? Do you not care that my addiction is controlling and ruining my life? Do you not care that my children have strayed far away from you and from the way that they were brought up?

And if we lift up our eyes from our own situations and struggles and turn them toward the world around us, the questions would go on. Don’t you care, Lord, about those poor people in Nepal who have been devastated by earthquakes? Do you not care about the lives and homes ruined by the rising waters and floods across this country? Do you not care about your own people, who were gathered together in your church, praying to you, who were gunned down by a madman in South Carolina?

The list could go on and on. But the question remains the same. Where are you, God? My life is falling apart, and I can’t seem to make you wake up and take notice.person crying

And unlike the disciples, it’s not like Jesus is physically sleeping right next to us, and all we have to do is shout at him to wake up and take notice of what’s going on. Oh, you can shout alright, but is anybody going to hear you? How do you know? We just want a sign, Lord, that you care about what is going on in this messed up, broken world, that you care about the storms and struggles of my life. We want God to break the silence like he did for Job. We want Jesus to stand up in our midst and command the storms in our lives to stop. “Peace! Be still!” Those are the words we want to hear.

Does God give us such a sign of his presence and love?

This last March, at the Ohio District Jr. High Youth Gathering, one of the special speakers was a man named Joe Boway. Joe Boway is a native Liberian. Liberia is a small country on the west side of Africa. Joe moved to Ft. Wayne in the 90’s before his home country was plunged into a terrible and brutal civil war. The Liberian Civil War took place from 1999-2003 when rebels went on the attack against the Liberian government, highlighted by an assault on the capitol city of Monrovia.liberia in africa

What made the Liberian Civil War especially sickening was the fact that no other conflict in the last 100 years made more use of child soldiers. Young children were ripped away from their families. Guns were thrust into their hands, and they were sent to the front line to fight a battle started by power-hungry adults. If that weren’t bad enough, the Liberian Civil War also featured leaders on both sides who employed human sacrifice and ritualistic killing in the belief that their gods would bless them in their fight.

One could easily point to the civil war in Liberia and ask God, “Do you not care what is going on over there?” Who knows how many native Liberians who lost family members and friends, how many mothers who lost children, cried out over and over again in grief, “Do you not care? Does anybody care?”

After peace was declared in 2003, the people of Liberia had to pick up the pieces of their war-torn country. In some cases, they literally had to pick up the pieces. Millions upon millions of bullets littered the ground in Liberia. In the military camps, soldiers were encouraged to fire their guns aimlessly in the air. Why? Because the enemy camp was just a few miles away, and they could hear those bullets being fired. This was an attempt at intimidation. If the enemy could hear them firing bullets recklessly, they would realize that they had plenty of ammunition to waste, and plenty more to use on them the next time they fought.

That brings me back to Joe Boway. After the war, he returned to his native country to help pick up the pieces. What he has accomplished is simply amazing. With the help of many churches in the United States, Joe has established a Lutheran school system in Liberia that educates hundreds of children. (Liberian Children’s Ministry) But the main goal of these schools, which Joe emphasized over and over again, was to tell these Liberian children about the love of Jesus.

How can you convince these Liberians who have suffered so greatly that there is a God who loves them and cares for them? How do you provide peace in their storm-tossed lives?

Joe had an idea. He started collecting those bullets that were scattered across the country. He took those symbols of war and bloodshed and conflict and suffering, and he turned them into the ultimate symbol of love and peace and forgiveness. He turned those bullets into crosses. bullet crosses

Joe brought a number of those bullet crosses to the youth gathering so everyone could have one, and I want you to see them as well.

These crosses are a sign and a reminder that God does care even when it seems that he is sleeping on the job. They are a reminder that Jesus Himself took an instrument of torture and suffering and death and turned it into a symbol of peace and hope and love.

Our God never stops caring about His broken creation and the storms that are caused by our sin. God cares about the suffering and brokenness experienced by humans so much that he sent His one and only Son to this world as a human being to suffer and to be broken for us and to provide us with peace and hope.

Want to know if God cares about your pain and suffering? Look at him bleeding and dying on the cross, experiencing hell for you. Want to know where God is? He comes to you through his Word of promise. Jesus comes to you through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, visible and edible reminders that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood shed for you. Is God sleeping on the job? The only time God could be found sleeping was in his 3 day rest in the tomb after which he rose from the sleep of death and defeated your enemies of sin, death, and the devil. God has answered our cries of desperation once and for all through his death on the cross and resurrection.

Just recently, after the death of their loved one, a family member approached me and asked me, in essence, where God was at this time. She said, “I thought that when a loved one died, I was supposed to see a rainbow or some other sign from God that everything is going to be OK.” She was like the disciples in the boat or Job sitting in dust and ashes. She wanted to know that everything was going to be just fine and that God truly cared. I replied to her, “God doesn’t promise a temporary sign like that. But the sign that he does give you is the cross and the empty tomb. That’s your eternal sign that God cares about you and that everything is going to be OK in the end.”

When Job cried out to God, “Do you not care?” God answered Him in power and might and reminded Job that He is God and Job is not and that everything was under his control. When the disciples cried out, “Do you not care?” Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith, but calmed the storm anyway by the power of His Word. In the midst of your struggle and fear and doubt, when you cry out, “Do you not care?” Jesus speaks to you as he did when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. He stands before you with his nail scarred feet and hands and pierced side and says “Peace be with you.” This is the peace which surpasses all human understanding. May that peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until he comes again to rescue you from all your troubles and grants you eternal peace and rest with him. Yes, God does care for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

jesus calming storm 2“Be Still, My Soul” verse 2

Be still, my soul; your God will undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Bible Verses Out of Context: God Will Not Give You More Than You Can Handle

more than handle 1I know. You are trying to be comforting. Or someone is trying to comfort you. Someone has just received some more bad news: cancer, the death of a loved one, an injured child, or just one more burden for them to carry. So you say, “Don’t worry! God won’t give you more than you can handle.” You are trying to encourage that person, to give them hope and strength, to inspire them to keep going. Here’s the problem…

It’s not in the Bible.

Go ahead and look for it. I’ll wait.

Now I suppose this kind of breaks the rules of this blog series. This is not a Bible verse taken out of context because it is a Bible verse that doesn’t exist. However, there is a verse that I believe has morphed into the popular phrase of supposed comfort. It is 1 Corinthians 10:13. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. See! It is similar. God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. You can see how it has transformed. But the messages are very different.

1 Corinthians 10:13 is quite obviously talking about temptation, not suffering. It goes well with the 6th petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

Paul is warning us not to be prideful and think that we are immune to sinning but to be on guard and learn from our own sins and the sins of others. That’s the context given in the prior verses, 6-12: Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Temptation will never leave you, but by the grace of God, you can endure the temptation. Because God has promised to remain with his people, we are never left in a losing situation. His grace provides new opportunities for us to be faithful.

But what about the saying that started this whole post? God will not give you more than you can handle. Just because it isn’t in the Bible, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. But in this case, the phrase is not only unhelpful in my experience, but it also isn’t true.

more than handle 2Usually this saying will provoke responses like this one on the left. This results in a sort of self-centeredness, as if it is up to us to handle our problems alone or that we can handle our problems at all! This can lead people either to boast in their strength or despair in their weakness. You see, this old adage is really an attempt to solve the problem of suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow evil and suffering? The response, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” kind of turns God into an evil cheerleader who piles a bunch of crap on you and then cheers you on, “You can do it!” He just kind of steps back and sees how well you do carrying around your heavy burdens. It tends to make God rather sadistic and does not do a good job of comforting the person who is suffering. It is unhelpful.

It is also untrue. God often gives us more than we can handle! I would not be able to handle it if I lost my wife or my son to death tomorrow. I would be crushed, devastated, probably confined to bed. I would not handle the news well if I were told that my dad had stage 3 cancer or my sister was just in a terrible car accident.

problem of sufferingI just finished reading one of the most powerful and influential books I have ever read. It is called The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope by Gregory Schulz. Here is part of the foreword which explains the book well:

After you’ve read this book you’ll never be the same again. You will be challenged by its intellectual depth, encouraged by its spiritual consolation, and blown away by its honesty. Like a roller coaster, it will lift you to dizzying heights of insight, plunge you down into the deepest imaginable human pain, then lift you out again into hope.

Greg the philosopher will stimulate your mind, Greg the pastor will strengthen your soul, but Greg the father will grip your heart. Woven throughout this remarkable little book is the heartbreaking story of the suffering and death of two of the Schulz’ four children, victims of rare and debilitating diseases.

Martin Luther, himself not stranger to suffering and pain, once wrote, ‘A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.’ God’s love, you see, is revealed most vividly in the bitter suffering and horrific death of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Christians needn’t camouflage grief or paint smiley faces on human suffering; we take our reality straight. In the light of Christ’s cross we can discover God at work int he very midst of suffering.

Greg’s premise is that grieving people don’t ever ‘get over’ their grief. It is, rather, their God-given task to grieve and to mourn…In this remarkable book Gregory Schulz ably serves us all as companion in our grief. He knows intimately well the severe mercy of God hidden under grief and tears. He teaches us how to grieve in hope- with quiet confidence in the One who Himself was raised from the dead and now lives forever in triumphant glory.

Read this book. It will help you deal with the reality of suffering and will give you more comfort than any one-liner can. It will also help you comfort others in their grief so that you can “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

I think maybe a way to improve this unhelpful, unbiblical statement is to put it this way: God will not give you more than He can handle. And He did handle it and He does handle it through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered death and hell for you.