Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 59 - Spring (Sep-Nov) 2016 > Connecting the Dots (part 2, by David Wallace)

Connecting the Dots

Part 2, by David Wallace

NB: this is part two in a series.  Part one can be found here.

Remember the Past

Part of keeping the faith can be recognition that clouds can have a silver lining; the recognition that not all pain is exclusively bad.  Friday and Saturday of the crucifixion weekend would have devastatingly painful. But from that cloud came one glorious silver lining - salvation.

Robert Browning Hamilton in this poem 'Along the Road' wrote:

"I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

"I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And never a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!"

From pain can come some of life's most enduring lessons. Sometimes, that which does not kill you can make you stronger.

With God, bad things can be used for our good. With God, suffering can be used against evil - the destructive purpose of evil can be thwarted and out of darkness and death can come light and life.

Suffering, if faced and endured with faith, can make us better, stronger and deepen our relationship with God. The author C.S. Lewis said: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain".

Paul, in Romans 5:3-5 (NLT) writes:

"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."

Perhaps enduring the pain can actually be the better outcome.

But it's usually only on Sunday, only after the fact that we have any chance of seeing the truth of what God has done for us. In the midst of a crisis, it can simply be overwhelming - in the moment when something goes wrong it can be incredibly confusing.

The author Margaret Atwood, put it like this:

"When you are in the middle of story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else." - Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

It's only looking back that we can begin to understand our story and God's role in it. It's only looking back that we can connect the dots - they do not connect forwards.

When pain comes, look back to the past Sundays in your own life, the past Sundays in the lives of your friends and neighbors. Look back to the Sundays recorded in scripture - to what He's already done for you on the Cross.  When pain inevitably comes, remember the Sundays of the past believing that Sunday will come again.

Ellen White wrote:

"We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history" - Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 196.

But look back knowing that the dots might take some time before they connect - it might take months, years or even decades. It may not be until heaven that we truly understand all that He has done for us.

Ellen White said it like this:

"Christ knew that the life of His trusting disciples would be like His, a series of uninterrupted victories, not seen to be such here, but recognized as such in the great hereafter" - Desire of Ages, p 679.

This side of heaven, it might never make sense. Towards the end of Job, God comes to visit Job. No doubt Job would have liked an explanation from God.  No doubt Job's friends would have expected condemnation of Job for some previously unknown sin. But there was neither explanation nor condemnation.

God never explained to Job the role of the devil in Job's suffering. Job never knew that his story would provide inspiration to millions in the midst of their own suffering. Rather God gave Job something else…

Francis Anderson offered this insight:

"It is one of the many excellences of the book is that Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case…The test would only work if Job did not know what it was for. God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make to possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone. God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries. But part of the discovery is to see the suffering itself as one of God's most precious gifts. To withhold the full story from Job, even after the test was over, keeps him walking by faith, not by sight. He does not say in the end, "Now I see it all". He never sees it all. He sees God (Job 42:5). Perhaps it is better if God never tells any of us the whole of our life-story."

In all likelihood we'll never know why, we're never given an explanation. But perhaps instead we're simply given an opportunity to see God - to learn to live by faith and not by sight. 

The disciples could not have grasped all that Christ's death and resurrection meant on that crucifixion Sunday. This was just the beginning of their journey with God and they had a great distance yet to travel. But Sunday meant that from where there had been just the void of their despair came a light of hope.

Even though they didn't understand how the events of that weekend would impact their lives, that light gave them the faith and courage to go on.  Without being able to see the rest of our lives, we can't understand the role that this moment will have in our future.

The Refiner's Fire

There is an old Arabic proverb that says: "All sunshine makes a desert.".  Too often we fail to recognize that getting too much of a good thing can be bad for us. But equally, we fail to recognize that getting something bad can actually be good for us.

"When Heaven is going to give a great responsibility to someone, it first makes his mind endure suffering. It makes his sinews and bones experience toil, and his body to suffer hunger. It inflicts him with poverty and knocks down everything he tries to build. In this way Heaven stimulants his mind, stabilizes his temper and develops his weak points." - The Book of Mencius (Chinese, 300 BC).

The bible frequently uses fire as a metaphor for suffering. Fire is a well-known image of torment and pain. Fire is powerful; it can be dangerous and destructive.  But when used properly, fire doesn't have to destroy. Rather, fire can be used to shape, refine and purify.

In 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT) Peter writes:

"So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." (emphasis added)

Later, in 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NLT) Peter writes:

"Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad-for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world." (emphasis added)

While God didn't cause your sorrow, He can use it to shape and mold you into the person He wants you to be. Despite the reality of your pain, God can work things for your good.

Paul writes in Romans 8:28 (NLT):

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

The good of which Paul wrote can include our refinement in the fire, the lessons we learn as we walk our mile with sorrow.  We can learn to let go of our commitment to comfort, power, pride, pleasure and self and instead learn to rely on God. Or not - It depends on our response.

The fire can remove from us our impurities - selfishness, self-pity, tendencies towards bitterness or dishonesty and instead become who God wants us to be. Or not - It depends on our response.  But for a fire to do its refining work, you have to remain in it for just the right amount of time.

We can't run from the fire and seek to avoid the pain.
We can't quickly run through it and deny the reality of it.
We can't just lie down hopelessly and despair in it.

For the fire to do its refining work, we must endure it.

Calm seas do not make a good sailor. When you experience a storm in your life, remember that God may well being using it to make you a better sailor.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 59 - Spring (Sep-Nov) 2016 > Connecting the Dots (part 2, by David Wallace)