God's Faithfulness Through Suffering: A response to the arson at Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewsterby Christina Bologna on December 1, 2012
Sisters in Christ-
As some of you may have heard already, there was a fire started intentionally sometime around 3am yesterday morning in the sanctuary of Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church in Brewster (of which I am a member) that burned the building to the ground (full article). Yesterday, amidst the tears and confusion and trying to process it all, I felt the Lord prompted me to share something He has been prompting me to share for several weeks, but my own humanity has been getting in the way. So, even though I feel as though I don’t even have words, now is the time.
I am so devastated by our loss. My mind keeps wandering back to Christmases long ago celebrated in the warmth of the sanctuary, candles lit, voices united in song, and how different this year will be without our home. Yet, despite the incredulousness that comes from knowing that someone could willingly set a church ablaze, I am reminded of the One who sets our hearts ablaze with His all-consuming fire. How fitting that the means of destruction of the physical building is also the means our Great King uses for refining His people and bringing us to life!
After going through my own personal battles and healings over the past year as I have come out of the hardest season of my life, I am more and more aware of how God uses suffering in our lives not only to discipline us, but to crown us with honor.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” John 15:18-21
If we call ourselves children of God, co-heirs with Christ, does that not mean that we are also co-heirs in His suffering? Are we greater than Christ? Not at all! How then do we think that when we suffer, it is somehow a bad thing? Instead, we should declare with Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)
As I have experienced my own personal revival and my prodigal soul has returned to the Father, it is apparent to me that if the church cries out for revival, we must be willing to suffer great loss. It is only when the seed falls to the ground and dies that life springs up anew. I know that I am not the only one who has had this epiphany. When God wants to move, He moves! And He places the same message on many hearts.
I read an article recently, circulated on the Glory of God on Cape Cod email list, written by Pearl Grace Chen that spoke strongly about God’s use of suffering in our lives called The Left Hand of God. In the past, I always regarded suffering as God’s discipline in our lives as in Proverbs 3:11&12, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” While this is true, there have been many times when I have gone through pain in my life and been completely at a loss as to why God would allow such seemingly unnecessary suffering. I would normally attribute it to a “Job-like” experience. However, I now see very clearly that there is a third reason for suffering: to partake in Christ’s suffering with Him.
In her article, Chen writes, “The Left Hand of God is a phrase coined by Martin Luther, in an attempt to illustrate the diversity of how God’s power is exercised both throughout the Biblical narrative and in our lives today. The right hand power of God has historically (in Scripture) denoted the irresistible power of God to accomplish and carry out his will. Examples of God’s right hand include Noah’s Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Parting of the Red Sea, et al. The idea of God’s left handed power is a different expression—expressed indirectly, paradoxically, in a way that seems like weakness and defeat of God’s cause and his people, yet ultimately establishes his victory in a way no other kind of expression could. The crucifixion of Christ is the classic example of God exercising his “left hand”.”
How much more would the intentional burning of a church building look like defeat? And yet we see over and over again in history how God uses these occurrences to not only strengthen His people, but to fuel revival.
Around the same time that I read Chen’s article, I read another on the RZIM site by Margie Zacharias also regarding the meaning of suffering:
“LATELY, I HAVE been pondering a lot on suffering, its source and its purpose. To say that God doesn't figure actively in suffering—that He just “allows” it and then makes beauty out of the ashes—seems like a cop-out to me and lets God off the hook. He does make beauty out of ashes, but that has to be only part of the picture if it is not to detract from who God is—all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving—and make Him weak, wishy-washy or limited in some way. If He can’t protect me from suffering but rather turns it around and uses it for my good, somewhat like the good fairy in Sleeping Beauty who couldn't remove the curse of the evil fairy so turned the threat of death into a deep sleep, then He really isn't all-powerful or all-knowing. To say that yes, God can keep me from suffering but just doesn't choose to means that He isn't all-loving, right? After all, is He the God of the Bible or isn't He? Driven to the Scripture a short time ago I came upon Exodus 17. […] Several points immediately stood out to me in this passage of Scripture from Exodus. First, it was God who led his children into this place of suffering. Second, He led them into suffering while they were being obedient to Him and were following Him as He commanded them. Third, He ultimately gave them victory but it was not without personal cost. Fourth, Moses built an altar to the Lord and worshiped God saying, “The Lord is my Banner. For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord” […] It seems to me from this chapter that God doesn't just allow suffering into our lives; rather, God has intended that suffering must come to those whom He loves. Isaiah 53:10-11 says, “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” Of course this passage is talking about Jesus, but as a child of God, the Bible says that I am a joint heir with Christ to God’s promises and resources. Therefore, those promises apply to me as well. Though God leads me into suffering—dare I say designs the suffering for me—I will have victory in it. I will see the light of life, my soul will be satisfied, and I will worship God.”
As we continue to pray for revival on Cape Cod, in New England, worldwide, may we not forget that before revival can happen, we must first “humble [our]selves and pray and seek [God’s] face and turn from [our] wicked ways, then will [God] hear from heaven and will forgive [our] sins and will heal [our] land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) What will it take to humble us, for us to turn from our wicked ways? What areas of our lives are we keeping locked up tight, hidden from the searching light of the Lord? What bitterness, brokenness, hardness, apathies, complacencies, lusts, divisions, unforgiveness, jealousies, pettiness, unbelief, self-sufficiencies are we carrying around with us? If we want revival, we must not be content thinking we will merely watch it while it happens, we must be actively engaged in surrendering all to Christ and letting Him uncover all our weaknesses.
It is scary. It is painful. It can be devastating and heart-wrenching. But, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
“The kingdom of God manifests itself most deeply through apparent weakness, for only in human weakness can God’s greatness stand alone, unconfused by our own power. In moments of our own strength, we forget our limitations and the power of God can seem superfluous to us. An internal posture of humility is necessary to produce real spiritual growth within God’s paradoxical wisdom; for God to teach us humility is to teach us who we really are (examine God’s response to Job). When the Christian experiences tremendous suffering, he is not experiencing the powerlessness or absence of God but rather, the power of God in a different way than he is used to identifying and experiencing power. What God wanted to accomplish required his Son to become a human servant, descending to humiliation and death—but ultimately he rises again to new life. Both the right and left hand are forms of divine power: both are able to get things done. Right-handed power can insist on obedience and justice, but it does not change people. Left-handed power cannot bring forth immediate justice, but it can move hearts to God. Right-handed power brings order—left hand power transforms lives.” (Pearl Grace Chen, “The Left Hand of God”)
In Christ Alone,
member of Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:7-15)