It’s Tuesday, March 3, day 7 in our 40-day Lent journey. My name is Gina, thank you for joining me for today’s scripture reading, reflection and prayer time.
Theme: The Suffering God is with us
Scripture: Psalm 34: 15-22
Even as I’ve been working on our first week of Lent podcasts, I have had four migraines, a flat tire, relational matters to resolve, unexpected intrusions to my schedule, as well as other distractions, obstacles and troubles.
I’m not surprised, because the Psalmist warns us, “The good man does not escape all troubles—he has them, too.”
Yet, this passage initially raised questions for me. First of all, the Psalmist writes that the Lord watches all who live “good” lives, and that the Lord hears the “good” man. Yet, in Mark 10:18, when a wealthy young man called Jesus “good teacher,” Jesus responded by saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Considering that Jesus is God, because he is part of the holy trinity, Jesus could certainly have allowed someone to call him “good.” (Isn’t it kind that he takes the pressure off of us by saying no one can be good except for God alone?)
Yet, then, what does it mean when the Psalmist says the Lord hears the “good” man? What does it mean for us to be “good”?
We can learn something from this story in Mark, from the wealthy young man who fell at Jesus feet and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
It’s interesting that a man who insisted he had followed all of God’s commandments since he was a child still felt uncertain whether he would spend eternity in the presence of God. He lacked peace and assurance that He was in good standing before God.
Jesus replied that there was one thing he still needed to do: He needed to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor, and then come and follow Jesus.
Some have read this as a command to take care of the poor. The way I read this is that this man might have followed all the rules in an attempt to earn God’s favor, but his security depended on his earthly wealth. He followed God’s laws to the letter without failure, so he was probably considered a very good person. But something else remained his master. Jesus replied that for this man to spend eternity with God, God must be his only master. It’s not that he was simply supposed to give everything he had to the poor, but he was supposed to leave behind all his earthly security and surrender himself completely to Jesus.
So, when we read the Psalm and see what is said about good people, I think we can understand the passage isn’t just talking about people who follow all the rules and do good deeds, but these are people who have completely surrendered their lives to God, and trusted Him alone for their security and protection.
What do we get for throwing ourselves entirely on His mercy like that, without holding a little of our security in reserve somewhere else?
According to today’s Psalm, sometimes what we get is heartbreak. We will go through troubles and pain. We will find ourselves in uncertain or fearful situations when we have to call out to God for help.
In the historical fiction novel, *Byzantium, by Christian writer Stephen Lawhead, a young priest named Aidan has lost his faith in God because of his suffering. The story is set about 1,000 years ago in Europe, where Aidan has become close with a Viking named Gunnar. On their journeys, they endure countless tragedies and horrific suffering. Curious, Gunnar keeps asking Aidan questions about the God he used to follow. Aidan reluctantly recounts the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
After a great deal of thought, Gunnar says that, in his country, the people “pray to many gods who neither hear nor care.”
“But,” Gunnar says, “I remember the day you told me about Jesu, who came to live among the fisherfolk, and was nailed to a tree by the … Romans and hung up to die. And I remember thinking, this Hanging God is unlike any of the others; this god suffers, too, just like his people. I remember also that you told me he was a god of love and not revenge, so that anyone who calls on his name can join him in his great feasting hall. I ask you now, does Odin do this for those who worship him? Does Thor suffer with us?”
Aidan asks, confused, “You find this comforting?”
Gunnar replies, “I was thinking: I am going to die today, but Jesu also died, so he knows how it is with me. And I was thinking, would he know me when I came to him? Yes, he will run down to meet me on the shore; he will wade into the sea and pull my boat onto the sand and welcome me as his wayfaring brother. Why will he do this? Because he too has suffered, and he knows, Aidan. He knows. Is that not good news?”
In that moment, Aidan thinks to himself that although both have suffered the same tragedies, Gunnar’s pain has drawn him close to Jesus and even given him faith, but Aidan’s pain has turned him away from Christ. They knew the same Jesus, but in their suffering, they had responded to Him in different ways.
Those of us who follow Jesus today know that He was tortured before suffering the cruelest of deaths. But we may forget He experienced many other kinds of pain that will be familiar to us.
Tradition tells us that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, probably died before Jesus began His ministry at age 30. So, Jesus grieved the loss of a parent. And, when the disciples abandoned Him, and Judas turned Him over to His enemies, Jesus knew the sting of betrayal by His closest friends in His time of greatest need.
He felt gnawing hunger and physical deprivation when He fasted alone for 40 days in the wilderness. He was deeply misunderstood, repeatedly criticized, lied about, and verbally attacked by the people of His day. When He began His ministry, He experienced loneliness and disappointment when even His own earthly family members didn’t believe Him at first.
And when His close friend Lazarus died from illness, the scripture tells us that Jesus sobbed.
When we read today’s Psalm, which says “the eyes of the Lord are intently watching all who live good lives, and he gives attention when they cry to him,” we can understand this is not a God who stands far off as an observer, untouched by our heartbreak or fears. This is a God who is there, here! with us, in the pain. The Psalm writer says, “The Lord is close to those whose hearts are breaking.”
Just as Gunnar discovered, our pain can bring us into deeper intimacy with our suffering God—if we let it.
The Psalm says that the Lord rescues His people, and helps those having troubles. We may not want to suffer, or need to be rescued. And sometimes we might expect help or rescue to look a certain way, or come at a certain time. And when it doesn’t come when or how we want it to, we may feel disappointment, anxiety, or even lose trust in God and His love, like Aidan.
Yet, the message today is not that we will never have trouble or heartache, but that God will be with us in it. He will suffer beside us, as our grief becomes His grief. And in His perfect wisdom and goodness, He will know how and when to rescue us, here on earth, or through delivering us into His eternal presence.
For, as the Living Bible translation says, “The good man does not escape all troubles—he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one.”
Our God is with us, because He knows.
- What do I do when I experience fear, pain or loss?
- What does it mean to me to know that Jesus came to our world and experienced every kind of suffering?
- How can I open my heart to the comforting presence and love of Jesus when I experience pain, fear and suffering? How can I let Him use this to bring me closer together with Him?
King of heaven, Creator of all that was and is and is to come:
Thank You for giving up the glory and riches of heaven to become like one of us for a time; to walk in the dust; to experience physical pain and deprivation; to suffer the loss of loved ones and relationships, and the sting of betrayal, rejection and even hatred; to die, the most painful death possible. And to respond to all this with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Thank You for walking daily close to us, even in our pain and struggles, disappointments, losses, our sadness, anger and fear. You alone can know our pain better than any other person in our lives, and You hurt with us as we hurt. But thank You also for the promise of rescue, in Your perfect, loving and wise way and time.
We choose to put aside all our earthly securities and safety nets, and throw ourselves on Your mercy and goodness alone. There is nothing and no one we can trust more than You.
Thank You for Your promise to work through all these things for our ultimate good. We love You, and pray this in the name of Jesus.
The Lent journey podcast and website are a production of the Eurasia Region Church of the Nazarene.