“In this world, there will be trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” -Jesus Christ
Last year, my husband and I attended a medical mission meeting at The Billy Graham Center, The Cove, in Black Rock, North Carolina. There we had the privilege of hearing from a remarkable woman, Aileen Coleman, who has dedicated her life as a missionary in Jordan since 1956. The past 40 years of her service have been at the Annoor Sanatorium in Mafraq, where she oversees a 50 bed hospital and clinic treating chronic chest diseases, such as Tuberculosis, which are common among the Bedouin people. Because the recovery from Tuberculosis is so lengthy, many Muslim patients come to faith in Jesus Christ during their stay.
One story Aileen shared that day pierced my heart and brought a powerful insight to questions with which we have been faced in the wake of the murderous evil unleashed since September 11, 2001. Aileen spoke of an encounter she had with a Syrian woman in her 20s, who, with her five children, had witnessed her husband’s throat slit by radicals- his blood spewing over them all as he died. The radicals then bombed her home and killed all of her children, leaving her as the only survivor. This woman came to Aileen seeking answers to how anyone can process and cope with such pain. Aileen simply shared with her, “I know Someone else who shed all His blood,” which opened the door to this young woman’s heart and she accepted Christ as her Savior. Years later, Aileen saw the woman again. The woman told Aileen that she was living a life filled with gratitude because she could honestly thank God, that in losing her entire family, she had gained Jesus Christ and now belonged to the family of God.
A glimpse into the life of the apostle Paul reveals a man as treacherous as the one who killed the Syrian woman’s family, and one whose life was also radically transformed through a personal encounter with Jesus (read his story in Acts, chapter 9). Prior to his conversion, Paul was a religious zealot whose life goal was to annihilate Christians for their faith. He was a learned man, an influential Roman citizen, and for a time, was likely the greatest single arch enemy of the early Christian church.
After his conversion, Paul became the writer of the majority of the New Testament and was brutally persecuted over the next quarter century as he proclaimed the gospel to much of the known world. He knew great suffering and injustice as a leader among the earliest followers of Christ. For a partial list of the suffering he endured, see II Corinthians 11: 23-33; it is humbling to read!
The world is increasingly a place of fear and instability. Like us, the first century Jews under Roman oppression wanted a political leader to save them (we see in John 6:15- the Jews wanted to crown Jesus king). But Jesus came to provide the only answer to the problem of evil and the need for justice in this world.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8.
The tragedy of the anonymous Syrian woman was superseded and transformed through her personal experience of the love of God and His family of fellow believers. Aileen’s compassionate presence introduced this suffering soul to the One who gave His life to be brutally sacrificed so that she…and we…can experience forgiveness, peace, and comfort in the midst of life’s tragedies, along with the assurance that ultimately, justice will be served by a righteous God.
“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16.
Paul dealt with a life of constant danger and physical harm until he was martyred sometime in his Sixties. He learned the secret of living in a place of contentment and peace in the midst of the worst of circumstances which he shared in many of his letters to the early church found in the New Testament. Listen to his words:
"God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others…. For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead." II Cor. 1:3-10
The remarkable victory of the Allied Forces on D Day in World War II secured victory in the war over Hitler’s evil regime. But skirmishes and battles continued to claim millions of lives for another year. We live in such a time in the history of the world. On the Cross, the war between good and evil was won, but we will continue in battle until Christ returns.
What relief we have to be able to trust God with the complex relationships between suffering and comfort, love and fear, and justice and mercy. He is the only One qualified to bring ultimate judgment for evil. He alone upholds the promise to never leave or forsake us. Only He can bring the depth of comfort and healing we need when faced with inevitable heartache living in this world brings, and only He promises us that there is meaning in suffering and life after our physical death.
As my friend Anthony Kowbeidu recently shared, “Peace is not the absence of storms in our lives, but the Presence of Christ.”
Jesus promises us, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27
Peace is indeed possible in these turbulent times.
As seen in the October 2016 edition of The Carolina Compass.