When I first moved to Martinsville, IN to serve as pastor of Calvary Heights Baptist Church, I bought a beautiful home built in the 1930s. My wife and I had always wanted to live in a historic home, and the wrought iron fixtures, ornate woodwork, Greek Revival architecture and whirlpool jet bathtub seemed to call us home. We gleefully took selfies as we got the keys to our “dream home.” Fools rush in.
And then the second floor shower collapsed. We found black mold in a ceiling crawlspace. I had to file my 1st homeowners insurance claim. The plaster walls began to crack throughout the house. The tile floors became cracked and unglued. All of the windows needed to be replaced to alleviate astronomical heating bills. It was like an expensive game of whack-a-mole. Goodbye dream home … Hello money pit. The growing list of problems left us worried, stressed and frayed around the edges.
Even worse: Just when we thought everything was fixed, things always seemed to get worse.
This week, I’ve sat across a dinner table from a ton of hurting and stressed church members with a similar life story: Everything seemed to be perfect … Then things progressively got worse and worse. The stories are varied but the pain is vividly similar: Children have rebelled against their parents and their faith … Personal finances have estranged family members … Christ-like hospitality resulted in a repeated kick in the teeth … Long dormant disease has returned … The joy of pregnancy gave way to the sorry of tragedy. Over time, the overwhelming discouragement leads to estrangement from faith in God and the community of faith. And the pertinent questions get asked: Where is God in the midst of all this mess? How long until God brings me up from out of the pit? Why is God allowing my suffering?
So here’s my pastoral encouragement to those who are hurting: Things might get worse.
Let me explain …
The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time of tremendous violence and corruption. His king (Jehoiakim) was a puppet ruler, who heavily taxed the people to pray tribute in gold and silver to a foreign country (2 Kings 23:31-37). The king killed one of God’s prophets, Uriah, and threatened to kill anyone else speaking out on behalf of the Lord (Jeremiah 26:20-23). The religious leaders were largely corrupted and adulterous. Virtually no one sought God. Habakkuk’s world was horrible beyond imagination.
In the midst of this tumult, Habakkuk complains to God, seeking answers from the Almighty: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:2-3). In a fit of tremendous boldness and honesty, Habakkuk asks God how long he’s got to wait for help. The wicked are getting rich and building fancy new homes while God’s people are murdered. He’s drowning in a sea of sorrow and waiting for the Lord to stick out a hand of rescue.
Here’s where Habakkuk’s story gets interesting. God’s reply to Habakkuk was thus: “Buckle up … Things are about to get worse.” God was going to send the Babylonians to conquer Judah and send God’s people into exile.
Probably not the answer that Habakkuk was expecting.
For those of us crying out to God for help, we don’t expect the renewal or continuation of suffering either. God sends cancer into remission … Then the disease reappears without warning. God rescues a pregnancy … Then sends the next one into a world of trouble. Our relationship with our kids is healed … Then another fallout implodes the reconciliation. Marriages get renewed … Then vows crumble. The truism of life is that sometimes things do get worse … Evil seems to have the upper hand … Violent and wicked people seem to prosper … Righteous people suffer. In Job 20, the suffering Job tells his petulant “friends” that plenty of wicked people tell God to buzz off and wind up building mansions … And plenty of Godly people wind up wallowing in pain after losing it all. Our suffering and our morality often have no intimate relationship.
But back to Habakkuk … God also reminds Habakkuk that our hope is found over the long distance marathon of faith instead of the short sprints of personal fulfillment. God declares in Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous will live by faith.” God may allow our earthly suffering to get worse, but – in faith – we believe that God will not allow our suffering to last forever. Our faith and hope lies in the eternal riches of Christ, who is renewing and restoring the brokenness of His creation and will one day return to set all of creation beautiful again. We set our eyes to the distant horizon, where our help, Christ, has not forgotten about our pain and is coming to rescue His people. No more pain, sorrow, tears, death, cancer, disease, sin or pain is coming but is not yet here. God is healing us but our healing is not yet complete. So we tie ourselves to mast of hope and ride out the storms until the calm of eternity calls us home.
Things might get worse … But God will not allow our suffering to last forever.
The problem of pain in this life is thorny and often over-simplified in an offensive manner. But the question is valid and must be cried out to the gates of Heaven: “Why pain?” Well … Why not? God never promises perfection in this broken lifetime, so it’s strange to expect to find it here. Once we accept that this life might get immeasurably worse, we can then turn to fix our eyes on true eternal hope in Christ. Our conclusion of the matter must be similar to Habakkuk’s: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of the deer; He enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). In the minefield of suffering, our hope in Christ and the brilliant light of eternity give us strength to carry on. Even if our situations and circumstances get immeasurably worse, the eternal hope of Christ cannot be stolen away from us. Joy and peace are only found in trusting God regardless of the circumstances (Philippians 4). God will enable us to go to the heights of Heaven.
This week, we sold our “dream home.” As I drove away from our home for the last time, I felt like a pallet of bricks was being lifted from my chest and I could finally inflate my lungs fully. The burden was lifted. I was instantly reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Friend, find hope in the day when every weight will be lifted from our lives. One day, these temporary weights and afflictions that burden us will be cast aside in the light of eternity. You might feel like you’re trapped in a burning building crumbling quickly to the ground … But God is in the process of building up our inner selves daily preparing us for glory. We look not to the horror, confusion and consternation that blur our vision around us … We look to the hope in Christ unseen and not fully realized. I look forward to that day when Christ lifts every brick and burden from my chest and I can truly breathe for the first time. And my first words will be a shout for joy to the Lord because He has overcome.
Whatever is weighting you down right now, it’s momentous and should not be minimized … But know that it’s only momentary in light of eternity. When we’ve been there 10,000 upon 10,000 years worshipping the risen Christ, whatever pain we endured during these 100 years will seem like the blinking of an eye or the flapping of hummingbird wings.
Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.