How Can God Help You Deal With Chronic Pain, Disability, and Illness?/Program 3
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Michael Easley; ©2012|
|In the third program of this series, we’ll look at what the Bible teaches about the question, “Why do we suffer?” We’ll discover there are a variety of reasons, including the difficult teaching that God sometimes plans for us to suffer. Guests Joni Eareckson Tada and Dr. Michael Easley address the problem of suffering from a biblical perspective, yet also explain how these teachings have been helpful to them during their difficult moments. You’ll discover suffering always serves a purpose and that God often uses such pain in ways we would never expect.|
Today on the John Ankerberg Show, how can you find help from God when you are suffering from chronic pain or facing a life-ending illness?
- Tada: I cannot face this. I cannot face this one more day. I have no strength for quadriplegia. But, Lord God, I can do all things through you, even quadriplegia, if you strengthen me.
- Michael Easley: For the believer who’s an American in Jesus Christ, we’ve got this wrong. And we think if we do this, then God will do that—bigger, better, newer, more; healthier, prosperous, so forth and so on—when it may be, you’re going to struggle; you’re going to suffer—with MS, with cancer, with fibromyalgia, with chronic disc disease, with something you don’t want in life. And so I’d hang on to Paul’s theology there: He loves me; He cares about me.
- My guests are, Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni & Friends, an international ministry for people with disabilities. And Dr. Michael Easley, President Emeritus of Moody Bible Institute. Michael is an author and lead pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. We invite you to join us for this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.
- Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. My guests are Joni Eareckson Tada and Dr. Michael Easley, and we’re talking about suffering. Many of you folks, right now you’re suffering. It may be an emotional thing. You might have lost your job; you may have family problems; or it may be a disease. It may be a disability, something that’s really come on you and overwhelmed you. I can remember the day that my mother learned that she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS. And she had just watched one of her best friends go through two years of agony, and we had just buried her. So my mother had a clear picture of what was going to be her next two years. Some of you are in that same boat. This program’s for you. Got the people that are here that can talk to you, person to person, about what God’s done for them, what they have been suffering, and they’re suffering right now. Michael, I’m going to start with you. I want the three biblical reasons, a summary, a quick three biblical reasons why we all are going to suffer or are suffering now.
- Easley: It’s hard to distill them, John, but I think, in broad umbrellas, we can say number one, obviously, is sin. There are consequences of sin. And I think for anyone, when you’re confronting any problem, the first place you go is, “Okay, Lord, I mean, is this in relationship to what I have done?” Psalm 107, the psalmist writes, “They became fools through their rebellious ways and they suffered afflictions because of their iniquities.” And, there are many more we could look at, but there is a cause and effect sometimes.
- Secondly, we suffer because we live in a fallen context. Paul talks about the world groans, longing for redemption. And we, I mean, I wear these things [glasses]. You know, I used to didn’t have to wear glasses, but as my eyes change, and focal length, so we are decaying. We’re in a fallen culture, a fallen world; and because of that, bad things happen. And it’s unfortunate we ascribe those to God. But the context is fallen, and so we live in that.
- And third, and the most uncomfortable one, is maybe God wants us to. As the fellowship of suffering in 1 Peter, there is some conjoining we have when we suffer, if we’re suffering for Christ’s sake. Which I have to say, I don’t always do it; sometimes I just suffer because I’m stupid and self-inflicted. But there are times we suffer for Christ’s sake. And I don’t know why to that one. But I do know that He has asked us to walk in that fellowship with Him for reasons we may never comprehend until the next life.
- Ankerberg: Yeah, some people don’t believe us on that one, so we’re going to come back to that one, so hold on to that. But I just want to get those three on the table. And what I want to jump to, Joni, is the fact that, because of sickness or these emotional problems, we suffer depression, okay. And you have described many different stories and experiences. Goodness sakes, you have reason, it seems to me, to have these depressive episodes in your life. Pick one and tell me, then, how God helped you come out of it.
- Tada: Depression just goes with all those verses that Michael just shared. It’s just part of what it means to be human. It’s part of the baggage. Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble,” and He wasn’t kidding. It’s wired to be difficult, and, again, for all the reasons that Michael just shared. I know when I have gotten depressed, and I still have my times, especially in the middle of the night when I’m lying in bed and my paralysis is such that gravity becomes my enemy. I mean, at least sitting up in a wheelchair I can sort of pretend I move, but, boy, in bed I’m really immovable. And it gets so claustrophobic.
- And I know that God is sovereign. I know that somehow my little bit of pain fits into His overarching decrees and He could remove it if He wished to. But He may choose not to; and all those theological implications whirling through my head. I tell you what, sometimes I cannot go to the Father. “You’re too scary. Your sovereignty is so scary. And so, I hope you don’t mind, Father, but I just got to go to Jesus, because, again, for all the reasons that Michael shared earlier, You resonate. You understand. You are with me.” Now, I know that kind of theological schizophrenia doesn’t fit in a theology book. And I know, according to Colossians 2:9, that in Him, in Jesus, all the fullness of the deity dwells; that is, the Father and the Son really are one. But I’ll take my surgical little emotional knife and, when nothing else helps, Jesus is there. Jesus.
- And I will recount to myself in the midst of my depression everything I have ever heard about Jesus I know to be true. And I will tell myself, I will talk to myself. I will tell my soul, as did David the psalmist, Psalm 42, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” Come on, come on. Why are you so disquieted? Why are you so disturbed within yourself? “Put your hope in God your Savior.” I will talk to myself. And I do not think that that’s a psychological no-no. I mean, the Bible encourages it in Psalms. We are to talk to ourselves. We are to, as the Psalms say time and again, remember, remember, remember the goodness of the Lord.
- I think about, oh, I think about Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord. And I think about Samuel and raising his, what he called an Ebenezer, a stone of memorial: This far God has helped me. He’s got me this far, and I just bet He can take me an inch further, because if I give Him an inch, He’ll give me a million miles of hope. And this is just what I go through to remind myself of things that I know to be true.
- Depression, I think, is when the emotional gyroscope just gets turned upside down; and you become collapsed and inward and fearful and anxious. And, I think rehearsing things we know to be true about Jesus Christ and about God the Father and the Holy Spirit, it just puts the gyroscope back in balance. We’re able to breathe better. Our chest gets lighter. A new degree, a stretch of faith. Oh, yes, the morning light has come. I’m alive; I can do this. By God’s grace, I will do this.
- Ankerberg: Michael, sickness, disease, these emotional problems can bring discouragement, big time discouragement. The world looks black, okay. Tell me; you didn’t sign up for getting a fused neck.
- Easley: Yeah, when they put metal in your neck, and they don’t tell you all that that’s going to involve later. You say, okay, this is going to arrest the problem and disease. Maybe it’ll keep me from a wheelchair. But then you learn the consequences of that in the future. And I don’t do well; I mean, I get discouraged often. And discouragement: the loss of courage; so I’m fearful; I’m reticent; I want to sit. I’m not going to engage, and there are a lot of people that I’d be happy to give this to. (Laughs.) The “why me” question is mute, but, “Okay, Lord, I mean, there are certainly people that deserve this more than I do.” And so, the discouragement component can start making you look at all of life through this pain and discomfort. And that’s, as Joni said, where you get out of yourself; you do something else, whether it’s for someone who’s disabled, or just the movement away from the self-fixation on my pain and my problem. And that, I think, is pivotal with our walk with Christ.
- Ankerberg: We’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about a key question here. Is it biblical that we will all suffer? So every one of you that are listening, does the Bible say you will suffer? Maybe not like Joni; maybe not like Michael; maybe worse; but you’re going to suffer something. Where does the Bible say that? We are a little light on that theology in our America Western society. And I want to take you quickly through that. We’re going to actually look at the call that God gave to the apostle Paul, what that entailed. We’re going to do all that when we come right back. Stick with us.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Joni Eareckson Tada and Michael Easley, and we’re talking about suffering, something that we don’t usually talk about in polite circles, alright. But, the fact is, is it biblical? And I’d like to put some verses on the table for us just to gaze at, and then I’m going to ask Michael some questions. Here are the verses. Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ… to suffer for Him.” “Those who suffer according to God’s will,” listen, “according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” One more, 1 Peter 4, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” Now, Michael, in light of these verses, let’s talk about the apostle Paul and see if this carries over. God called the apostle Paul to be in charge of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles, to covering the empire, and gave him this high position, and he wrote most of our New Testament, okay. Take us back to the actual calling of what God said to him.
- Easley: You remember, he’s persecuting Christians with license from the Jews to do this. And he’s stuck blind on the road to Damascus. In the meantime, a prophet named Ananias is minding his own prophet business, and God comes to him and says, “I want you to go to Damascus, to a street called Straight. And there you will find a man named Saul. And you are to tell him that, you know, he’s a chosen instrument of Mine. You’ll give him his sight,” so forth. And Ananias, you got to love the character; he says, “Lord, have You heard about this guy?” I’ll paraphrase. “Have you heard what he’s done to Your saints?” And the injunction is, “Go, for he is a chosen servant, an elected, picked, servant of Mine.” And then He says, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
- Ankerberg: Yeah, good news and the bad news.
- Easley: And, you know, I don’t want to sign up for that one. You know, I want prosperity and wealth and fame, not suffering 101, 102, and 103. And so, as he goes to deliver that message, of course, Paul, you know, regains his sight. But we hear the stories, as Acts unfolds, where he’s bound, and he’s chained, he goes through all sorts of difficulties and trials. So it’s an un-American view of the gospel, that you’re going to suffer to serve Me for a greater cause.
- Ankerberg: Yeah. Talk about some of the things that Paul lists that he actually went through, and tie this to the God of all comfort who comforts us so we can comfort others.
- Easley: Well, in the beginning of 2 Corinthians [chapter 1], there’s a beautiful section, verses 3-7, where we’re going to be afflicted, and through that we’re going to learn to comfort others. And then we get to the litany in chapter 11 of the floggings, the near drownings, the shipwrecks, snake bit, countrymen hunting him down, all the dangers, the robbers and thieves. It’s almost like a cadence. And then he says, and “more than this, all the churches.” But he counts this as glory to Christ. So, you know, I think if you look at Paul’s life of suffering, and he’s got some malady that’s, we don’t know for sure what it is, that God has not relieved him from.
- For the believer who’s an American in Jesus Christ, we’ve got this wrong. And we think, if we do this, then God will do that—bigger, better, newer, more, healthier, prosperous, so forth and so on—when it may be you’re going to experience struggle; you’re going to suffer, with MS, with cancer, with fibromyalgia, with chronic disc disease, with something you don’t want in life. And so, I’d hang on to Paul’s theology there. I don’t know that God told Joni or me, “I’m going to show you how much you’re going to suffer.” But in my suffering, I would sure like to do it more like Paul than like Michael.
- Ankerberg: Yeah, let’s talk about what Paul said in the midst of his suffering, because the folks that are listening that are suffering need to hear. One of the things that Paul found was the peace that passes understanding. And you’ve talked about this other-worldly, out of this world peace. Talk a little bit about that.
- Easley: Yeah, and I love that “other-worldly” expression. It’s not the peace that we think about: absence of trial, absence of pain, absence of war. It is an other-worldly peace that even, he says, surpasses comprehension. I don’t understand it. You’ve mentioned it; Joni’s mentioned it; there are a number of times I’ve mentioned it. And in my experience, where you’re at that cusp and that edge where you just don’t think you can go any further, and God overwhelms you with something and you just hang on. You still may be in pain; you still may be discouraged; but you just know there’s a bigger cause here, and there’s a peace that surpasses comprehension: that in this trial, in this discomfort, He loves me; He cares about me.
- Ankerberg: Joni, tell me some other verses that come to your mind in terms of this thing of suffering, and also of how God helps in the suffering.
- Tada: Well, the list of verses that you friends were mentioning, I identify so strongly with 2 Corinthians 1, where the apostle Paul was writing to his brothers in Asia, and he inasmuch says, “I don’t want you friends to be uninformed about what we endured. We were facing conflicts far beyond our ability; far beyond it, to the point where we even despaired of life.” Hello! I get that, because I’m there often. Oh, God, I’d rather be dead than face this. I mean, even the apostle Paul struggled with that.
- But then he says in the next verse; this is so powerful, “But these things happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.” I think of that verse virtually every morning. I mean, you know, you know that time when you’re awake, but you haven’t yet opened your eyes. For me I can hear my girlfriend in the kitchen running water for coffee. I know she’s going to come into my bedroom, give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, get me dressed, sit me up in a wheelchair, push me to the bathroom, brush my hair, brush my teeth, blow my nose. And my eyes are still closed, and I’m thinking, I can’t do this. I cannot face this. I cannot face this one more day. I have no strength for quadriplegia. But, Lord God, I can do all things through You, even quadriplegia, if You strengthen me. So give me Your smile. Jesus, I need You urgently. Please show up big time.
- And I’m telling you, by the time she walks into my bedroom with that cup of coffee, I’ve got a smile that has been sent straight from heaven. Hard fought for, hard won, and profound, deep and powerful; that peace that Michael was just talking about, that passes all understanding. I don’t get it, but I have it. And I think that’s what Paul is talking about in that verse. These things happen that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.
- And, real quickly, I think the really handicapped people, when they wake up in the morning, jump out of bed, take a quick shower, scarf down breakfast, maybe give God a tip of the hat of a quiet time for five minutes, and then they’re out the door on automatic cruise control.
- And we are told in His word, in James 4, if that’s you, even if you’re a Christian, God’s against you. He opposes the proud. He resists the proud. But—and I love these “buts” in Scriptures—God gives grace, grace upon grace, to the humble. And the humble are simply people who, because of their suffering, are driven to the arms of the Savior by the overwhelming conviction that they just ain’t got nowhere else to go. They just have nowhere else to go. Suffering becomes that sheepdog snapping at their heels, driving them down the road to Calvary where otherwise they would not be humanly inclined to go. And it’s at the cross, at Calvary, that we find that peace that Michael mentioned, that we find that joy that I mentioned, that is unearthly, unbelievable, but it’s real.
- Ankerberg: We’ve talked about depression; we’ve talked about discouragement; we’ve talked about suffering. I want to come back to discouragement. When you learned that your neck was broke and your injuries were permanent, you’re 17. When you learn for the rest of your life everything had changed. You hit the brick wall; it’s not going to change; it’s probably only going to get worse. I don’t think of any bigger discouragement than that. And I’m saying this, folks, because some of you, you’re there. You’re so discouraged. How do they come out of that, Joni? What’s God’s answer?
- Tada: We haven’t mentioned hope yet on this program, and yet the Bible overflows with words of hope. For me, a hopeful passage was from Isaiah 35, “Then one day the eyes of the blind will be opened; the ears of the deaf unstopped; the tongues of those who can’t speak are going to shout for joy, and the lame shall leap like deer.” Oh, my goodness, quadriplegia’s not forever! And that’s why, according to Philippians 3, I eagerly—I love that adverb—eagerly await my Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will come and transform this lowly body to be like His glorious body.
- And I hope I can take this wheelchair with me to heaven, because if I could—I know it’s not theologically correct—but if I could, I’d put it right there and I’d say, “Jesus, do You see that thing? You were right when You said that in this world we’d have trouble, because that thing was so much trouble. But, Lord Jesus, the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on You; and the harder I lean on You, the stronger I discovered You to be.” Oh, my goodness! “Thank You for Your wisdom,” I mean, even that I’m a quadriplegic and not a paraplegic, because it causes me to lean on Jesus, very hard, and that’s, to me, very hopeful.
- Ankerberg: We’re not done with this, okay. Next week we’re going to continue. People that are quadriplegic, paraplegic, people that have cancer, the brain tumors, the Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and they’re confined to a bed or they’re alone, okay; and they want to know, what’s the value of my life now? Where do I go now? I can’t do anything, Joni, okay. We’re going to talk about, what is the value and what is the purpose that God has for such people. Folks, you won’t want to miss this. Join us next week.