I read this recently in Peter Marty’s column in The Christian Century:
When South African church leader Peter Storey’s father was dying of heart disease in his fifties, Story was angry. “Why should this remarkable man be taken so soon?” he asked. But one day when the two were together, the father explained to his son: “Peter, God has trusted me with this illness.” Peter notes that his father did not say, “God has sent me this illness.” Instead, what he was saying was, “Now that I have this disease, God is trusting me with the bearing of it.”
Marty goes on to note that it is a dangerous theological game we play when we try to explain suffering, whether it be ours or another’s. If we lean too heavily on God’s sovereignty, we make ourselves marionettes dangling helplessly in thin air and God a capricious stage-manager. We can get that when circumstances are difficult—or tragic—language of “God’s plan” can bring a measure of comfort to those who feel a loss of control in a universe which is not always safe; the inexplicable suddenly seems reasonable. Yet, such language misleads, as well.
Peter Storey was focused on the what of his father’s life: what was happening to him. His father, however, was focused on the how of his life: how am I going to live as a person of Christian faith in what I am experiencing, even if what I am experiencing is a disease which makes me suffer. Nowhere does Jesus tell people to accept their suffering as the Lord’s will. Instead, Jesus leans on God’s sustaining presence when encountering people who are suffering, empowering them to live with great courage and hope. Peter Storey’s father, utilizing the relational language of trust, could bear his disease with courage and hope because he leaned, too, on God’s sustaining presence and found that this made all the difference.
I hope, in whatever circumstance you are finding yourself in this month, that you will know the sustaining presence of God in it and be empowered by God’s presence to live with courage and hope through it.