Suffering and the Presence of GodAshley Chesnut
Today's post was written by BH member, Lynsey Tibbs.
"I rejoice in the sovereignty of God because he wields it in all things to preserve himself as my greatest treasure." -John Piper
As I sat on my bed in Kathmandu, Nepal, listening to the voice coming from the other end of the line, my stomach churned and my heart sank. “Lynsey, your dad’s test results are back. It’s lung cancer. The doctors are saying you need to come home quickly.”
The next twenty-four hours or so were a blur. Plans were made to leave, plane tickets were scheduled, goodbyes were given, and gifts for people at home were purchased. I wandered through the streets of that hectic city in a daze, led along by my friend who sprung into action to make sure that my last days in Nepal were memorable.
Five short days later with all of my belongings packed, I boarded a plane headed west. As I flew home, I thought about all that was happening.
- First, my dad had been diagnosed with cancer and, given the location of the cancer and the other symptoms he had been experiencing, the prognosis did not look promising. Our family was beginning a journey that would be very difficult and full of unknowns.
- Second, I was leaving a work that I had planned over a year and a half to begin and for which I was just getting settled into. I loved the people I worked with, the country I was in, and looked forward to the time I had left and the great promise it held for eternal impact.
As all of these thoughts swirled around in my head as I began to look back over my time in Nepal, and I realized the Lord had prepared me for all of this. Despite being very busy helping to make a business sustainable, I had been able to rest and enjoy rich time in the Word, more time than at any other point in life. The Scripture I was reading at the time along with other books I read were pointing to at least two themes that I needed to know and remember at this time.
The first theme was “God is Sovereign!” Walking through Scripture, we see that God sovereignly leads His people throughout the Old Testament, guiding them from one place to another and directing every step. He lovingly numbers their steps and their days in a way that brings them the most good by making Him their greatest treasure. This is exactly what I needed to know as I boarded a plane to leave the people and the work I loved. I needed to know that God had booked my ticket back to the U.S., that God had called me back to serve my earthly Father and family, and that God had called me to do whatever else was ahead for us. I later wrote in my journal, “The same God who sovereignly called me to Nepal is sovereignly sending me back to my family for this time.” Oh, what comfort to know that His hand was not just in it but was the initiator of it.
The second reminder that the Lord gave me during this time was the reminder that He was WITH me. He was present. As we moved down the long road of discovering that my dad's cancer would require intense treatment, it was God's presence that sustained us. Then as we struggled to make difficult decisions about dad's care, it was that same presence that comforted us. Finally, we came to the point where we realized this disease would not be cured on this side of heaven.
It was at that point that I remember thinking this situation - losing a parent - was much like that of a song from my childhood called "Going on a Bear Hunt." In this song, children try to track a bear but are constantly encountering obstacles whether rushing rivers or thick mud, tall grass or dark caves. In each scenario, the children's conclusion is the same, "We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we've got to go through it." When I realized we too must go through this my first reaction was shear terror and disbelief that anyone could go through something like this and remain alive (or at least sane). But it was at that moment that I realized the Lord had prepared me for the tunnel we were entering and that He was going in WITH me.
Spurgeon said it more eloquently in his many writings on sorrow, "The Road to sorrow has been well trodden, it is the regular sheep track to heaven, and all the flock of God have had to pass along it." What comfort to know I did not travel this road alone. I traveled it following my Father who loves me!
To all those who face circumstances that seem unbearable, confusing, or impossible, there are at least two things we can know if we are in Christ. The first is that our circumstances are ordained by the loving, tender hand of our Savior. This is a special comfort when it feels like our world is spinning helplessly out of control. Second, He does not leave us to walk these roads alone but goes with us every step of the way.
In the midst of great sorrow on the day of my dad's funeral, I sat on the front row oddly smiling as a friend sang "How Great Thou Art." I could smile because this God we serve is great, and even in the midst of unbearable pain, He is in control and He is WITH us!