Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t know…I just don’t know. Oh, I could throw out a bunch of stock answers we evangelicals love to use…original sin, a broken world, and so on…but the longer I live the more hollow these clichés sound to me.
We recently heard that a dear, sweet, gentle, loving friend of ours in the US is suffering unimaginably with complications of cancer. What does one say that will not sound cruel or distant? I have been at the receiving end of such statements as “it is the Lord’s will”, “ the Lord works in mysterious ways”, “do you have any sin in your life that you have not confessed?”, “just trust Jesus”, and so on…fill in the blanks…none of which were helpful at the time.
We face the unsanitised and raw ugliness of life just about every day in Gambella. In the West, much of our suffering is covered or hidden or ignored or denied, but here suffering is in your face, blatant and naked. Here one stands on the brink of the sulphurous abyss and the stench is, at times, overpowering. And yet, I believe that somehow here we stand on the brink of Heaven as well…I feel this when talking to our fellow believers in Gambella.
Theirs is not a comfortable faith, but one shaped and moulded in a crucible of hardship and agony. Though they have sorrow, they also have a hope that is almost tangible…the only way I can explain it is that they have met the Son of God in the fiery furnace and they walk with Him there. They have come to know His Presence in the Valley of the shadow of death more keenly than anyone I know. They know that regardless of the ugliness of life, God remains the same. A patient, benevolent, good, kind, loving, forgiving, merciful, understanding, gracious Heavenly Father.
So, I told our friend, among other things, that I have learned not to ask for answers, but rather, to ask for Him to come closer to me than He has ever been before. I told her that God is like a shepherd who leads and guides us through this life – even when it is so dark that we cannot see our hands in front of our face – and so I ask for His presence to be with me and to help me through whatever it is I have to face. He is a Comforter, one who comes alongside. The Bible speaks about a ‘peace that transcends understanding’. That is what I ask for. In worldly terms, the word ‘peace’ simply doesn’t fit…it doesn’t make sense. But Jesus said that His peace is not like that which the world gives…it is something that is beyond human understanding.
Gambella always seems to deal out extremes. Heat, drought, humidity, violence, flooding, large snakes, sickness…but in the midst of this seeming chaos, the Lord is right here beside us, walking with us, weeping when we weep, comforting us when we sorrow, understanding us when we do not understand Him. And He is blessing us. To watch His Spirit work in the lives of our students has been a blessing beyond compare. Their short devotions at morning Chapel move us more than the most eloquent sermons we have heard or read, because what they speak of has been tried and tested – there is nothing Satan can throw at them that will undermine their belief in the One who to them is very real – the One they have come to know at the lowest points of their lives – and, by God’s grace, we have come to know a little bit more of Him through their eyes as we have walked with them through this past year.
We can hardly believe that we are the end of our first year as a College! It feels like it was only yesterday when we admitted our first students and yet here we are. We are so grateful to everyone who has walked this path with us…there is another presence we have been very aware of throughout our time here and that is yours. There is something about being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses that is very comforting. Thank you for being here for us!
On a very personal note, please pray for our dear little granddaughter, Beatrix, who will be undergoing cochlear implant surgery tomorrow in Birmingham. Pray for her parents, Lauren and Hanno and for her sibling, Jeremiah. May they too come to know His unfailing presence through this particular valley.
I recently was moved to write what I have entitled a hymn of praise. I believe it captures what is in our hearts. God is great…
With much love and blessings.
Johann and Louise
A Hymn of Praise
Breathe in the goodness of the Lord
Breathe deep my troubled heart
He watches over everyone
He never does depart.
Through thick and thin, through light and dark
Through storms and through the rains
The Shepherd leads, the Shepherd guides
And faithful He remains.
O praise the Lord Omnipotent;
O praise the Holy One;
O praise the Spirit immanent;
O praise the only Son.
Though dark clouds gather overhead
Though energies are spent
The King of kings and Lord of lords
Hears every sad lament
He is the only one who can
Turn darkness into light
His chariots, ten thousand strong,
Put enemies to flight.
O praise the Lord Omnipotent;
O praise the Holy One;
O praise the Spirit immanent;
O praise the only Son.
We trust that He who never sleeps
Will keep a watchful eye
And in the silences of prayer
His presence will drawn nigh
Though heaven’s gates from time to time
May seem securely locked
His name is still Immanuel
And He will not be mocked.
O praise the Lord Omnipotent;
O praise the Holy One;
O praise the Spirit immanent;
O praise the only Son.
In spite of stress, in spite of strain
We look to Him who reigns;
By faith we see, though all is dim
What minds cannot contain;
That day-by-day He still can work
Together for our good
The many things that life may bring
As only Jesus could.
O praise the Lord Omnipotent;
O praise the Holy One;
O praise the Spirit immanent;
O praise the only Son.
Johann van der Bijl © 2016-05-14