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Grace When It Hurts
by Art Farstad
This morning as I drew aside the drapes and looked out my bedroom window I saw a pale purple-and-gold-streaked sky that brought to mind this fine nineteenth century German hymn:
My heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised;
Alike at work or prayer
To Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised.
After days and days of bleak gray skies and rainy, rainy weather, it was a lot easier to believe in God's grace this morning. This was especially true since last evening I received a good doctor's report after days of abdominal pain and two quite unattractive and uncomfortable diagnostic tests.
But what about those other days? When skies are gray and you are "blue"? When everything goes wrong, when there's sickness, pain, financial problems, or even death in your circle of loved ones? Where is the grace of God then? No gilded skies. No good news. Where is grace when it hurts?
Shakespeare wrote, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound" (Romeo and Juliet. Act 2, Scene 2, Line 1). Lest you think I write without feeling, I have lost parents through cancer and stroke, and have had major operations thrice--including heart and cancer surgery. I'm writing this article for those who are hurting today. You, too, can experience grace when it hurts.
In the last two weeks I heard the following true stories--all involving born-again people who have experienced God's grace through faith in Christ:
The first is of a fairly young married couple. The husband, a construction worker, was hurled from the sixth floor when a crane hook caught onto his glove. He leaves a widow and their child.
A middle-aged evangelical pastor lost his younger brother through AIDS last year, and is only now recovering emotionally.
A mother and father have just received the devastating news that their son has leukemia of the worst type.
A Romanian mother of five in California was loading bikes onto their van. Apparently one of the kids released the brake accidentally. The van rolled back, dragging her to her death. Her husband is inconsolable. When children are involved the hurt seems especially hard to bear. They're so young and understand these things even less than we adults do.
Where was God's grace in these events--or in the many other tragedies you could add to this list?
First of all, in all the events recounted, the principal people involved were believers. Therefore, while they do hurt, we know that the end results will be for their good (Rom 8:28).
Second, the grief is only for a time; the grace is forever:
Third, in many griefs there is a grace factor shining behind the cloud of suffering. For example, at the funeral of the construction worker his pastor was able to preach the clear Gospel of Grace to about 200 people. Many, no doubt, were unsaved and might otherwise never darken the door of a church. Who knows if due to his funeral the deceased may someday welcome a fellow-worker at heaven's gate?
In the AIDS case, the patient's brother, sister-in-law, and family were enabled by God's grace to minister graciously to the very end, and also to teach and be taught about grace themselves.
How the Romanian tragedy and the leukemia case will enhance God's grace we don't know. In fact, we often don't--and won't--know until eternity. We have to exercise our faith and trust in God then. It's grace all right, but it's grace through faith. Of one thing we can be sure: just as "grace has brought me safe thus far," so "grace will lead me home."
There is also the grace of prayer, both our own, and the prayers of the (living!) saints for us.
When my mother was diagnosed as having terminal cancer, the elders of Fairview Chapel who came to practice James 5 at St. Joseph's Hospital asked her whether healing or God's will no matter what, was her desire. Mama chose the latter. She died a few months later.
This was my first brush with death, and it was hard. I was the youngest, and probably the closest to a very attractive and devout mother (our Irish Catholic neighbor even said she reminded him of "the blessed mother herself"--high praise for an evangelical from a man from County Cork!).
The prayers of friends and relatives were so real I could feel them, both at the funeral and the graveside. The truths I had taught from 1 Thessalonians 4 to my Greek classes at Seminary suddenly came alive. My grief was real and deep. But the grace would last. Mama would rise without wrinkles, gray hair--or the cancer.
Whenever you hurt, if you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you can know that your life has been surrounded by grace since before you were even born. There is grace sufficient for today if you will only believe. And no matter what "future shocks" may come your way, you can count on God's grace even when it hurts.
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