My Baptist-Catholic friend had given me a book by Rwandan survivor, Immaculee Ilibagiza, giving an eyewitness account of the genocide where the author lost all but one of her immediate family to brutal atrocities. She lived through the highest degree of prolonged fear and physical suffering.
My heart was still tender at the time (see Pt I), so I thanked her, took the book and said I would read it “when I was ready.”
Fast-forward a decade or so. I had by this time come to terms with God, fear, and the apologetics of atrocity. But two recent trips to Belfast re-opened some thinking about suffering.
Suffering paralyzes. It smolders underground. Unchecked, it can build and burst open as a fresh seam in the earth reveals first flesh-burning steam, and then the fiery magma hidden beneath.
There are so many world-wide “us vs. them” divisions around the world: border checkpoints, physical walls, pogroms, political stalemates, and wholesale genocides. Suffering happens on both sides of each issue; the attacker is suffering as well as the attacked. Coming home with this heavy on my heart, I discovered Immaculee’s book on my shelves. Reaching for it, I then read it in a single sitting.
Immaculee tells her story of an evil falling like a drug into the minds and hearts of a whole nation; of a people who were exterminated and reduced to less than one-quarter of their full population. Tucked away in the pages, Immaculee described the kinds of atrocities that were perpetuated during that horrible killing storm. One example mirrored identically the one that had caused me such grief in the ministry report. Given the dates of the Rwandan genocides and the date of the ministry letter, which matched, I realized I was now full circle.
God’s Word a Firm Foundation: Gimel Enacted
Immaculee, like Job, depended on the Word of God, even when she didn’t have a Bible. She could do this because from early childhood her parents had trained her to “store God’s Word in her heart” (see previous post). This kept her from falling to the same bitterness and murderous hatred as her enemies. She overcame by the grace of God’s Spirit speaking through the promises and examples in His Word.
God dealt “bountifully” with Immaculee (Gimel, v17) so that she lived, not just in body but in spirit. God opened her eyes to her own need for redemption of sin; only then could she overcome hatred with mercy. She beheld wonderous miracles and truths from His law (v18). She was a stranger in the earth (v19), hated to the point of extinction and humiliated to be called, as well as her people, “cockroaches to be exterminated”. God did not hide his commandments from her, He revealed them in all their practical usefulness. She was able to stand on them with firm faith that kept those with her from crumbling. Her soul broke out during prayer, longing for the truth of God and His power to save not just her body, but her soul (v20).
In time, she saw her persecutors rebuked and humiliated (v21), those who had been weakened by the power of evil and had strayed away into that path of destruction. She saw that truth unfold before her. She prayed, “God remove from me your reproach and contempt, and remove from me the reproach and contempt of my enemies, for I have trusted in You.” She saw this prayer answered, not immediately, but fully in the time of His wisdom (v22). Her persecutors had been traitorous, from the highest governmental authority and even oftentimes from the clergy and downward to the local people (v23).
Immaculee, however, rose higher than any of her persecutors and made her a voice to the nations, giving the world a priceless testimony of unconditional forgiveness that mirrors Christ’s own for all. Even in the midst of her greatest fear, God’s Word delighted her when she never thought she would delight in anything again (v24). In a 3′ x 4′ tiled bathroom with 7-8 other women for over 3 months of silence, severe deprivation, and fear, God showed himself a very practical and true help in time of need.
Do you see Gimel in this very real story that only happened a little over 20 years ago? What about in our own lives? What are you and I suffering right now? Are we depending on God’s Word, or are we cast about like a ship at sea, unmoored and vulnerable to the wind and the waves, in fear instead of faith? (Matthew 8:23-27)
What has God said about Himself? Who is God to you? How has Christ re-shaped what we understand about suffering? For that, I encourage you to read John Piper’s article “The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God” (Desiring God online).
The psalmist knew that our own human minds are insufficient to the task of understanding our world and the pain we bear within it. We need to lean on a truth we cannot apprehend on our own, a truth that exists outside of our frail humanity. The psalmist, and Jeremiah, and Job, and so many saints since have found it sure ground. Christ himself quoted scripture while on the cross. By it, He express his own deep agony yet also the release of His spirit into the Father’s own character and Sovereign and good will. Can I?
Heavenly Father, I am weak and self-absorbed. So often if I can’t understand something, I fault others and I even fault you. I must admit that I am not the epitome of truth; it is so much bigger than me I must reach up for it. In your wisdom, and because of my own human frailty and sin, you sent Christ to live among us. He helps us to know our sin and need and your great love for us. You desire for us to be free. Our greatest suffering is our need of soul-redemption; and you suffered to give us this in a way none of us can ever match. You paid the death-price we deserved and you conquered death itself by rising into victorious life. You call us to follow. Suffering will exist while this world exists, but you are coming back, Lord Jesus, and justice will be served; but in your great love, so will mercy. In you, Jesus, justice and mercy have kissed. Transform us by your redeeming love, heal us from the inside out. Give us the courage to love as you have loved us. Thank you for your Word that we can remember when we forget, and stand when we would fall. Blessed be the Word and the Name of Christ our Lord! Amen.
copyright Sept 22, 2018 by www.readpsalm119.com
It doesn’t matter if your suffering is large like Immaculee’s or small, such as a dispute between friends or co-workers, the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one. It doesn’t matter if your injustice is temporarily fleeting, or if it has seared a scar on your heart, mind, and body that still burns like fire. I pray that you will let the hope of God’s Word be your foundation. I pray that I, too, will “hide” God’s Word in my heart day by day and let it stabilize my questions and doubts, heal my wounds, and create compassion in me for the comfort of others. See these links below for other examples of these truths lived out in real lives. Worship with me today!
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza, Amazon.com (book).
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Amazon.com (book)
Amazing Love: True Stories of the Power of Forgiveness by Corrie Ten Boom. Amazon.com (book)
“How to Forgive”– Corrie Ten Boom, YouTube.com, (audio, 51:28 minutes) Note: There are shorter clips available on YouTube if you don’t have time for the full talk by Miss Ten Boom. Do a search in the search field for “Corrie Ten Boom forgiveness” and you will find several of 3-15 minutes. But the whole story is contained in this hour talk, which I most highly recommend. Unforgettable.
“How Firm a Foundation – Sovereign Grace Music” – The Commissioned, YouTube, Nov 25, 2013, (audio-visual/music, 2:46 minutes). Lyrics are given to the congregational singing of this hymn. This is an OLD hymn written in the year 1787 that tells of our dependence on, and His Faithfulness through, the Christ of God’s Word. Sheet music can be downloaded here at hymnary.org. Let this hymn encourage you in your worship today!
“Who Is God?” – GodQuestions.org (video, 2:37 min.). This is a video with written transcript underneath, conveniently hyperlinked to the essential Biblical passages from whence the information was gleaned. Please do click on these passages and let this be a morning’s Bible study. If you know these things, let it refresh and encourage you again! If you do not know what God has said about Himself, I hope you will discover Him in a new way, from His own mouth, and that you will see how very much He cares about you.
God cares enough to tell the truth about you, and He cares enough to do something about it. He doesn’t leave us ignorant unless we want to be so. He wakes us up and calls us to come forth in newness of life and reconciliation first with Himself, and then with others. All of this is made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit who keeps us until the day we see Him in joy, face to face.
BOOKS FOR MORE SCHOLARLY STUDY
If you want to know more, the GotQuestions.org site (above) offers a link, which I am passing on to you, to a valuable extra-Biblical resource: J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, a Christian classic. Two other important classics which I also recommend, each by the same author, are A.W. Pink’s Attributes of God and The Sovereignty of God.
A Word About FURTHER RESOURCES: I can only recommend the individual resources that are given for your own and the Spirit’s discretion, and only for the purpose that I have highlighted in the blog. Not every tenet of doctrine by every source can be knowingly endorsed, nor every further resource any author may have produced. Please take every suggestion (including my own blogs) with dependence on the Word of God itself and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to understand it. I stand by the singular resources I have provided for you.