A dear friend of mine is walking through a heartbreaking illness.
When I heard the news, I was shaken. I, who write about suffering, had no words to offer. What could I say anyway? Words seemed inadequate. Trite. Even condescending. How do you encourage someone who is beginning a devastating journey into the unknown?
It takes me a few days to process what’s happening. Our friends are all struggling to process it too. As we pray, we try to remind ourselves of the truths we know. Bedrock truths that have carried us through our own grief. Truths that every Christian can hold onto. Truths that will bear the weight of our sorrow.
He Controls the World
First and foremost, God is sovereign. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to him. Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will (Matthew 10:29). On the contrary, everything that we face has been put there with a purpose. We can trust that it is the best for us. And hard as it is to understand, the struggles that land on our doorstep are also for the good of our family, for our friends, for everyone we love, if they love God.
Yet even as I write this, thinking that our suffering ultimately will be best for our loved ones sounds crazy. Guaranteeing it sounds impossible. But the God of the universe, who keeps the earth spinning on its axis, who tells the ocean to come this far and no farther (Job 38:11), who commands the wind and the waves (Mark 4:41), who clothes the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28–30), and who has numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7) can ensure that all things work together for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28).
God loves us. He watched his Son die a horrible death, separated from him in his last hours, so that we would never be separated from him. He wants to be with us, to take care of us, and to give us good gifts. How could he, who did not spare his own Son, not give us all things (Romans 8:32)?
He Walks with Us
God has numbered our days. All the days ordained for us were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Nothing can cut short our lives. No one will live one second less than God determined before the foundation of the world.
God walks with us every minute of our lives. Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). God says to Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). When we walk through the rivers, they will not overwhelm us, because the Lord walks through them with us (Isaiah 43:2).
We never drink the bitter cup or endure any pain without him.
He Will Come Through
Christ is with us and will give us the comfort and strength we need each day. As Deuteronomy 33:25 assures us, “As your days, so shall your strength be.”
Octavius Winslow, a preacher in England in the 1800’s, reminds us that God gives us more than we need in our hour of suffering. He says, “Has not the Lord always been better than all your troubling anticipations, quelling your fears, reassuring your doubting mind, and hearing you gently and safely through the hour of suffering which you dreaded? Then trust him now! Never, never will he forsake you!”
Yet despite God’s past faithfulness, one of our biggest concerns is whether the Lord will be with us in future trials. John Ross MacDuff, a Scottish contemporary of Winslow, understands this fear. He says,
God does not give grace till the hour of trial comes. But when it does come, the amount of grace and the nature of the special grace required is vouchsafed. My soul, do not dwell with painful apprehension on the future. Do not anticipate coming sorrows; perplexing thyself with the grace needed for future emergencies; tomorrow will bring its promised grace along with tomorrow’s trials . . . and the strength which the hour of trial brings often makes the Christian a wonder to himself!
No Matter What Happens
We don’t need to understand now how we will face the future. God will give us all we need every day we have breath. And when we breathe our last on earth, the Lord will bring us safely to heaven so that we can enjoy him forever.
One day our eyes will close in death and open to the breathtaking reality that we are in the presence of our Savior. We will feel more alive, more vibrant, more energetic, and more joyful than we ever have on earth. The God whom we have known but never seen will be before us. We will behold his glory with our own eyes, with no distortion or filter. Our souls will be completely at rest and at peace, filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. It will be glorious. That is our hope. Our promise. Our anchor.
These are the truths we as Christians base our lives on. They are sure and unchanging promises, guaranteed by the One who holds the universe. No matter what happens, we will never walk alone.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.
A version of this article previously appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline, “When the Future Feels Impossible.”
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