The million-dollar question

The bright light shone in my face and the audience broke into applause as I was introduced on stage. My heart was pounding like a drum as I anxiously awaited the ensuing question from the man interviewing me. It was almost as if I could hear the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” theme song fading out in my ear as the lights and camera zoomed in on me.

bright lights

This past weekend I got to partake in a live Q&A with the audience at a local church on the heavyweight topic of “Suffering vs. A Loving God.” The questions were rather straightforward:

? Why does God allow people to be taken away suddenly?
? Why does it seem like some people suffer so much more than others?
? How can a loving God allow people to suffer in hell for eternity?
? Why do some get healed when prayed for and others don’t?
? Why does God let shootings, fatal accidents, and other horrible things occur?

Pretty simple to answer, right? Yeah right.

Thankfully, rather than attempting to explain the theology of it all, my role was to share from personal experience how I could wrap my head around the idea of a loving God while currently being confined to a wheelchair.

People often ask me if I’m upset with God that I’m currently paralyzed. I believe this question sheds light on the fact that we tend to assume that comfort is something God owes us.

Preparing for and participating in the weekend of six Q&A services on the heavyweight topic of suffering has had me wrestling with the idea myself. If the call on a follower of Jesus is to become more like Him, then I would presume suffering is bound to be part of the equation at some point. Jesus himself experienced betrayal and abandonment by friends, getting mocked, tortured and beaten culminating in murder on a cross for our sin.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). If I want to become more like Jesus, why should I be immune to suffering? In fact, why would I want to be?

crossroads speaking 2

Without some discomfort or pain, I may be tempted to think that what I had in this life would be enough to fully satisfy me. Looking back, I notice how hard it was to turn my thoughts to God prior to the accident, when everything seemed to be going smoothly in my life. Suffering shattered my illusion that I was in control and that what I had in this life would be enough to satisfy me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I had before my accident was never going to fulfill me in the way that I now realize Jesus does, regardless of my circumstances.

Nothing quite tackles the million-dollar question of “How can suffering and the idea of a loving God coexist?” quite like CS Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain.” One quote to sum up the book:

“We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Lewis concludes his book by reiterating the opportunity that suffering provides: “Pain provides an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.” Even in the midst of my safe bubble as a senior in high school I was drawn to the appeal of this concept, as evidenced in the senior quote I selected:

senior picture

At the time I may have viewed it as a way to make much ado about myself. However, after being on the other side of things, I realize God turned what looked like a bleak situation into an opportunity to make His name known. I’m thankful to have been along for the ride. This doesn’t mean I want to pursue suffering or that I enjoy it by any means, but at the same time I don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to be molded and shaped into who God has created me to be.

Video interview from this past weekend:

Click here for the full sermon (Q&A begins at 41 minutes)

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6 thoughts on “The million-dollar question

  1. Reading this post immediately made me think of how well you embody the following quote:

    ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy’”.
    – Viktor Frankl

    Thanks for another great post and great perspective on your faith.

  2. “…..yet as the Master shall the servant be
    and pierced are the feet that follow Me….” from Amy Carmichael’s poem, “Hast Thou No Scar?”

    Thanks for your continuing testimony.

  3. Dearest Ryan:

    Long work day on campus. And guess what? Your former instructor is sleeping in tomorrow.

    While people know me as “teacher”, you’re one of mine.

    Keep sending me learning materials, Professor Atkins.

    As promised, I showed the “It’s not the nail” video to my Group Communication students. Thank you for making me seem current! I don’t think my students believe I know what youtube is.

    lisamarie

    ________________________________

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