That was the question Terri asked me recently.
I have never felt so clueless in my life – I didn’t even feel worthy of speaking into that person’s life.
But, I gave her my best answer.
My wobbly, small, frail, insufficient, best answer anyway. And, I decided to post our conversation because I bet she is not the only one who wonders about such hard stuff. In our conversation, she also refers to a sweet friend of mine who was murdered. She read Regina’s story in my God Is Just Not Fair book.
Question from Terri:
Jennifer, my question is, if your friend, Regina, was in front of you, looking at you, with you knowing what she was going to endure… if James Foley, (American photojournalist, murdered by ISIS) was in front of you, looking at you, with you knowing he would never return to his family, that his captivity of 2 years was going to end with his beheading… how would you tell them to feel God’s presence and love for them?
I truly understand with your help through your book, God Is Just Not Fair, God sees us, and is with us all the time so you say God cares, but what would you say to those two people who are being touched, tortured by true evil?
How could they, how can I, trust God’s love?
I have depression, how can I trust?
I hope knowing what you would say to these two people would help direct me to grow a strong trust in God. I feel so sad not being able to get past this doubt. I would appreciate any help, insight, direction you would be able to give.
Hi Terri, thank you for reaching out and taking the time to ask me these sincere questions. I sure wish there were easy answers and I know you do too. My heart breaks just thinking about the two dear souls you asked about.
I have really pondered your questions and prayed as to how I could best answer. My desire is to represent our kind and loving God and give you hope through my answer. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel real comfortable speaking to this because it could make it seem that I think I am an expert – I am not. And, I am concerned in giving an answer that is short enough to fit in an email because the length and the depth of my answer could appear to minimize the horror and deep suffering represented in your question.
So, with all that said… here is all I can offer.
The best answer I can give you is not my words, but, God’s Word. I kept coming back to Hebrews 11. It’s the chapter about faith. Every verse in that chapter describes, in one way or another, how faith is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.
In that chapter, the writer refers to stories of people, ordinary people like you, my friend Regina, the dear man who was beheaded – normal, frail people, who endured the unthinkable – like being stoned, sawed in two, murdered. It describes people who trusted God yet were homeless, mistreated, and friendless.
And, the chapter ends with saying, “the world wasn’t worthy of them.” Hebrews 11 makes the point that none of the people in that chapter ever saw the fulfillment of God’s promise with their earthly eyes even though their faith was exemplary.
Here’s how the Message Bible paraphrases part of Hebrews 11. I hope it encourages you like it encourages me.
“Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that – heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” Hebrews 11: 13-16
Terri, I wish I could give you a formula, or a five step program, you could go through so you could be assured of God’s presence in suffering, but I can’t. There isn’t one. We do have something more reliable though than formulas and five step programs – Faith.
It is what connects us to the God who loves us. And, to strengthen our faith and our assurance of God’s presence, we can look to the examples of others who have gone before us and endured so much. We can look to their examples and imitate their faith even when we don’t feel it on our own.
So, what would I say to those dear souls, knowing they were facing the unspeakable?
I think I would just hold their hand and let them know they were not alone -they were loved by God and if they don’t have the faith to believe it on their own, I would believe it for them and trust God for them – that He would be with them and give them strength and grace. I would just have to trust that in the silence, God was speaking words to them that are far more comforting and wise than mine. And, that is what this letter is for you.
It is my hand reaching out, grasping yours, and saying “Terri, if you can’t gather enough faith on your own, I am here believing for you. God is and will be with you and He will give you what you need to endure until you step foot in that better country – our heavenly home.”
And, I will see you there someday!
Peace to you in Jesus,
Question for you: What Scriptures can you offer to help reassure someone of God’s presence and care?