Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re travelling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it; I wonder what’s gone wrong
© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon
These words were written over 4 decades ago, yet they still ring true today. As somebody who has been abused, misused, forsaken, confused and battered, I think I can understand the sentiments of this song, but unlike Simon, who I have respected as a musician in the past but do not agree with as a philosopher, I do not come to the conclusion that its ‘alright’. While this may be the everyman response, the final conclusion that we draw at the end of the day when all we are trying to do is ‘get some rest’, the comfort we give ourselves that its going to be alright, the fact is that it isn’t getting better, and it isn’t alright. Yes, we have all been battered and abused, and this is the way of the world, but to try and ‘rest’ in a fatalistic idea that ‘we can’t be forever blessed’, foreshadows the end of civilisation as we know it. We can’t simply go to bed and forget that it all happened. Yes, we have all been bruised, but there is a hope and a goal beyond our suffering.
I recently read the blog post of an author who was angrily addressing the sentiment often expressed by Christians “God won’t let you be tested more than you are able to bear”. He said that this was, in his words, ‘bullshit’, and that moreover it wasn’t biblical. He said that this sentiment was a re-working of a scripture which promises that we will not be tempted more than we are able to bear and that it is wrong to apply this verse to those who are suffering more than they are able to bear.
I disagree, respectfully, with his assertion. He had been through probably the worst three weeks of his life. He was allowing the pain and emotional exhaustion to cause him to succumb to the fleshly anguish which ranted and raved at all who tried to comfort him in his Job-like suffering. I agree, he was being tested, but how does he know he cannot bear it, when here he is writing a blog post about his suffering. People who are not able to bear their suffering have nervous breakdowns and end up in a comatose or psychotic state in which they are removed from reality and have simply stopped functioning. People who are not able to bear their suffering commit suicide, or worse. People who are not able to bear their suffering are generally those who are not Christians and have no hope that God is able to help them in their suffering. My question to this blog author is, and I say this carefully and genuinely without wishing to cause further anguish, do you believe God is able to be with you in your suffering? Because, having also been through the darkest of places, the valley of the shadow of death, I can say with deep conviction, that although I could not sense God in that place, I know having lived beyond it, and not really expecting that I would, I realise that indeed God WAS with me in my suffering, and He DID enable me to bear it, and He did give me comfort, however little I could feel it.
I know this to be a fact because looking back, I neither gave way to those terrible thoughts of self-destruction, running away or leaving my husband and family because of my anguish and pain, nor did I have a nervous breakdown, or any other kind of mental or psychological breakdown. I survived. Plain and simple. And for three years, I truly did not know how to do anything other than crawl out of bed, walk around my house, do the most basic tasks, deal with my children and go back to bed again. I KNOW how much pain a person can live through and survive. And perhaps somebody will say “well you didn’t suffer as much as this man did”, well how do you know? All I know is that this man was well enough, a few days after the burden of his suffering fell upon him, to get on the internet and give it a fair going over to anyone who would read, and I know that when I was in the deepest level of my suffering I was hardly able to think straight let alone write about it.
I say, to the person who gets angry enough to yell at those trying to help him in his suffering, despite the fact that they may say trite or pointless things, anything anyone says when you are in that kind of deeply self-involved state is going to sound trite and annoying. Anything anyone tries to do for you when you are angry, upset, frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed is going to seem pointless, and anyone who has been through a few weeks of deeply emotional suffering is going to feel as you feel.
However, given time, and perspective, I guarantee, that this suffering will be pulled back into a state where you are able to dispassionately analyse what happened, how you got into that state in the first place and you will realise that indeed, God did NOT allow you to suffer more than you were able to bear. It may have seemed unbearable at the time, but it clearly was NOT.
But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself.Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
(2 Corinthians 11)
Scripture is clear that we all will suffer. We will suffer from trials of our faith, persecutions, difficulties, temptations and all manner of physical and emotional traumas. Paul’s famous dissertation upon his own suffering wherein he recounted the many difficulties he had faced, imprisonment, shipwreck, stonings, starvation, beatings and so on, proved that while he himself suffered a great deal, he was willing to count it all joy for the goal that was put before him. He was able to continue to preach the gospel, knowing that his God would uphold him and that he would find contentment within his circumstances, whether abased or abounding. Paul knew how to deal with suffering and we can be sure that in a time when Christians were murdered, tortured and oppressed in every possible way that many counted the cost of their faith and saw others doing the same every day. This was an era when suffering was considered the hallmark of being a Christian, and nobody was seen to be discussing their faith with the vehemence that the author of this post has done.
As a counter to the lyrics with which I began this post I would like to remind readers of Psalm 34. It has been a real encouragement to Steve and myself and we have often quoted from it to help each other through the rough patches we face. Let’s be aware then, that we are not only going to suffer difficulty now, but it will continue to get worse. As the world darkens in the prelude to the oncoming judgement of God during the tribulation, those around us will despair of life and will feel deserted by God. Even many Christians, scripture tells us, will desert their faith. It is a distressing thought, but God is not distressed. He already knew this would happen. I might point out here that while God knows everything, He does not rejoice in another’s suffering. Whatever we are going through, he is going through it with us, and any anger or blame we may feel justified in expressing to God is neither righteous nor fair. God is good, perfect, blameless, sinless and without malice. If we do not believe this, we have no hope in finding peace and help in times of tribulation. It is in fact tribulation which purifies our faith, being the tool with which God tests our belief to see if it is genuine. My faith faltered during dark times; the wick smouldered, it did not go out. I am here to testify that God does not put out the smoking wick, he fans it with the breath of His Holy Spirit to bring the flame once again into being.
The LORD, a Provider and Deliverer. A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul will make its boast in the LORD; The humble will hear it and rejoice.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces will never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him And saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9 O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want.
10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.
11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Who is the man who desires life And loves length of days that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous And His ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.