One ship sails East, and another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails and not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
‘‘Tis the Set of the Sail’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I have been spending a great deal of time this month studying suffering. Our church’s current sermon series is based in the book of Job and deals with pain and the power of God. The ‘Pastor’s Roundtable’ I meet with each month is currently reading Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. There are family members and church attenders who are dealing with major issues of health and wellbeing that I feel compelled to aid in their time of difficulty. But, to my chagrin, after all this time of reflection on the topic of suffering, I have very few answers.
This I do know: God is loving and sovereign. God is long-suffering, not desiring that anyone should perish but rather that everyone would have eternal life. God is the good parent, at times allowing the consequences of His children’s behavior to impact their lives negatively and foster maturity. God is close to those who are grieving and near to those who are enduring bitter sorrow, promising to never leave us – especially at those time when we need Him most. God is familiar with suffering, voluntarily enduring more than we can fathom for us. God is in control of all things, even the things we cannot comprehend and the things that rob us of what we desire most: happiness. God is God and we are not, especially when we are in the midst of dark days.
This foundational truth (that God is loving and sovereign) leads me back to the snippet of verse with which I began this post. We all, at one time of another, are forced to navigate through the stormy conditions of suffering. But it is not the storm that dashes our lives against the rocky shore but rather the decisions we make when in the grips of pain and anguish. Some lives go south while the bitter winds begin to blow and others do not; the destination and direction our ships will take is based on the set of the sails, not the gales. Our lives are shaped by the things in which we trust.
If we are relying solely on our own devises or the fickle finger of fate to deliver us happily to that blissful shore, we will end up disappointed. Sadly, we all have a finite capacity to think about, comprehend and accomplish what we desire in life. We can only see the immediate and are terrible predictors of the future. We need to trust in someone who truly knows the beginning from the end and is able to accomplish immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. We need to trust God, especially when it is so dark that we cannot see what is right in front of us. And He will deliver us through the storm as long as we set the course of our lives toward following Him.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)