Have you ever given up on God?
Yes, three weeks ago, for the first and only time in my life. It only lasted about ten minutes and I was shocked at myself. But, for a moment, I gave up on Him. I had just received news that one of my daughter’s esophagus was spasming backwards (backward mobility). She was throwing up everything she ate. Her vomiting had not let up for the past several days. Another medical procedure was the only fix.
“OK, God, I’ve had enough. When are you going to stop pouring it on!? If you can’t take better care of us than that, why should bother following You? I quit!”
I imagine that most all Christians have felt like this at one time or another. I want to give a little context to my outburst and then share some thoughts on how to survive the onslaught of doubt when times are tough.
(By the way, if you’re struggling with God’s care—or lack thereof—read Psalm 73 and see from how Asaph handled the same problem.)
I suppose you could say that our family has had its share of physical problems. To put my feelings in context, let me give you a short litany of physical ails. I was sitting on the hospital bed when I was thirteen. The surgeon entered the room and said, “I asked your parents not to tell you, but we made a mistake. There is nothing wrong with your heart. When I cut inside I couldn’t find a find the hole. I held your heart right in my hand. You have a perfect heart; so, I put it back in and sewed you up. I am sorry.” For the next fifty years, because of the scar tissue from that mistaken surgery, I struggled with an electrically malfunctioning heart. I have been in and out of hospitals and on all sorts of heart medicines for years. Finally, while literally beating itself to death, the surgeons cut all the electrical pathways in my poorly beating heart, and now, only my pacemaker, whom I’ve endearingly named, “Repeat,” keeps me alive.
I had to stop preaching. The passion of my life.
Now simply, I’ve had three knee surgeries. My colon removed because of ulcerative colitis. A brain chemistry, mood issue called cyclothymia causes my brain to operate way too fast and then plunges me into clinical depression. Thank God for Celexa and Lamictal.
Julie has suffered all her adult life with manic symptoms. She finally had to leave work for a period of time until her meds got balanced. She suffered greatly. What an awful time that was for us all. Thank God for Dr. Griffin.
Our first daughter, Jessie, died in our arms.
Our second daughter has had the hardest time of all. She was shot in a drive-by shooting when she was thirteen. Her malfunctioning thyroid has resulted in untold health issues. She has suffered through life-threatening pulmonary problems. She has an auto-immune deficiency which, along with her pulmonary issues, leaves her in and out of the hospital. All it takes is the common cold to throw her once again into pneumonia. Last January, I stood outside the hospital room as her doctor told me that there was a good chance she would not survive until morning. In his words, “she may become a statistic tonight.”
Our third daughter had 18 gall stones when she was a teenager. Imagine that! Gall bladder surgery followed. Finally, life altering bipolar symptoms are well balanced—after a decade of struggle.
So, when my son-in-law called to tell us that her esophagus was swallowing backwards, and that she needed another surgical procedure to fix it, I’d had enough. “If you can’t do better than this, I’m through!”
My God-rejecting moment didn’t last long—only about ten minutes. However, my outburst got my attention! In rapid succession I thought of Genesis three, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:10-13, and Polycarp. These produced restoration and peace.
I began where I often begin when troubles arise for others and me. The Genesis 1-3 passage details the reasons we have problems, sickness, and death in our world: sin and disobedience. Jesus told us that “in the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). One day Jesus will retake the title deed to the earth—and all will be well. Until then, we are all exposed to the pains of suffering, sin and death. Just deal with it.
Next, a life-guiding principle came to mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son …” (Romans 8:28-29). As I imagined was God’s poor care of my family and me, I had to admit that the Father was using this misery to mold all in my family to be more like Jesus.
Then, I thought of how I always handle difficult times. Just like Paul handled his: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). I’ve turned often to this passage. I turned to it once again. “OK, Lord,” I said, “I open my heart for Jesus Christ to pour in the grace and power I need to thrive well in this situation.” He did.
Finally my thoughts turned to Polycarp. I think of him often. Polycarp was a pupil of the apostle John who lived from 70 to 155 A.D. He bridged the gap between the Biblical apostles and the early church fathers. Polycarp wrote numerous letters to the church at Philippi encouraging the members to remain strong in their faith and to flee materialism. Polycarp served as the bishop of the church at Smyrna. He fought strenuously against early church heretics.
Polycarp’s greatest contribution to Christianity may be his well documented martyrdom. During a time of intense persecution on the western coast of modern-day Turkey, Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian. Christianity was viewed as a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped.
Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on the gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord” and he would let him go free. Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” He was burned alive at the stake.
I committed my life to Christ when I was seven. I have way too much invested to turn my back on Him now.