I don’t know exactly what I will be writing in my blog, but I suspect there will be a few posts on illness, suffering, and what it means to have a Christian perspective on these things.
Why thorns? Because they are a Biblical metaphor for suffering (Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor 12:7) and they remind me that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. And because they remind me of the crown of thorns that was on Jesus’ head as he died; when I am suffering, I need to remember I know a suffering God.
Why gold? In 2005, I was in the middle of a very busy term working with students as a Christian minister. I had been feeling a bit tired and run down for the past few weeks, but I had continued on anyway. Then one day I woke up exhausted and I found that I couldn’t read anything anymore – the words were swimming on the page in front of me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had M.E., and this was my first relapse. All I knew was that I felt ill, and I didn’t know why.
A wise friend said something to me then that I have found very helpful. She said, ‘Look for the gold. There’s a lot of muck and rubbish here and much that is hard, but God will still be at work, so look for the gold.’
Job, when he was undergoing great suffering, said, “But he knows the way that I take. When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) I know that in the global scheme of things, I cannot even vaguely claim to have been through great suffering: I have not experienced any major bereavements, I have not been sexually abused, I have not endured poverty or beatings or persecution. I am aware of that, and I am thankful. But I am also someone who is struggling with the ‘minor’ suffering that is part of my daily existence: a body that does not work properly.
To the limited extent that I suffer, I want that suffering to be productive, to bring about holiness and a purity of character. I am grateful that the Bible is honest about the bad in this world: the bad is bad. Too often Christians seem to want to say that because God allows suffering, that suffering is somehow good in itself. This is not true; God is good, but sin and suffering are not. They are not what God intended for this world and they will not be there in heaven. But God does have the power to bring good out of bad (which is not the same as saying that a bad situation is inherently what God wants), and He is able to work in all things (good, bad and ugly) for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).
So the ‘gold’ part is my prayer. I must confess, I don’t feel that I am remotely any more holy or nicer as a person since I have been chronically ill. But I pray that I will be able to look back over it some day and say, ‘oh – there’s the gold!’
Thanks for reading! Do say hi, introduce yourself, comment, tell me your story – I’d love to hear it.