Faith Alone in the Face of Suffering and Death

Faith Alone in the Face of Suffering and Death

That’s all we have in the end, Emily: faith alone. Trust that God will in the end act–either in this life or at the resurrection–it doesn’t matter. But in the end, the enemies, even death, will be defeated. 

~ Timothy Wengert, Word of Life: Introducing Lutheran Hermeneutics, 132

Beloved, God has not promised you a life without suffering. Perhaps you are all too aware of that fact. But he has promised the riches of resurrection hidden within the cold, hard graves of our despair.

~ Charlotte Getz, The Mockingbird Devotional, vol. 2, 245

Where I am, there you also will be.

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~ John 14:3

Dear People of God,

We all one way or another face suffering and death. Without exception we go through a “vale of tears” (Ps. 84:6). The world is filled with such things in great variety. Stringed together with technology in a way never seen before yet we could not be more isolated and lonely. That is suffering. Suffering could also be you receive a diagnosis not in your favor. It could be you endure the death of a child—that is not a thing that disappears overnight. Perhaps your spouse has died—this suffering too does not disappear overnight. We see bombs used to take the lives of innocents. Revenge, revenge, revenge. Violence, violence, violence. In this world we see and experience the love of money predominate everything while the love of neighbor goes begging. I write this letter to you as a person who has suffered off and on with depression since high school. When depression is at its worst it’s like someone has exchanged my glasses for a pair of binoculars—which only see the world hyper-focused in a dim grey without the beauty of purples, greens, blues, pinks, and yellows. Thankfully, I have long kept my depression well-managed. I can’t say it is a thing that entirely goes away. For many others a mental illness can be much more devastating. In this world, we are let down all the time by others. If we’re honest we let our own selves down too. We cannot save ourselves, after all. 

We may be led to ask “Where is God in all this suffering and death?” “How can he let such things be in the first place?” We dare not peer into the inscrutable and hidden divine majesty. That only leads to more pain and suffering. I’m sure there are times we all have a bone to pick with God. Read the Psalms. You’ll see it there. Read Jonah. Read Esther. Read Ruth. Read about Hagar. Read about Elijah. You’ll find these are not only about the past but about you and your present predicament. God has provided them to us for a reason. To build us up. You’ll find the whole spectrum of human emotion expressed—anger, despair, as well as hope and joy. 

Finally, I will just echo the quote from above. All we have in the end is faith alone. Trust that God does not lie. We will see suffering and death. That of others and that of our own. It will cause us to want to run away and have nothing to do with God or life or anything. That’s all we can do and will do. Unless. Unless and until we hear God’s gracious promise spoken into our ears. (Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17)). God’s word speaks a new reality. One yet unseen. Therefore, we depend not on what our eyes tell us. We do not depend on personal experience. We depend on what God speaks to us in his oral word. What word does God speak? “My Son. For you He suffered and died. His death alone is the end of all death and all suffering. As He has been raised from the dead, I raise you.” That’s your divine promise he has given you in baptism. That’s the good news for your bad situation. God does not lie. He will be justified in his words. In the face of suffering and death…cling to this. Wherever Christ is… There. You. Will. Be. Also. 

Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY