The longer I live, the more I understand Job’s lament that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Sadness flares up regularly, and I encounter a lot of it in my daily work. After more than 40 years in the ministry, I am accustomed to walking through seasons of grief with families who lose loved ones, but as I write this column, I’m in the midst of an unusually rough patch. This week a long-time minister friend of mine died, another friend lost his wife in a tragic accident, and a family close to us experienced the death of their 20-year-old grandson after a long, heroic bout with cancer. Yesterday I visited two elderly friends who are under hospice care and expect to die any day. In such times my emotions grow tired and my mind ponders questions common to us all: “God, why do you allow so much suffering? Why don’t you spare us from all this pain and sorrow?”
Yet, even when sadness bombards my soul, the shield of faith helps me “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). Denying God’s existence and love wouldn’t make anything better. Without God, life’s hardships wouldn’t be lighter or easier to explain. With God there is hope.
Even while we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is at work through family members who, despite their tears, surround their dying loved ones with prayers, songs, pleasant memories, and words of respect and honor. God is at work through the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the reassuring promises of Scripture. God is at work through the compassionate care of the church, and through kind and skillful hospital employees, hospice nurses, chaplains, and funeral directors.
God was at work when his own beloved Son suffered the anguish of Gethsemane and the misery of Calvary. He was at work when Jesus arose on the third day, victorious over sin and death. Today, God remains at work through the gospel message, reversing our spiritual demise and making us alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5, 6). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (v. 8).
God is at work in us. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (v. 10). The word translated “handiwork” in this verse is the Greek poiema from which we derive our word “poem.” It means a masterpiece, something artfully produced like a fine statue, a well-designed building, or a beautiful painting or song. The ancient historian Herodotus used poiema to describe the work of a craftsman constructing a crown. In the Greek translation of Psalm 143:5, poiema refers to God’s remarkable works of creation and redemption.
In the process of creating something beautiful, an artist makes a mess. There will be some sawdust, paint splatters, or granite chips on the floor. Why should we be surprised if it’s a messy process for us to become God’s handiwork? Without the Lord, we would have the mess without any hope of seeing the finished product, but as believers “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Even on the days when sadness flares up like sparks from a fire, God is at work.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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