Mar 2, 2014 9
“Farther along we’ll know more about it, Farther along we’ll understand why; Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine, We’ll understand it, all by and by.” We have many hymns of faith to uplift us and remind us of God’s promises. But this old song can rightly be called a “Hymn of Doubt.” It does not intend to shake our faith, but rather it expresses the pain, the confusion, the questions – and yes, sometimes, the doubt – we all experience when life collides with life.
That is to say, when circumstances go radically off-script. The scripts we write for ourselves.
I have a friend who has been making some breakthroughs in her chosen field of writing, and has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, tearing her world apart. Another friend has made a place for herself after a hard road, or several of them, early in life; and now is at the top of her chosen field. Yet she is under attack, and will suffer, from intrigues and corporate politics – as old as human nature, a fact that never makes the devastation any easier. Another friend has been involved in ministries and charities for years, and now is virtually destitute, feeling hopeless.
“Tempted and tried, how often we question Why we must suffer year after year, Being accused by those of our loved ones, E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.”
We accept the fact that bad things happen to good people: Are we being tested? We remind ourselves, sometimes grasping for straws, that Job was tested, too. In that eponymous book, the oldest of all the books in the Bible, we are told that Satan accused Job and taunted God, saying, “He doesn’t love You; he just loves Your blessings.” Without knowing it, Job issued a challenge to our own faith with such an argument – an encouragement to seize upon what was later written: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Job ultimately answered, “Though He slay me, I will put my trust in Him,” the Lord God.
But yet – I know this; we all do – the crud of life is still crud. To my friend dealing with the worst cancer news, what can I say, what can any of us say? Of course we pray for healing. Of course we trust God’s mysterious ways. Of course we try to believe that some “greater good” will be served. But. BUT…
“Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder Why it should be thus all the day long; While there are others living about us, Never molested, though in the wrong.”
I recently wrote to a friend that God never promised a detour from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, only that He would BE with us when we have to walk through it. There is sin in the world – besides the sins we commit that contribute to our problems – and we simply are assigned the task of dealing with those consequences. Planning against pitfalls, battling disease, fighting corruption, deflecting hatred, protecting the weak, comforting the sick, and… loving. And loving. And loving.
“Sometimes I wonder why I must suffer, Go in the rain, the cold, and the snow; When there are many living in comfort, Giving no heed to all I can do.”
The mysteries of God – why, indeed, some of the unrighteous might enjoy material comforts; or how forgiving others can bring forgiveness to our own souls, those kinds of mysteries – are not to be understood now. The friend to whom I wrote about the Valley was once at the lowest of low points in her life, an alcoholic. Now that she has magnificently overcome, she admits that she might have gone through those horrors so that she can now be a better witness, counselor, friend to uncountable others. She gained a genuine voice after walking a difficult road but now is in a serene place, rescuing other lives. God’s way? Maybe.
“Farther along we’ll know more about it, Farther along we’ll understand why; Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine, We’ll understand it all by and by.”
This chorus, true as it is, does not promise that we will understand life’s cruelties and God’s mysteries, and blessings, after a few more prayers. Or more Bible study. Or another sermon message. Or reading a few more blogs. “By and by” refers to Glory: Heaven.
In Heaven we will not know all things – that would make us like God. But we will understand better, by and by. Can we suffer less by loving God more… by yearning for Heaven more? Yes – another mystery, a comforting mystery. As Joni Eareckson Tada, well acquainted with mortal distress, as a quadriplegic in constant pain, and recently afflicted with breast cancer, proclaimed, “God permits what He hates, to accomplish what He loves.”
“Faithful till death, says our loving Master; Short is our time to labor and wait; Then will our toiling seem to be nothing, When we shall pass the heavenly gate. / When we see Jesus coming in glory, When He comes from His home in the sky, Then we shall meet Him in that bright mansion; We’ll understand it, all by and by.”
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Joni has been in the news because she sang the title song for the Christian-themed movie “Alone Yet Not Alone,” which, amid controversy, was pulled from Oscar consideration recently, after receiving a prestigious nomination. Here she offers great testimony and the comforting old song “Farther Along,” with Homecoming friends, legendary gospel singers. Affirmation and a second chorus by Vestal Goodman. I once had the privilege of interviewing Joni at Billy Graham’s retreat center, the Cove. She spoke at length of her trials, and she sang, as here. Some day I will share that video in the Monday Ministry blog. (Also present that day were Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Joni’s mom; see photo.)
Click: Farther Along