Is Suffering Proof that God Has Cancelled Us, or that We Should Cancel God?

Has God cancelled us? Should we cancel God?

There is a lot of talk about cancel culture in our day. The idea is that when someone does something offensive, their influence is stripped away. They fall from everyone’s radar. Perhaps we feel like we have disappeared off God’s radar. Perhaps there are some who think God should disappear from theirs.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like God has cancelled us, that He has abandoned us.

Jesus encourages the disciples knowing they will soon feel abandoned. As related in John chapter 14, Jesus knows the disciples will be troubled when he tells them that he is going away, so he begins:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:1-3 (NRSV)

The disciples are going to feel at a loss, like Jesus has abandoned them. Jesus will go to the Father, but they will still be left behind in the same old dark world, where pain and suffering still happens. If anything, their suffering will increase as they begin to speak about Jesus to people who do not want their comfortable status quo disrupted. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed at all.

But Jesus tells them to not be troubled, to trust in God, to trust in himself. He tells them that there are many rooms in the Father’s house. That particular verse has often been translated rather poorly. The ‘many rooms’ or ‘many mansions’ idea comes from the ancient practice of building extra ‘rooms’ onto a home to accommodate a growing family. When your son grew up and got married, he wouldn’t necessarily leave home, but rather he would get married and bring his wife home. ‘Rooms’ would be added onto the house to accommodate everyone. What Jesus is saying then, is that though you may feel I am abandoning you, we will be together again, in fact together with the Father. This is a growing family and there will be room for you and many others when you come home!

But that is not all:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NRSV)

Though Jesus is going away, the Spirit will be near, in fact very close, indwelling the disciples even, including we who become his disciples today. Taken together, God has prepared a home for us, and has made himself at home within us. 

Now let us consider the promises of Jesus here. Jesus did not promise to protect the disciples from all difficulty or suffering. They were left in the dark world like everyone else, just as we live in a dark world today. In fact Jesus warns them that they will suffer more, because of being Christians:

As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:9-11 (NRSV)

The early Christians were not bubble wrapped by God. Neither are we.

The laws of nature still impact Christians, like they do anyone else. When I dumped my motorcycle a few years back, I hit the ground as hard as the motorcycle and as hard as anyone who is not a Christian. If we, who are Christians, are not careful around a contagious virus, we will catch it like anyone else.

The promise of Jesus is not to shield us from all harm, though there are moments that does happen, but to walk with us through difficulty and suffering when it comes.

When we face trouble, it is not evidence that God has cancelled us or abandoned us, it is evidence that we are human beings living in a beautiful, but broken, world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because he knew that would be the very thing that would happen. The light of the world was leaving them in a dark world. It should be no surprise that there will be times our hearts may be troubled, for we too live in that beautiful, yet often dark and difficult world.

Let us be encouraged by the promises of Jesus. We will be at home with God someday. God is very much at home with us, even within us, on the journey home.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like cancelling God, like abandoning Christianity.

Can we cancel God? We can, and often do, take offence at the suffering in the world, and the seeming lack of answers to our prayers. The writers of the Psalms did not hold back a similar disgust in their prayers.

However, what we have already looked at is applicable here also. Jesus did not promise the perfect life, free from troubles. In fact, when we look at the testimony of Bible as a whole, we see that troubles happen for people from Genesis right through to Revelation. We should not be surprised when troubles happen for us now.

If we think that Jesus promised a trouble free life, then when a crisis hits we will either doubt ourselves, that we don’t have enough faith or enough holiness, or we will doubt God. We would be better to doubt our understanding of God’s promises, our theology of how things work.

God does not promise the perfect, trouble-free life, but his presence through a predictably troubled life.

God promises to be present to a people he should cancel! Far from cancelling us because of our sin, he embraces us in all our messiness, then he invites us to walk with him. We get to decide if we are going to walk with him. Or reject him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, there can be no other way for reconciliation with God apart from God reconciling us to himself. We can never be holy enough on our own, we can never cover over our sins on our own. We need help. God gives that help. We can reject God, we can reject Jesus, we cannot cancel Him.

In our cancel culture, careers are trashed and friendships are ended as people are cancelled. We can think of all kinds of celebrities who are no longer getting big roles. We can try to cancel Jesus, but he is still Lord, he still has the greatest role. He is the way, the truth and the life. And he still offers to walk with us as a friend.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NIV)

(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds. When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway.

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon – Video Version.