Originally created 09/06/97

God's word brings hope in suffering

Who and where is God? The best way to answer is to start with the fact that God called into being the Hebrew people. By the time the prophet wrote Isaiah 40-45, the Hebrews had a rich history to recall the fascinating ways God had made decisive differences in their lives individually and as a nation.

Knowing this, we can hear the frustration in the words of this prophet in Isaiah, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?"

Then he goes on to speak of God's infinite and omnipotent nature and ways.

To lament our suffering is one thing. To allow our sufferings and trials and tribulations to create despair and cynicism is quite another.

God realized that the Hebrews had been in Babylonian captivity long enough. They were teetering on a cliff at the bottom of which was a graveyard of people who had given up to despair. So God set the stage for their release by calling into being a new secular leader, Cyrus the Persian, who would defeat Babylon and release the exiles.

The prophet first had to arouse the people by telling them about God. God is both creator of all things and lord of historic events. Nothing happens outside the purview of God. So we are never at the mercy of evil forces, and we never have to feel helpless and hopeless.

Babylonian captivity was part of God's plan to save his people from sinful ways. Now that his purpose was fulfilled, the day of deliverance was at hand.

All suffering is temporary. Suffering is in the same category as all other things that are frail, that decay and pass away. In contrast, all things God has done and said to his people stand forever.

So God brought about the second exodus, signaling the end of suffering and the restoration of the Hebrews to their land.

The prophet's message in Isaiah is designed to give hope to suffering people in all times.

Does believing in God really make a difference?

A natural calamity strikes, and it seems that the cleanup and rebuilding are unending. It seems we will never again have time to sit down and start enjoying again. right now?"

Illness comes to a family, requiring a family member to be hospitalized. Tests seem unending, and waiting for the results wears on the patience of the family. Illness goes from bad to worse without warning and before tests results are back. Family members painfully visit their loved one, who is now on a respirator and has plastic tubing all around the bed. In response to this, the family shouts in confusion, frustration, despair, "God, where are you? Must this suffering go on forever?"

Isaiah 40-45 was written to answer such questions. Suffering will not last, and release from the bondage of natural disaster or illness will come. God is never so near as when he seems far away. Hear God's message of hope through what we read, see, hear and experience. Belief in God does make all the difference in the world

Gene Norris is a Presbyterian minister who specializes in marriage and family therapy.

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