On the wall above the kitchen in Apartment 10 you will find ten frames holding portraits of theologians my housemates and I admire. Some are older such as Augustine of Hippo or Peter Lombard. Some a bit closer to our time such as Elisabeth Elliot and C.S. Lewis. Farthest to the right, grinning down on us every morning, hangs a nine and a half by eleven picture of Kelly Kapic. Kapic is one of many great professors at Covenant I admire, so when I saw his name on the chapel schedule I was sure to mark my calendar. (If you missed chapel, you ought to go listen to it online. If nothing else than to get the credit, but I truly hope you will listen simply for your own edification. This article does not do his talk full justice.)
Kapic started by giving a glimpse into his wife’s struggle through physical illness and pain and the suffering that accompanies it. He said he had not realized the burden of walking alongside a suffering person so strongly until that point. I think this is something we often overlook when talking about loving others. Carrying the burdens of others is burdensome. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is one I think we need to hear. We cannot expect to walk alongside a hurting person and not also feel their suffering ourselves. Love is sacrificial.
He then went on to tell a story of Martin Luther, fourth on our wall of theologians. He described Luther on what was thought to be his deathbed as he grabbed his friends, one by one, and begged them, “Pray for me!” He was not, however asking them to pray for his physical health. Rather, he was asking them to pray for his faith. He, Martin Luther of all people, was scared that he might lose Christ. Kapic explained that the tendency of sufferers is to fall into the thought that because God is sovereign he is personally causing everything and somehow delighting in our pain and suffering.
“The problem,” as Kapic would explain to me in a different context, “is that for too many in contemporary Reformed circles they take the idea of sovereignty and flatten everything out, ultimately making God the author of evil (something the Westminster Confession explicitly denies). Sovereign yes, author of evil, no. Without a fuller understanding of sovereignty, the fall, human agency, and mystery, we easily fall into the trap of thinking God is cruel, detached, and even capricious. But the sovereign God of scripture is holy, full of love and mercy, wisdom beyond measure, abounding in compassion and full of righteousness.”
My senior year of high school, my older brother died in a car wreck. My reaction to the news was to fall to my knees and cry out, “God, what are you doing?!” I believed God was in control of all things, but I let that slip into believing he was cruel and unloving. God had the power to save my brother. He allowed that wreck to take his life anyway. Suffering happens under the sovereignty of our Father, but this is not to say the Father delights in death, in pain, in our grief. Again, as Kapic explained to me, the scriptures call us to lament to God himself because he is sovereign, yet he also allows us to lament because God can absorb our questions, our pain, our frustrations. But we also lament because things are not the way they were meant to be. Ezekiel reminds us that God does not delight in the death of people.
My brother and dear friend is dead, but God is still loving, faithful, and good. This is something I knew, but I needed others to come alongside me and tell it to me time and time again over the next couple years. I needed them to believe when I was not able to. Kapic reminded us of the father of the possessed child in Mark 9:24, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is so hard to hold to the truths we know when life gets hard. He stressed the importance of believing for our fellow Christians when they are not able, and of praying for them to stay strong in the their faith. “Praying for someone’s health is important. Far more so is praying for their faith to withstand suffering.”
In Job 4:2-5, Job’s friends call him out and ask why he does not believe the same truths he is always telling others to believe, “You have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” We can speak truth to our neighbor all day long, but it is so much harder to speak truth to ourselves.
Back home we used to say, “Texas: where you can look farther and see less than anywhere else around.” College campuses seem to be the place where you can talk to so many people but never even have a conversation. Think about the conversations you have had over the last week. How many of them went past, “How’s your semester been?” and “Are you liking all your classes?” How many of them lasted longer than the five minutes before class, or the time it took you to eat lunch? When was the last time you had a truly relational conversation?
Friends, how are we to accurately pray for one another when we do not take the time to know what they're struggling with? How are we to speak truth into our neighbor's life when we don’t take the time to listen to their sorrows? When will we start taking time to have real, purposeful, conversations? When will we stop procrastinating and start doing our homework on time so we have time to spare when someone comes to us asking for help? Eventually we have to stop making excuses. We must take time to talk to people, to ask good questions, and to listen deeply to their answers, or our time at Covenant will be in vain. We have to do whatever it takes to fight for real relationships. We need to listen to those who are hurting. We need to look for opportunities to share the gospel truths with our peers. We need to walk alongside those who are suffering and be willing to suffer with them. We need to love the broken people. We must see that we too are broken and learn to seek help. What will it take to hear the silent screams of our peers? Please, listen.