Archive for the ‘Making Sense of Suffering’ Category

I found myself this week reflecting on the tsunami disaster that struck twelve years ago this week. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands… dead. Within mere hours, in a cataclysm of monstrous proportions, a tsunami literally wiped countless numbers of people off the face of the earth.

Unsuspecting tourists, among the extremely vulnerable, perhaps intended to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet death came.

All along the 3000 miles of the coastal rim surrounding the Indian Ocean, children were walking along the beach, sitting on the floor of their village homes or playing in the streets… then death came. Even those wrapped in the arms of mothers or fathers were savagely ripped away and lost.

There were no easy explanations or cliché speeches one could share that would take away the hurt or mend the brokenness of all these lives even in the years that have followed.

Nor are there easy explanations or trite sentiments that I can express that erase the pain of tragedy today when it hits on a colossal scale as it did in 2004 or when we are alone, privately reeling from a personal loss whether the passing of a beloved child, the unexpected advent of cancer, or financial ruin so severe that there seems no recovery.

There is nothing that can be written here that would cause us to wake, when crisis and trauma afflict us, from what we wish was only a bad dream. Death and pain are permanent residents of planet Earth and at times gallop madly through our lives, trampling everything and everyone in their path.


While God has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk.

But in spite of all the horror hurled at humanity by our broken and ravaged world, however and whenever it happens, God does not look on passively. While He has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk. He grieves with us over our sorrows; He is pained by our hurts; and He laments our losses as if they were His own. He knows pain and loss intimately even as He Himself looked death boldly in the eye and willingly embraced it for our sakes.

Yet… on the other side of loss, there is hope. On the other side of grief, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is life.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).

Where do you turn when the world turns upside down? Where do you turn when you lose everything you ever wanted or ever needed? Where do you turn for hope?

And what do you say when it is someone else who has suffered so? Do you tell them to “just get over it” and walk away? Do you turn your eyes away, so afraid of facing pain yourself that you try to keep your distance?

May it not be so. If God had done that, we would never have had a Savior. “By this we know love, that (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

If you are a child of God, your purpose is to be an extension of His heart, a receptacle through which His love may pass and enter a beaten and battered world.

Be a vessel of comfort for someone who grieves. While it’s likely that there isn’t much you can say to make everything okay again, your loving presence in the life of someone who hurts can touch a broken life with comfort.

Be a source of help to someone who is struggling to survive. In your church or in an outreach center near you there may be found avenues for helping others who do not have enough.

God, speaking through His prophet five centuries before the Lord Jesus was laid in a straw-filled manger, said of Christ, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations… a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4 ESV).

Still in the business of lifting up bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks, the tender heart of God even now seeks to bring hope to the islands: the islands spread all over the Indian Ocean as well as the private little islands of the struggling souls of those with whom we work and play every day. Let us then be His hands and feet in this New Year.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A thousand things may come to mind Reaching Hand

When one’s calling he seeks to find.

Riches, pleasure, fame and power

May bloom like a fading flower.

Yet their promise fades in the end

Or turns away like a false friend.

So sense of purpose has been lost

And to dark despair hopes are tossed.

But piercing clouds of doubt and fear,

The light of Jesus’ love shines clear.

We cry aloud to Him Who gave

His life for us so He could save

Us for His purposes and plans.

Our Blessed Savior understands

The strife and pain we suffer through

And helps us know what we must do.

He is the Goal for which we reach;

To our souls He’s the Song we teach;

The Living Water our hearts crave;

The Reason that this life we brave.

The rest of life falls into place,

When we believe we’re led by grace.


Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The one tremendous catalyst for joy in the life of a follower of Jesus is the realization that the very things in our lives that seem to hold only bitterness and defeat for us happen to be the very things that ignite incredible victory and joy.  From disease to financial ruin, from divorce to death itself, we find that in the very moment that despair would close its gaping jaws upon us to swallow us whole, the long arm of God reaches in with hope, love and power.

That is not to say that we won’t suffer grief in the short term as loss or rejection assail us, but rather that we discover in Christ a shining light that loss and hurt can only cloud over for a season.  There will be a time in which our trust in God is thoroughly vindicated one way or another.

Take, for example, those whose lives have been drastically impacted by the recent flooding in West Virginia.   Loss of home, loss of income, and loss of life came unexpectedly as flood waters that rose in terrifying proportions roared through unsuspecting communities.  The devastation wrought by them is far from being calculable.  And while prospects for rebuilding are high in the long-term, our neighbors there are struggling right now to just get by.

Still, such tragedy and loss, while grievous indeed, are also windows to living acts of grace that show what Christ-like love looks like in real-life ways.  People there who have lost much still find time to give much.  Communities untouched personally are reaching out with love, making such sacrifices as they can in resources and volunteering time and hard work.

Such is love.  It is not an emotion so much as it is a determination to help others whose needs are real and whose pain is great.  We have friends who in live in these afflicted areas who report that Believers from all over have mobilized to assist these in need.  They tell of people whose loving efforts vividly portray a God Who is Himself on mission and Who exemplifies love through His Son, Jesus Christ, Who came to help us in our great need:  deliverance from the power and penalty of sin!

These who today are working to help others without regard to the cost involved are “mini pictures” of God’s grace towards us and remind us that some of the most beautiful and amazing things in life are things we could never know had there been no pain, sorrow or loss.

This is why God’s promise for Christians (people who have repented and turned in faith to Jesus Christ) is such a tremendously powerful word for us in whatever trial we may face or season in which we struggle to survive.  “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).

So if you have found yourself in trouble, a place of sadness or hurt, acknowledge that trouble, sadness or hurt, but then look beyond it to the God Who delivers and heals, lifts up and restores.  Disease can only affect us for as long as we are housed in these earthly bodies, but cannot touch the heavenly and eternal one being prepared for us (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).  Financial ruin and the subsequent struggle to survive materially teach us to depend on the God Who looks after the grasses of the field and the birds of the air (Matthew 6:25-34).  Divorce may split our hearts in two, but God Himself binds up the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).  Death may rob us of those we love, but death for the Christian is only a momentary parting which is nullified in the sweet reunion of God’s saints in a heavenly home that awaits us in His perfect presence (John 14:1-3).

Catalyst for joy

We have a God Who is not only working in our lives, but will continue to work in us, through us, and for us a divine plan of blessing that we can scarcely comprehend or imagine!

All of this is strategically vital for us to recall as we press onward in our journey of faith through this world which is hostile towards God and resentful of the hope that we have in Jesus.  We must both recall the hope we have in Christ and also encourage each other with the assurances of God’s sovereign love and His divine commitment to uphold us and keep us safe for eternity.  If it were not so, we could hardly call Him our “Heavenly Father”.

As it is, we have a God Who is not only working in our lives, but will continue to work in us, through us, and for us a divine plan of blessing that we can scarcely comprehend or imagine.  He is the God Who brings life out of death, healing from hurt, and hope over despair.  So be encouraged and see to it that you in turn encourage others with the hope that sustains you.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A friend of mine, on reflecting upon the breathless rate things are moving along, said over lunch with me that we are in times of “white water change.” I doubt that anyone can really disagree with that observation, although people may disagree on how to respond to it.

Whether we like it or not, the world is changing so fast that we may feel hard-pressed to keep pace. And as the world around us changes, our churches are changing, too. As new church families (a.k.a. congregations) are being birthed, and as new generations emerge within the ranks of established churches, it is to be hoped that we see this as an era of a renewed sense of calling along with a renewed resolve to see God glorified and made known while we seek to experience Him working in our lives, our homes and our communities.

As Christians strive to keep up with all this change, it is very easy to feel as if we are being overwhelmed and that we are in danger of being swept away by circumstances that are beyond our control. The collapse of morality, the blitzkrieg of political cutthroats, and the disintegration of the family have become the characteristics of this new day and there is little hope that conventional ideals, logic and methodologies can be effective in restoring a semblance of sanity to our world.

White water

As we strive to keep up with change in our world, it is very easy to feel as if we are in danger of being swept away by circumstances that are beyond our control.


At times like these, Christians can be baited into taking sides against one another, battle lines can be drawn, and lives can be wounded.

Why does this sometimes happen? How is it possible that we, who are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, can react in such different ways to the same dynamics and then hurt each other as we begin to assume the worst in others’ motives?

Well, for one thing, change often brings loss (or at least a perception of it). We tend to find it difficult to “let go” of the cultural aspects of our Christianity that have brought us comfort and, more than that, it is natural to be reluctant to release those things for which we have spent our lives – even when we finally admit to ourselves and God that maybe we’ve spent ourselves on the wrong things.

On the other hand, there really is a need for change in the church today. The kind of change that is necessary is the kind that readily impacts the lives of those to whom God connects it.

Oh, by “change”, I do not mean a departure from the Scriptures as being the standard for living life and discerning truth. On the contrary, there must in fact be a renewed sense of the Scripture’s relevance to life, to its applicability to the soul’s search for meaning, and to the moral quagmire that has so ensnared our culture.

Because the Gospel is “Good News” for all people in all places for all time, it cannot be changed in its essence (and any attempt on our part to change its essence negates the validity of all the rest of the message we proclaim). Indeed, as this “Gospel” was in the mind of God before time began and will be perfectly unveiled and vindicated in every way when time has ended, it is an invincible column of rock that continually defeats the torrents of the river of time.

Still, each generation has its own voice in proclaiming His praises and in serving Him. And as God’s Spirit is always breathing new life, new inspiration, and new vision for how we may praise and serve our living God, each voice is continually being transformed even as we confront the evils of our day and defy the lies of our spiritual enemy, Satan.

Please understand that change has come, is coming, and will continue to come. If you welcome it, consider the perspective of those who do not welcome it and let your attitude and actions be seasoned with the same grace that God has shown you in Jesus Christ. Not only that, allow God to enlarge your understanding through the thoughts of others as He sheds the light of His wisdom on your race to embrace change. Think well on how God may have sent these persons to play a part in shaping you and your walk with Him. Even those things that can be difficult and painful can be used by God to change you as you seek to change the world.

And if you are of the “don’t like change; don’t want it” camp, take to heart God’s desire to accomplish new things in you, your family, your church and your community. An unimaginably powerful and infinitely loving God always has more to do and say to a people who will obediently walk with Him.

Change will come however you feel about it. Your part is to help it be the right kind of change: not the change of recklessness but also not the change that comes from the deterioration and decay of stagnation.

If you do not have a church family (local church congregation), seek out one that genuinely points to the Bible as having the answers to all of life’s questions and then allow God to bless them through you as He allows change to freshen and revive you and your home.

“Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Path through the woods

One often likes to think that when

            He or she becomes born again,

Life’s road turns smooth and runs straight through

            Flow’ring glens alive with dazzling hue,

Glorious vistas, soft sod to trod

            That lead us in our walk with God

Ever closer to see His face,

            Feel His love and His warm embrace.


Yet, though such glens of joyful peace

            Indeed occur, they so quickly cease

In order to work deeper still

            The workings of God’s perfect will.

Not all storms come as pounding rain

            That beat upon the window pane

Or mighty winds that whirling by

            Bring grim destruction from the sky.


God knows in hearts there lurk such things

            That flow from selfish ponderings:

Poisonings of our fallen state

            Like pride and envy, lust and hate.

Such seeds of death must be undone

            So deeper bliss for us is won.

For with such things we’ll never be

            Made wholly new, set truly free.


Trials and troubles are therefore sent

            So trust in self be entirely spent

And faith and love be taught to grow

            And from our hearts be loosed to flow.

Hearts that yield within the storm

            Are hearts that God Himself will warm.

So in the dark, though unclear the way,

            Allow Christ’s cross o’er you to sway.


Curse not the advent of the pain

            That is the path to greater gain.

Trust the Father Who guides you through

            And brings new joy and hope to you.

He is faithful, the God Who gives

            You His Spirit that in you lives

To grant you greater life in Him,

            A lasting joy that will not dim.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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When our children were young, it would frequently happen that one of them would construct very complex and impressive structures with toy building blocks. Occasionally blessed with the privilege of joining them in their enterprises, I sometimes could personally witness them design and build some amazing things. While I didn’t always know what it was that I was looking at, my children were always able to come up with impressive titles and elaborate explanations.

If you are facing heart-breaking loss, take heart! There is life still yet to be lived with new joy and hope!

If you’ve faced loss & heartache, here’s hope! There’s life still yet to be lived with new joy & peace awaiting you!

Sometimes they showed me a sky-scraper. Sometimes a spaceship. Sometimes it is the surface of a planet, and sometimes it is a creature that they have created.

Whatever the case, it was a masterpiece each time. And invariably, at the insistence of the inventor/artist, each completed work was placed in a safe place so that the genius invested by its creator would be preserved (at least for awhile).

Sadly, sooner or later, each work meets its demise. Too often a finished piece is taken down and enjoyed as if it is a toy (which, of course, it is although its maker generally forgets that). I have noticed that toys of the Lego genre come apart most inconveniently.

On the other hand, sometimes the project was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone accidentally stepped on it, for example: Ouch! Sometimes it was innocently picked up and put away by a well-meaning parent: Oops! And sometimes a dog, wanting attention, would come and lie down on it or worse, chew it up: Eww!

The greatest heartaches always came, however, when an existing work contained a piece necessary for the building of another artist/inventor’s project. The currently existing work was dismantled, without regard for anyone else’s feelings but also without any particular mal-intent: it just happened to have a piece the other child wanted.

However these tragedies happened, the destruction of treasured creations always translated as anger and grief on the part of their creators (and then also for the parents trying to negotiate wisdom and cooperation among the young inventors).

It also meant something important for me and was something in which I still am growing in the context of God’s kingdom. When you lose what you thought you needed and wanted, for whatever reason, how do you begin again?

An important question for us as we each must deal with it in at least small ways (e.g., Lego blocks). But it is especially important when we deal with this issue on a grand scale. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the breaking of one’s health, can all leave us asking the question of how to start over.

Of course, this question has inconceivable implications for those in our world facing devastating loss in the face of persecution (such as that from ISIS), particularly those who have lost not only their homes and livelihoods but their entire families but as well.

There are no easy answers. But if you are facing heart-breaking loss even now in your own life, there is life still yet to be lived. Granted, it won’t likely be the same as before, but there is still life… and hope for you if you’ll trust that God can and will walk with you through the dark tunnels of despair as you hold His hand in faith.

Consider the magnitude of Job’s loss and know indeed that you have a kindred spirit in him. Yet, in spite of all his sorrow and pain, he would not turn his back on God. In spite of the discouragement that buffeted him, he did not ultimately despair. Having lost his wealth, his beloved family, and his health, as well as being falsely accused by his “friends”, he ended up a shining example of God’s grace as God helped him start all over.

“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You (God) would call, and I would answer You; you would long for the work (the created one) of Your hands. For then You would number my steps; You would not keep watch over my sin” (Job 14:14-16 ESV).

Can you start again when all of life as you’ve known it is lost or destroyed? Can you yet live again when tragedy and hurt come as robbers to take away your joy? Yes. There is One Who will see to it that renewal will come. And when God picks up the blocks of our broken lives, He can put them back together in ways we never imagined. Starting over after loss and grief can seem impossible… but with God, it’s just a new beginning.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Several years ago, as some have heard me tell the story, I had the opportunity to go with several teams of college students to the Middle East to do some ministry. On an occasion in which we could “take the day off”, I arranged for my team to tag along with a group of Dutch workers on a hiking expedition in the desert surrounding the city. We started early, knowing that the relatively cool ninety degrees would quickly roar up to nearly 120 in the blazing sun, and were soon far out in the rocky waste, toting water bottles on our shoulders.

We walked a few miles under the scorching sun, explored some gullies, and listened to the absolute silence of the desert wilderness enjoying the reminder that one needs to pull aside from the noise of life and work at times to find a quiet place to meet with God in prayer and in reading and meditating on His Word.

During the day, we stopped to drink some coffee in the shade of some large rocks. By the way, if you think drinking regular coffee in that kind of heat is for the truly dedicated coffee drinker, than you should try Bedouin coffee: so strong and thick that it is actually syrupy and, given that it is also loaded with sugar, it definitely perks you up!

Soon our “coffee break” was over and we turned to head back to our cars. As we trudged our way along the bottom of a dusty ravine, we came upon a boulder covered with bones. Recently gnawed camel bones, to be precise.

A Dutchman named John, who had been working in the area for a number of years, pointed out a large opening in the side of the cliff wall behind the boulder. “Dat is a jackal den,” he explained. “Let’s see if der is anyone at home.” He reached down, picked up a baseball sized stone and tossed it inside the hole. When nothing happened, he got down on his hands and knees and began to crawl inside. “Da coast is clear. Come on!” he called over his shoulder.

Jackel den

On whatever path God calls us, He accompanies us and He has sent others ahead to show us that we too can make it through and that He will never leave us stranded in those tight spots if we’ll trust Him.

Our little group just stared as he disappeared into the darkness of the jackal den. Then we stared at each other and wondered what to do. Finally, one of the people in John’s group shrugged his shoulders and headed into the cave as well. Of course, I thought that they were both crazy at first, but I was then struck by the thought that I might never have another chance to crawl into a jackal’s den. Why that thought suddenly kindled within me such an irresistible impulse to explore the cave I may never know, but I suddenly found myself also crouching down to climb into the cave after them.

The first twenty feet or so in the cool darkness were easy. I moved on my hands and knees able at first to hear the two ahead of me as they pressed ahead. After awhile, however, the tunnel began to wind around. The walls on either side drew in and the ceiling dropped so low that I was forced to lie flat and crawl on my elbows. When the tunnel narrowed even further, I began to get nervous. When I realized that I couldn’t hear the others anymore, I began to panic.

I had never experienced the wave of unreasonable terror that began to rise up inside me as images of desert snakes and scorpions appeared in my mind’s eye. Here I was, stuck in a tight spot, alone and in complete darkness, prey to who knows what lay in wait. Stuck in that tight spot, I was too afraid to move forward but too ashamed to go back in defeat.

But just as quickly came the realization that if there really were snakes and scorpions in the tunnel with me, more than likely one of the two ahead of me would have been bitten already. But they hadn’t been. They had passed through and had made it.

I then breathed a sigh of relief, shrugged off the feelings of fear, and pressed on. Soon I left the darkness of the tunnel behind and came out into sunlight again to join my companions. My team members simply looked at me as if I was crazy but I just laughed knowing that I had something to tell them that I am now sharing with you.

There are occasions in life in which we must leave the safety and warmth of what we’ve always known. When in these tight spots, we may feel that we are lost in the darkness of the unknown, that we are all alone, that we are being pressed in upon every side, and that something lies in wait to hurt us and destroy us.

But the Bible says in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

These witnesses are simply those Believers who have “gone before” us (see Hebrews 11). There has been since the beginning of time others who have been called out of their own affairs to join God in relationship with Him. What you wrestle with, they also have wrestled with. Some have given up and turned back. Some, too busy or too afraid of the cost, have chosen to not follow Him at all.

How sad. God gives us an opportunity to join Him in the “great adventure” of knowing Him and too often we say, “It’s too scary. It’s too hard.”

But some have come to realize that on whatever path God calls us, He accompanies us and He has sent others ahead to show us that we too can make it through and that He will never leave us stranded in those tight spots if we’ll trust Him. As Savior, He’ll see us through them no matter how long and winding, dark or frightening the path and He Himself will be there to greet us at the end.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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