St Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) is supposed to have told God once when she was bucked off her horse into a river on the way to visit one of her monasteries: “Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”

Quite a number of God’s friends perished in the recent crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501. Forty-one of those who perished were from the same church. Then there was the Korean missionary family, husband, wife, and their infant daughter. There may have been more followers of Jesus who perished in the crash. I am not a young Christian. I have followed Christ since 1969. I still ask why.

God, couldn’t you have reached out with some special air pocket and saved all your people and all the other passengers with them? When you saved Paul in Acts 27, the whole crew of his ship was saved as well. Why not this time? You parted the sea for Moses and the Israelites. You wouldn’t even have to work up a sweat to do this. But you didn’t. No, I am not asking for some triumphalistic apologetics — the “see, my God is so powerful” type. I am just thinking of the broken hearts of all those left behind.

My life has been broken a few times in the years that I have followed Christ and I have had to struggle through to some framework to help me through such times. When terrible things happen to God’s people, I bear in mind three things.

Firstly, whatever pain and tragedy a follower of Christ goes through this side of heaven is but one chapter of story that ends well. We were at a funeral service on 6th January when my beloved Bernice was led by the Lord to share a part of the following verses from Revelation at the graveside:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5 NIV)

Whatever horrors a follower of Christ may have to endure this side of heaven, it is but a chapter in a story that finishes in the new heaven and the new earth. I force myself to look beyond the pain of the present to the time when God will usher in the new order.

Secondly, it is precisely because followers of Jesus share the same broken world with those who do not know Christ that we are able to build bridges to them. We stand together with a broken humanity looking for healing and answers and it is in that posture that we share about the Christ who came to make us whole.

Thirdly, pain makes us teachable. It humbles us. It reminds us of our dependence on the Lord. It removes any arrogance that blocks His working in our lives. As CS Lewis reminds us:

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009.)

Perhaps the greatest lesson I need to learn and relearn is the lesson of faith. And that lesson is often learnt best when God appears to be absent.

It has been a tough start to 2015. We have already been to two funerals. And we said goodbye to papa Lee not too long ago. Bad news beckons on all sides. And no, God’s people will not get any automatic special favours from the Lord. But we just celebrated Advent. And so we remember:

the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16 NIV)

It’s just dawn. It’s still dark. But the sun is rising. We look to its warmth for ourselves and for others.

*image by haloocyn/