God's Goodness in the Midst of Pain
By Roxana Mars
Years ago I read Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. I was immensely inspired by this account of the life and work of Jim Elliot as well as that of the other four missionaries with him: their years of preparation, their consuming desire to bring God's Word to a group of head-hunters (known then as the Auca), the first signs of friendly contact with these people. Such promising work! It all ended abruptly with the death of the five young missionaries when they were killed by the Aucas.
To me it seemed so incomprehensibly inefficient for God to allow five young men in their 20's and early 30's - whose hearts were on fire for Him, who were well trained, husbands and fathers of little children - to just die! Why did God choose not to stop the killings? Out of wisdom and goodness? To glorify His Name?
Not long after I read of Jim Elliot, our friend’s son, who was training to be a lifeguard, had an accident that left him a quadriplegic. Was this God's goodness and wisdom toward him and his family?
For the longest time I didn’t understand God's answer to these questions that were burning in my heart. However, I did hear and understand His call for me to leave my extended family and all that was familiar and comfortable, to go and to bring His Word to a people who have never had a chance to hear His good news. He wanted my husband Mark and me to do all of this because He lovesthem.
As I followed His leading, I met many missionaries who had experienced a lot of suffering. I realized that God really does allow many Christians who have given their all to serve Him to die of easily curable ailments, to get cancer, to be raped, kidnapped, brutally tortured, crippled, and sometimes to leave behind young children and a spouse. So even after I followed His call, the question consumed me even more: Who is this God in whom I've trusted? Do I really know Him? Can I completely trust Him? Is He really good, wise and powerful?
Tragic story after tragic story, not of great martyrs but of real people I knew, brought my struggle with God to an inner scream of anger, of unbelief in His goodness and wisdom, of deep confusion and of fear for me and my family.
My scream became even louder two years ago when we arrived in France for language study before eventually settling in Mali for our mission assignment with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Shortly after arriving, we heard news reports of heinous crimes committed by a Belgian pedophile against little girls and I began to wonder: What if something bad happened to our daughter, Savannah, and all because I followed God's calling, leaving my "safe" corner of the world?
During my second pregnancy, my fear became increasingly unrestrained. My first pregnancy had no complications other than occasional morning sickness during the first trimester. However, during this pregnancy I was easily exhausted. And to make matters worse, I began to feel a nagging pain that just wouldn't go away. This made it difficult to do anything even when I wasn't exhausted. I feared that the baby we were anxiously awaiting would not be healthy, and so my doubts and unbelief in God's goodness became overwhelming.
In October and November of 1997, as my struggle with God continued, and in the midst of great discomfort, I saw the foolishness of my demanding only good things in life (good here means having things go my way). I chose God, surrendering the areas of my life where I struggled most. Why? Because I understood as never before (not just theoretically) that God had called me to Himself, not to His blessings, and that any well-being that I could bring about for myself, without Him, would end in death. God gave me the desire and the strength to choose Him, and in Him I received an incredible peace and rest from my fears.
With these thoughts in my heart, I went to the hospital on November 10, 1997 to find out if everything was okay. I was very uncomfortable and wasn't sure if I could feel the baby move. It took just five minutes to determine that the baby was dead, his tummy and chest filled with fluid. Out of the blue, after a completely normal sonogram just two months earlier and a normal examination just two weeks before, our baby had died.
Giving birth to a dead baby is the most impossible thing I have ever done in my life. I had no strength in me to rely on - no desire to live, really. I thought I would die during delivery and that was just fine with me. I prayed that God would take care of Savannah and Mark. God chose to take the life of our baby, but not mine. I held our little boy in my arms, a five-pound, beautifully formed baby. He looked perfect to me. Just as my pain was real at that moment and afterwards, the peace was also real - I could feel the almost tangible presence of God.
We named our baby Tobiah Elimelech. Tobiah means "God is Good" and Elimelech means "God is my King." Tobiah, or Toby as we refer to him, was the first name Mark and I had agreed on even before Savannah was born. When our son was born dead, we could not think of another name, and by faith in God's Word, we affirmed that God is both good and sovereign.
The point of all this is that in the midst of my pain I understood God's goodness toward me. How? Through the fact that He prepared me by giving me the grace to submit to His will. Just days before we knew we lost Toby, I had gone through a period of intense soul-searching and Bible study. As a result, God gave me faith based on His Word that He is always in control, He is immeasurably good, and He never makes mistakes. It was then that I surrendered once again.
He mercifully and patiently wrestled with me, showing me more of Himself so that I would know with even more certainty that nothing I will ever lose on earth can compare with Him. Then He took me through the deepest loss I have ever experienced. He is good because He kept my faith. As with Job, He did not answer my questions. He just revealed Himself in an unmistakable way as the awesome God who rules over life and death, the God who keeps His promises and who is deeply good.
Just a few days after Toby's death, a friend of ours was undergoing surgery for the second time, to remove some recurring tumors. She e-mailed us a prayer just before going into the hospital and her prayer has also become our prayer:
"Dear Lord, do not punish me by removing my cross from me. Instead, comfort me by leading me into submission to Your will and by causing me to love the cross. Give me only what will serve You best, and may it be used to reveal the greatest of all Your mercies: bringing glory to Your name through me, according to Your will. Amen."