My dog dying, Health and Wealth, and the Apostle Paul

This week I have looked in the face of death and deterioration. 

My dog, Nafai, has diabetes with endocrinosis.  The vet said that it is a medical emergency and that Nafai should be hospitalized and treated or we should consider putting him down.  In order to decide the time to bring him in, we should choose three things that he loves and when he stops enjoying them, that is the time to put him to sleep.  My dog does not enjoy a whole lot except hanging around us, something he is still doing most of the time.  So we will wait until he doesn’t want to hang out with us, no longer wags his tail happily when we come home, or is suffering too much.  So far, he doesn’t appear to be suffering a whole lot although he is not eating much.  He has gone days without eating.

On Tuesday, Ron, a nice man from our church, and I had a battle with the giant Ash tree in my back yard.  The top half of it is dead and Ron heats his house with a woodburning stove; the two together made it a perfect time to cut it down.  But Ash is huge and has put up a tremendous fight.  We were not able to cut it down with the 16” chainsaw.  Then on Thursday Tommie, another nice man from our church, came over and we fought with Ash for two hours, but eventually Ash fell.

Although I love my dog it will be nothing like losing a friend or close family member.  Losing a loved pet or seeing the decay in the world around us are lesser reminders of death, suffering, and that the things of this world are only temporary, but they are preparation for the greater losses.  And greater losses will come.  Look around.  Everyone we encounter is going to suffer and die, unless Jesus comes first.  Courtney, a nice lady from our church, posted an anonymous quote on Facebook this week: “Don’t worry about life, you’re not going to survive it anyway.”

In some religious circles, where the health and wealth gospel is taught, it is really foreign to talk about suffering and the fact that we suffer is blamed on our lack of faith.  I just cannot come to that view through Scripture.  And you should know from my recent messages that I do believe God heals and helps his people prosper.  But sometimes he doesn’t.  

The Apostle Paul knew suffering firsthand.  He was imprisoned multiple times, received forty lashes less one five separate times, beaten by rods, stoned on one occasion, was in a shipwreck three times, adrift on the sea for a full night and day.  He was not kept safe from danger as he says he faced danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles; he faced danger in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, and from fake Christians.  He toiled through many sleepless night, starving and thirsty, out in the cold without shelter (2 Cor 11:23-28).  His ministry was a ministry of hope, glory, and the power of the Spirit, but it was also a ministry of suffering.

And the writer of Hebrews elaborates on the sufferings of the faithful:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”  Heb 11:35-40 (ESV).
If you find yourself suffering, you don't need to blame yourself.  Use that pain to draw closer to God.  In many cases, you can't choose whether you suffer or not, but you can choose how you respond to suffering.  The Apostle Paul suffered.  Many great Christians I have known have suffered.  Jesus Himself suffered.  And you will too.  It's part of this fallen world, a fallen world that we strive to bring into line with God's will, but fallen nonetheless.  A fallen world that we suffer in at times while trying to bring God's perfect kingdom into the here and now as much as possible.