When we first learned that my little girl Shannon would always be a little girl, when we discovered about her first birthday that she was profoundly disabled, my father, a deeply compassionate man asked how I was handling the news. I told him that I had been preparing for this moment all my life. If anyone should be able to rest in the sovereignty of God it is me. The sovereignty of God is the cornerstone of Reformed theology, which theology I have been schooled in from my youth by one of its greatest living proponents.
The sovereignty of God, rightly understood, was the very core of my father’s best known work, The Holiness of God. The doctrine came front and center in his next book, Chosen by God. I was a young man when those books were first published. Like many others I ate them up, drank them in, and like too many young men, spat out their wisdom with precious little grace and care. I reveled in God’s sovereignty, and delighted in nothing more than to argue for, to defend, to proclaim that sovereignty.
That all changed, however, when I read still another book by my father, this one born of a family hardship. Surprised by Suffering begins with the still-born birth of my niece, Alissa. From there the book explores not just the truth that God ordains our suffering but why. The point that has stuck with me over the years was this- suffering isn’t something that happens, nor it is just something God permits. It is instead a vocation, a calling. God does not merely say, “I’m going to make you go through this.” Instead He says, “It is My desire for you that you should go through this. Follow Me.”
All of us, when we are brought into the kingdom, in joyful gratitude for the grace of God, want to do great things for the kingdom. Having been rescued by His glorious grace, we want in turn to rescue others, to serve the body, to proclaim the Good News. God has called us to do just that. He calls out heroes who take the message to strange and foreign lands. He calls out pastors who feed the sheep. He calls out teachers, like my father, who explain to the broader body the fullness of the gospel. Some, however, He calls to suffer.
My wife, for this part of His story, is called to suffer. Her role right now is to do this great thing for the kingdom- to be Jesus to us, so that we might be Jesus to her. She is Jesus to us because as we serve her, we remember His promise, that serving the least of these is serving Him (Matthew 25). We, in turn, are Jesus to her, precisely because the church is His body. When we pray for her, she rests in Jesus’ arms. When we bring a meal, she tastes Jesus feeding her. When we dry her eyes, she feels Jesus wiping away her tears.
Hers is not an easy calling. It is, however, a great one. Being Jesus means walking the via dolorosa. How blessed I am to walk that road with her, and with Him.
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