The answer is 120.
Now, what’s the question?
For how many years did Noah work on an ark and wait for a flood?
Yes, that many. That’s long, even by the measurements of earliest times. Besides being years of toil and hard labour, those years speak of psychological and spiritual pain. Imagine the scorn, derision and rejection as neighbours and passers-by (were there tourists in those days?) laughed at such a foolish undertaking – building a boat nowhere near a large body of water and without steerage, the original “cruise to nowhere”?
As Pastor Robert Deffinbaugh elaborated: “The ark was but the physical evidence of Noah’s faith and obedience. The ark symbolized his willingness to spend this life in preparation for the next. It served to condemn the sins of the people of his day and to warn them of future judgment.” A prophetic proclamation indeed.
People who truly are “in the world but not of the world” (reference in part from John 17) should find themselves out of synch or alignment with the people around them. It's obedience to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). Recall the hymn “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passin’ through.” Then, a potential mismatch permeates every part of life.
In the fifth century, there was a believer named Arsenius, who determined to live a holy life and gave up the comforts of then-Egyptian society, to live a simple life in the desert. Interestingly, whenever he did visit Alexandria, he would spend time wandering through its bazaars. Asked why, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he didn't need (Our Daily Bread, 26 May 1994). Subtle yet substantial.
This is similar to the anecdote of a tourist who visited a wise man. He was surprised to see that the only furniture was a mat and a kerosene lamp. “Sir, where’s your furniture?” inquired the tourist. “Where’s yours?” replied the wise man. “Mine? I am just a visitor here,” countered the tourist. The wise man declared: “So am I.”
An eternal perspective does that – it overturns one’s attitude to possessions and ambitions among other longings.
How can it do the same to the question of pain and suffering?
When pain and suffering strike, the believer may be tossed on the waves of doubt – why is this happening? Are we not spared? We are the ones in white. Bad things should happen to bad people only. Who inverted this arrangement?
But today’s Christian message seems to be one sans pain or suffering. Presumably, only good things await and the heavenly benefits of sonship (rewards and inheritance) are bestowed right here, right now. The “good, good” God seems loaded with earthly pleasures and blessings, so that we flourish and thrive, making our God rather attractive to onlookers. Really, what’s there not to like?
"As long as we are in this fallen world, pain and suffering are part of the package."
John Hicks is more scathing in his observation: “The superficial theologies of our day teach that only good things, a comfortable life, and prosperity are in store for the man of God. But a realistic look at the world will quickly disabuse us of that notion. To paraphrase the popular book title – bad things do happen to good people. In this world of supposed cause and effect, good is not always rewarded and evil is not always punished. In genuine suffering you are forced to question why, because all theorizing is over and you must make contact with God.”
As long as we are in this fallen world, pain and suffering are part of the package. Here is where we still need to pray “Thy will be done”, because it is not. Neither taken for granted nor automatic. Hence perversions of every kind occur.
Expect pain and suffering here. Know the difference between “pain is good” and “God uses pain to work for our good”, often in His miraculous and mysterious ways. God is greater than pain and suffering. Tim Keller summarises our hope well: “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
Yours. All yours.
Dr Andrew Goh is the editor of IMPACT Magazine
Vol. 44 no.6 of IMPACT MAGAZINE
WILL GOD HURT AND CALL IT GOOD?... The pain is the process
A TIME TO ASK WHY... A biblical response to calamity
THE HIDDENNESS OF GOD... What it does and does not mean
IT'S COMPLICATED... To forgive or not to forgive
WHEN HEALING PRAYER BRINGS HURT... Being on the receiving end of healing prayer
THE MEGAPHONE GOD USES... The Panel on pain and suffering
SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE... Interview with Andrew Morley