Chad Arnold was a happily married 38 year old man with two young kids when, in 2010, doctors informed him that he would need a liver transplant in order to see his 39th birthday. Immediately his younger brother Ryan volunteered to donate 60% of his liver in what was to be a fairly routine procedure. The family blog records how the post-op events unfolded…
Friday, July 30 at 11:59 am: “Ryan is doing well this morning. Groggy from the medicine but (fairly) comfortable... It's taken awhile for it all to sink in, Chad is functioning with Ryan's liver… almost doesn't seem real.”
Friday, July 30 at 11:45 pm: “Ryan was just moved out of ICU and onto the transplant floor so he is now just a few rooms down from Chad. Chad went on two walks today... up and down the hallway twice! Ryan has been pretty groggy today, which is normal.”
Saturday, July 31 at 3:44 pm: “Today is Day 3. We have been told from the beginning that this is perhaps the most difficult day, especially for the donor. Things are improving this afternoon, but last night, Ryan did not sleep well and has been in quite a bit of pain.”
Sunday, August 1 at 10:18 am: “Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse last night. Ryan went code blue and was resuscitated. He is now in critical condition. We ask that you stand in faith and fight with us… Death can't have him.”
Monday, August 2 at 11:04 pm: “Ryan went to be with Jesus this afternoon.”
Just four quick days after a routine surgery to save his big brother’s life, Ryan Arnold (the model of perfect health before the surgery) died from complications leaving behind a wife and three young children. As one can imagine the entire family was completely devastated.
When Scripture presents human affliction is does so with three core drivers:
1. Suffering manifests as a result of God's judgment on all sin… Expulsion from Eden.
2. Suffering manifests as punishment for an individual sin… David's adultery.
3. Suffering manifest independent of our involvement… The anguish of Job.
And while the first two manifestations are simple cause and effect making their plight understandable at least on an intellectual level, it is this third driver of human affliction that we so often struggle and grapple with because it appears to be random and often unfair. I mean why would God allow Ryan to die and Chad to live? It doesn’t make sense.
Such was the case for Paul and Silas in Philippi… If you’re unaware of the story, while in the ancient city of Troas unsure where God was leading, Paul received a vision of “a man from Macedonia pleading with him” for help. Rocked by what he saw Paul and his party immediately catch a boat and sail to Macedonia specifically landing in the city of Philippi.
Sadly, Luke records in Acts 16:22-24 that for the high crime of faithfulness to God (their ministry to a group of women in Philippi) and a love for the oppressed (specifically a demon-possessed slave girl they’d set free from her torment) “the multitude rose up together against them, the magistrates tore off their clothes,” Paul and Silas are then “beaten with rods,” before being “thrown into prison” with “their feet fastened in the stocks.”
What is amazing about this story is that Luke tells us when most men would have sulked or been discouraged by their plight, during the “midnight hour” a bloodied Paul and Silas are “praying and singing hymns to God.” Then, without warning, a violent “earthquake” so shook the prison that not only were “all the doors opened” but “everyone’s chains were loosed.”
And while all of this is interesting in its own right, what happens next is totally unexpected… Though most would have seen this as God’s deliverance (escape from affliction), this is not how Paul viewed the situation. Because he resisted the natural urge to see his suffering as being random and instead trusted that everything he’d just experienced had been part of God’s plan, in a shocking twist he and Silas willingly chose to remain in their cell!
Though many of us may consider this decision ludicrous, we should consider why Paul and Silas made the choice to remain in their affliction rather than seek escape for their reasons will end up illustrating why it is this difficult third driver of suffering (one independent of our involvement) is never random or without purpose.
Acts 16:27-34, “And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’ Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’
So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”
Don’t forget why Paul and Silas were in Philippi… In Acts 16:9 Paul received a vision of a “man from Macedonia.” What makes this interesting is that, according to Luke’s record of their experiences thus far in Philippi, we have no mention of Paul ministering to any men!
Personally I’m convinced that, following this earthquake, as Paul surveyed the scene unfolding before him (which included this Philippian Jailer “drawing his sword to kill himself”) he saw the greater purpose behind his imprisonment - God’s plan finally came into view.
The “man from Macedonia” they had been sent to help was in actuality this Philippian Jailer! Aside from the fact he’s the first recorded man they minister to in Philippi, it seems clear from his immediate reaction to Paul’s appeal that he “do himself no harm” something deeper was already at work in his heart… His reaction was to ask, “What must I do to be saved?”
Don’t miss the implications for if the mission to Philippi had been to reach this Jailer all along, the events of the last twelve hours take on a whole new level of purpose. Paul and Silas had been arrested, falsely accused, and thrown into jail because God wanted to place them in close proximity to this jailer… Then God allowed their suffering to afford them a powerful way to demonstrate to the jailer the supernatural power of God… Which then becomes all the more significant as God uses this earthquake to create a desperate moment in his life perfect for the Gospel message!
It’s a tragic byproduct of living in a culture so consumed by luxury and comfort that we tend to run from difficulty. Most of us when faced with the prospects of discomfort seek the quickest exit or path of least resistance. If you think you’re immune from this tendency, next time a tough situation arises in your life just listen to your prayers.
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray in such a way (even Jesus prayed three times “if it’s Your will may this cup pass from Me”), but when it’s all said and done are you willing to resign yourself to the reality there are instances when suffering is actually God’s will for this season of your life. Can you pray like Jesus… “Not My will, but Your will be done?”
Imagine if Paul and Silas decided to escape as soon as the moment presented itself? There is no doubt the Jailer would have killed himself… But most importantly Paul and Silas would have never afforded themselves the opportunity to see God’s underlying purpose behind the affliction they had just endured. Instead of praying for escape we should be praying for God to help us see His purpose behind our suffering.
Don’t miss this… Their suffering, which on the surface seemed random and unfair, actuality provided Paul and Silas the perfect opportunity and platform for ministry! The situation yielded by suffering and the Godly witness of these men while suffering created the perfect conditions for them to minister to this Jailer in the moment of his suffering.
Doesn’t the bridge between empathy and compassion require a measure of personal experience? Isn’t it true the best comforters are those who’ve been comforted? I mean no one in the muck solicits advice from the person perched in the ivory tower!
Because this is such a practical truth, we can trust that our present afflictions (even if they seems random and unfair) do possess a future value and a redeeming purpose. Affliction yields within a person a greater capacity to minister to the afflicted! 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Though I can concede the notion God uses our afflictions does little to alleviate ones present circumstances, never underestimate the profound significance the ability to find meaning in the moment of pain will have on your ability to endure and persevere.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, as European societies grew more secular, key thinkers sought to define the driving force of human nature apart from the divine.
Friedrich Nietzsche believed the “will to power” was the driving force behind human nature. He taught striving to reach ones highest position and potential in life through achievement was the key to satisfying this basic biological and psychological need.
Sigmund Freud disagreed believing the “will to pleasure” was instead the driving force behind human nature. He taught the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain was essential to satisfying this basic biological and psychological need.
Søren Kierkegaard took a different approach altogether seeing the “will to meaning” as the driving force behind human nature. He taught the importance of finding meaning in life as being the essential component to achieving biological or psychological satisfaction.
Interestingly enough, these three theories were put to the test in the most brutal of ways during WW2 when millions of Jews were forced into the barbaric conditions of the Nazi concentration camps. As one might expect when removed from the halls of academia and placed into the test tube of human suffering the “will to pleasure” and the “will to power” proved to be an inadequate motivator for human survival.
In his 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning” neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl weighed in on the matter by chronicling his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz. During his four years incarcerated Frankl discovered the only thing that aids a human being to endure human suffering was the quest to find meaning in every experience. Based upon Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning” thesis, Logotherapy (what came from his experiences) states that “meaning is the most powerful motivating force within humanity.” Frankl observed that it was “the way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, that gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
In contrast, he also noted that the greatest killer within the concentration camps was the singular acceptance that one’s life no longer possessed any meaning. He observed time and again that when a person lost a purpose in their suffering they also lost the will to live. He wrote, “The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future - his future was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment - not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends. Usually it began with the prisoners refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sickbay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up.”
Though your suffering may seem random, the key is to realize, like Paul and Silas, that it isn’t! This notion that suffering is meaningless is simply a lie from hell for if one believes there is a sovereign God at work one can trust there is always a purpose behind all the activities He allows… Including whatever afflictions you’re presently facing.
Paul and Silas suffered greatly, but because they chose to stay in this difficult circumstance and then hang around to minister to this Philippian Jailer they were able to see his whole family come into a saving faith! I am sure by the end of that dark night they concluded the heavenly gains outweighed their personal costs! Suffering had a divine purpose!
Sadly, when many of us jump at the first opportunity to get out from under of our uncomfortable situations, we may be robbing ourselves of the very opportunity to see how God was planning to use these things to accomplish His purposes.
What we don’t often realize is that while I may enjoy the immediate reprieve from whatever affliction was causing me pain, the longterm effects of suffering without ever being able to see the redeeming purpose may prove to be much more detrimental.
Consider that it was their decision to serve while suffering that ultimately enabled their healing from suffering. Did you notice following his conversion the Jailer does something amazing. Luke tells us he took Paul and Silas home, fed them, and “washed their stripes?” Understand… The choice to remain in the pit and minister to the Philippian Jailer proved to be the very way in which God practically tended to their own wounds.
According to a study coauthored by Paul Arnstein, PhD at Massachusetts General Hospital found that when chronic-pain sufferers spend their time serving others with the same ailment, they reported feeling less personal discomfort. On a scale of 0 to 10, after six months of volunteering, people’s average pain ratings dropped from a 6 to below a 4. Here’s the point… If you’ve suffered or are presently in the midst of an affliction, lending a hand to someone experiencing a similar pain or simply serving others not only provides your suffering purpose but it practically aids in your healing process!
It’s important we keep in mind one sobering reality… As is often the case when it comes to the nature of suffering, the events that unfolded that day could have easily been used by Satan to discourage Paul and Silas or worse yet destroy the life of this Philippian Jailer.
However, because Paul and Silas held to the promise that “God works all things for the good” (even our afflictions) not only was everyone involved blessed, but Jesus received glory in the process. Luke tells us the end result of this entire evening was that the Philippian Jailer “rejoiced!” In the Greek this word is “agalliaô” meaning he “rejoiced exceedingly!” I have found that when a person comes to see that their present afflictions have a redeeming and lasting purpose there tends to be no limit to their capacity for worship!
Acts 16:35-40, “And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.’ But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.’
And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”
Did you catch that? Even after the events of that night Paul and Silas leave the home of this Jailer and return to their prison cell! Paul’s concern was that while the magistrates had come to recognize they were innocent of the charges that had been levied against them, releasing them “secretly” when they had been accused “openly” would do nothing to publicly set the record straight. Paul cared about his reputation in Philippi.
You see the only way to keep his name and therefore his reputation from being tarnished (which might have very well limited the effectiveness of this new church) was to demand a public acquittal! This is why Paul decides to play his trump card by letting it slip that he and Silas had been “beaten and thrown into prison” as “uncondemned Romans.”
Note: While the rights of most were trampled on throughout the Empire, the rights of a Roman citizen was no trivial matter. As citizens of Rome, Paul and Silas were guaranteed a trial with the right to appeal the verdict. The way they had been treated by the magistrates would have had major repercussions if Paul decided to push the issue.
Which leads me to an interesting point - Why hadn’t Paul played the “Roman Citizen” card earlier - you know like before he was being beaten or placed in the stocks? I’m convinced that knowing most of the people he was seeking to reach weren’t Roman citizens and therefore didn’t have the same card in hand Paul willingly laid aside his Roman privilege desiring to practically model how to handle such afflictions!
One of the things you will come to admire about the Apostle Paul as you study his life is that he never preached a sermon he wasn’t willing to live! Paul rightly understood teaching the people what it looked like to rely on the grace of God when faced with suffering was one thing, but illustrating this life in a very practical way was entirely another.
This opportunity to suffer enabled Paul to reflect to the world around Him a powerful aspect of Jesus… He was also afflicted! Jesus was not immune to pain. He was not given a pass from the full human experience. Jesus willingly laid aside His heavenly citizenship in order to suffer and die, not only to make a way for our salvation, but to earn the right to be relied on in the midst of our suffering. Jesus is a credible comforter!
In his book “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” Timothy Keller wrote, “Christianity teaches that, contrary to fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contrary to Buddhism, suffering is real; contrary to karma, suffering is often unfair; but contrary to secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”
Friend, if the life of Jesus teaches us anything it’s that, while suffering may be an inescapable part of what it means to be human, God can use our suffering in incredible ways! It can place us in the center of God’s will. It can provide us unimaginable opportunities for ministry - which can aid in our own healing process. And when it’s all said and done can provide a powerful way to reflect Jesus to an afflicted world. Never forget the glories of the empty tomb could never have existed if not for the afflictions of a bloody cross!
Ryan Arnold willingly went under the knife to save the life of his brother and his death proved to be a terrible blow to his family. But if all of this hadn’t been bad enough, the story doesn’t end there… Their father had to break the tragic news to Chad - still unaware of what had happened. What do you say? How do you break such news? Well… After waking him, his father, ever so gently, said to his son, “Chad, Ryan is dead, but we still serve a good God.”
Please understand while Chad (knowing his father was right) did his best to maintain a Godly perspective concerning the death of his brother, it was only natural that he was still haunted by the guilt and struggled with the purpose behind Ryan’s death. As you can imagine the knowledge your life was made possible because of your brother’s death is a weighty thing!
As Chad recounts the struggles of this experience he said it was not until a visiting co-worker told him that his Godly example had caused him to reassess his own life that he was finally able to come to the powerful realization that God could use his experience to help others.
You see, while it would always remain difficult, the tragedy of Ryan's death could be turned into something redemptive! There was a purpose to God’s plan. After coming to terms with this truth Chad would write in his journal, 1 John 3:16… “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
If you’re afflicted please know this doesn’t mean you’re being punished by God - as a matter of fact it maybe your suffering is God’s way of placing you right in the center of His will. Nothing happens in your life without first being filtered through God’s love and His plan for your life - which means suffering is not random and your affliction is not without meaning and purpose. God can and will use these thing to not only provide you greater opportunities for ministry, but to help you reflect a suffering Savior to a suffering world! Never forget… The brighter a light shines the more heat the lamp has to endure!
In conclusion… “O heart bereaved and lonely… Whose brightest dreams have fled… Whose hopes like summer roses… Are withered, crushed, and dead. Though link by link be broken… And tears unseen may fall… Look up amid thy sorrow… To Him who knows it all. O cling to thy Redeemer… Thy Savior, Brother, Friend… Believe and trust His promise… To keep you till the end. O watch and wait with patience… And question all you will… His arms of love and mercy… Are round about thee still. Look up, the clouds are breaking… The storm will soon be o’er… And thou shall reach the haven… Where sorrows are no more. Look up, be not discouraged… Trust on, whate'er befall… Remember, O remember… Thy Savior knows it all.”
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