May/June 2011 - Vol. 50

When Good People Suffer – a Personal Reflection
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth
comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18
by Tom Caballes

Imagine yourself in this situation: It seems to be a normal day. Then, in the early afternoon, the earth begins to shake violently. The building you are in starts to wobble and it seems to be on the brink of collapsing. Glass shatters all over and all your things are sent tumbling to the floor. Houses and buildings around you are on the verge of crumbling down. Liquefaction [when underground water disturbed by an earthquake causes the soil above to move and sink] starts to rise in your street and in your property. There is no power, phone, water, no sewage facilities. You try to reach your spouse and children and see if they are alright – and you have to walk distances to bring them together. Your family is displaced as your house is inhabitable. You have months to years of wait until your house gets fixed. Your children’s school building is severely damaged – as well as your church. You, your spouse, and your children are wary whenever you feel some ground movement. And worse, the aftershocks just keep on coming.

This was the scenario for some of our brothers and sisters in the Lamb of God Christchurch branch when the earthquake struck last February 22. I cannot speak about what is happening in their hearts and minds, but this recent event made me reflect: why do bad things happen to good people? Our brothers and sisters in Christchurch are surely among the most faithful, generous, loving, and caring bunch of folks I have met. Why Christchurch? I am afraid I have no answer. But this event led me to reflect on my own life – the most trying and difficult moments and situations in my past – and what I have learned from them.

Looking back, I can say I have had a relatively easy life. Nonetheless, I believe all of us have had difficult seasons in our lives, and when those trying times come, they can be deeply unsettling. 

I remember a brother who used to be in my men’s group when I was still single. He was about mid-twenties, going into the prime of his career, married for just a few years, had a very young daughter – and his wife was pregnant, due to give birth very soon. And then he died suddenly, without even seeing his second child. I also remember a former men’s group leader – in his early thirties, living single for the Lord in the brotherhood, and a prominent leader serving with the youth – and he suddenly developed cancer. He fought the cancer over a period of time, but eventually the cancer won. I remembered in my own life – a few months after getting married I went home and told my wife that I just lost my job. In 2002, my appendicitis burst and was in excruciating pain – and almost died. Before going to the operating room as my body was getting toxic, I found myself praying, “Lord, my life is in your hands. Let your will be done.” This incident made me realise what is important in my life – my relationships with my wife, my family, my friends, and my community. It made me look back at my ”accomplishments” – and how hollow they were on my apparent deathbed. This event taught me how not to be attached to anything – material things in life, not even my very own life. This gave me a greater appreciation that I am living on borrowed time – and I have to be accountable for it one day. But rather than live in fear, I decided to live in gratitude to God for every single day he gives me to know him more, love him more and to glorify him and serve him more.

Some things I learned over the years 
Tragedies, misfortunes, disasters, adversities, catastrophes, setbacks, and ordeals can draw me away from God if I allow them to. But I can also let them draw me closer to God, knowing his ways are not my ways, his thoughts are not mine. Natural calamities, loss of a loved one, debilitating illnesses and disease, health problems, financial troubles, marital, family and in-law conflicts, job pressures and being out of work, business troubles, loss of property, court cases, alcohol or drug dependency, separation and divorce, misunderstandings and relationship difficulties, and so on – I have seen these things cause people to doubt, distrust or even hate God. But I also see these things draw people, including myself, to love God more, to grow in Godly character, to know him more, to rely on him, and to grow in trust and faith in him. I have also seen brothers and sisters in calamities serving others first, even as they are suffering, too. 

Over the years, I learned that most trials are temporary. After a time of difficulty, life usually goes back to normal. Some tribulations are long term – but still, they end. Losing families, friends, and loved ones are the only permanent things that can bring me down, if I allow them to. But coming to terms with everyone’s mortality – including my own – brings me to the certainty of the brevity of life here on earth. Our hope to meet our families, friends, and loved ones in heaven gives us courage to face even their loss and move on in our lives.

Relationship difficulties had been among the hardest that I have experienced. This is especially true in the community context, where there is a choice of staying on or leaving. These conflicts purified my motive for my being in and serving in community. It challenged my long term vision as to why I live in a Christian community. After the turmoil, I came out stronger and with greater conviction about where the community belongs in my life, and with purer motives and greater eagerness to serve my brothers and sisters. 

Some of my sufferings are things I bring on myself. My very own sins, lack of forgiveness, holding grudges, wrong decisions, and lack of foresight, among many others things, can cause misery to myself and others.  I have learned that holding on to resentments causes great hurt to me and so I decided to live in freedom from this. With my own sinfulness, I learned to come in humility to the throne of God knowing He will not turn me away as I ask his pardon. With wrong decisions, I have learned to humbly accept my humanity, to discern diligently, and know that in everything, God can work for my good (Romans 8:28). 

The price for loving
For me, suffering is the price I pay for loving – and if I want to avoid suffering, I simply should not love. But being called to be part of a Christian community is a call to love brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus’ call to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters then becomes a call to make suffering part and parcel of my life. This is hard to accept, but what is my alternative? I can probably live on an island and isolate myself from any relationships. I can then probably lessen my chances of suffering – but I will live a very sad, meaningless, and pitiful life! I don’t think it is worth it. 

In terms of paying the price for loving, Jesus is a model for all of us. Because of his great love for us, he suffered greatly – to the point of laying his life on the cross. Because of what he has done, he can sympathize with us in all of our suffering, big or small. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

The worst of times can bring out the best of times. I have seen families who grew up in very difficult circumstances having great love for one another. I have seen the generosity of brothers and sisters in the Sword of the Spirit from all over the world donating liberally to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. In my life, I have had relationship difficulties in the past – and when we repaired the relationship, we became much closer than before. 

I fervently await the time when “He will wipe away every tear from [my] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore … ” (Revelation 21:4) I want to long to be in heaven, where sorrow and suffering will be a thing of the past. I want to zealously anticipate the day when I will see God face to face. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

I have simply learned that everything belongs to God. God is King and Lord of all no matter what. I have learned that I need to make the most of my precious time by living a life with a purpose. I learned that I need to enjoy what I have now rather than to agonize over the things that I’ve lost. I want to fully enjoy my life now and wholly enjoy my relationships now. I want to rely on God alone. I want to be always reminded that my true and lasting home is in heaven. 

If I fully depend on God, if I give up all my earthly attachments, if I love the people God has given me completely without clinging to them, if I cherish and appreciate all the gifts and relationships God has given me, if the source of my joy becomes entirely dependent on God alone, then perhaps my suffering will be lessened as I walk through my life.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing away,
God does not change.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.
- Theresa of Avila (1515 - 1582).

Tom Caballes is the National Senior Administrator and a branch leader for the Lamb of God, a national community of the Sword of the Spirit with 7 branches located throughout New Zealand. Tom also leads Kairos New Zealand, an outreach program for high school, university, and post-university aged people. 

Tom and his wife Mhel and their two daughters live in Auckland, New Zealand.


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