The Very Near Word in our Wilderness Sufferings

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

“I cried myself to sleep every night with the Psalms.”

Mrs. Sarah, who shared these words with our Bible study group, knows what it looks like to spend an unexpected season in the wilderness of suffering. Not long after World War II, when she was a young mother with two young children, Mrs. Sarah needed to return to school to finish her teaching certificate so that she could help support her family. She packed her bag and moved eighty miles away from home and family to complete her final year of college. In this lonely and difficult season, Mrs. Sarah turned to the nourishment she knew she needed, God’s Word.

Anyone who has spent much time in the wilderness of suffering knows the humbling that comes during crisis. Stripped of the familiarities on which we often depend for comfort, we learn that we do not, in fact, live by bread alone. Deuteronomy 8 reminds us that in the wilderness, God did not merely humble his people, he also fed them. He fed them physically with something called manna, a word that in the original Hebrew literally means, “What’s this?” It was a food unlike anything the Israelites had ever heard of, seen, or tasted. It fell from the sky, and it looked something like flaky frosty cereal but was a lot more nutritious!

God fed his people physically with this strange food, and he fed them spiritually with his Word. In our own wilderness of suffering, we are humbled, and our hunger and thirst for good news intensifies. More powerfully than any IV fluid, God’s Word drips into our hearts and minds to energize us with the faith, hope, and love we desperately need.

Faith is strengthened by Scripture’s true redemption stories.

Suffering can rattle our faith, shaking us up and leaving us unsettled. Scripture centers our faith by reminding us of redemption. True story after true story of God’s remarkable redemption sows seeds of trust and understanding, even in the uncertain soil of suffering. As we recall how God plastered the land of unbelieving Egypt with frogs (Exodus 8:2) or knocked down a city wall with trumpet blasts (Joshua 6:1-6, 20), we remember that we have reason to trust God in the wilderness of suffering.

When a young woman is tempted to ask “Why” after she suffers a series of miscarriages, Scripture feeds her faith, reminding her that the God who created a woman to be fruitful and multiply works in the midst of barrenness to mature and complete her. When a fifty-something woman is laid off after thirty years of faithful service to her company, Scripture feeds her faith, reminding her that her Savior suffered even worse betrayal (Psalm 22), and that this same Savior is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).

Hope is nourished by the whole story of Scripture.

Hope depends on vision and perspective, the capacity to look for and see resurrection and restoration in the day of disaster. Feasting on the whole story of Scripture nourishes this hope. Consider how the meta-story of Scripture might nourish the hope of a wife whose husband was unfaithful:

Through the chapter of Creation, Scripture nurtures the betrayed woman by restoring her sanity: she is not crazy to believe that marriage was meant to be between one man and one woman. Her agony makes sense, because she and her husband were joined together, and no one was meant to tear them apart.

Through the chapter of The Fall, Scripture feeds the betrayed woman answers to her “why” questions. “Why is this happening?” Because ever since Adam and Eve tried to make life work on their own apart from God, people have been divided, from one another and from God. To understand how sin divides and destroys brings some clarity and rest in the midst of a bewildering story.

Through the chapter of Redemption, Scripture feeds the betrayed woman the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation. Because Christ has come and forgiven her sin, she is empowered to forgive others. Because she has been reconciled to God and to others, she is not severed from community by her husband’s betrayal; she is united to Christ and to the body of Christ.

Through the chapter of Consummation, Scripture feeds the betrayed woman’s desire for restoration. Although there is no guarantee that her marriage will be restored, there is a certain promise, that she will be restored: one day, when Christ returns, she will be like Christ (1 John 3:2). On that day, her tears will be wiped away, and she will join with Christ in a marriage that will never end. Scripture speaks to hard stories with the vision of a certain and glorious future.

Love is fueled by Scripture, which propels us into the world to share our stories to comfort others.

Scripture fuels our love by calling us to feast on the love it proclaims. Scripture reminds us that it is because God first loved us that we are empowered to love at all (1 John 4:7-8). Scripture reminds us that God comforts us in our suffering so that we might comfort others in their suffering (2 Corinthians 1:4-7). As we dine on Scripture’s rich feast, we are energized to move into a suffering world with the hope of the love that we have known.

That morning last fall when Mrs. Sarah clutched her well-worn Bible with trembling hands and shared a story written almost seventy years before, she offered us a lovely gift. She allowed us to see her sorrow so that we could see God’s comfort. She fed us as she had been fed, with the nourishment we so desperately need in our suffering. Mrs. Sarah was and is a living and loving story who pointed us to the Living and Loving Word, Jesus, who comes so very near to us in our suffering. May we all devour his Word that we too can share our stories and The Story to a hurting world in dire need of good news.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Turnage

Elizabeth Turnage is a writer, story coach, and teacher. She founded Living Story to help people learn, live, and love the gospel. She is the author of The Waiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis and the Living Story Bible Study Series (P & R), Elizabeth offers gospel-centered resources at her blog, www.elizabethturnage.com.

Elizabeth has been married to orthopedic surgeon Kip Turnage for 36 years. They enjoy spending time with their children, Kirby and Amy Anne Turnage, Jackie and Matt Roelofs, Mary Elizabeth and Caleb Blake, and Robert Turnage. When they are not working or visiting their kids, they enjoy doting on their golden doodle, Rosie, the “best-dog-ever”!

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