Today’s post is the third in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is K. Rex Butts. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…
I first met Rex just months after the loss of his son. I came to know him better as we tackled grad school together. Although for the last few years geography has separated us, I stalk Rex through his blog. I respect that Rex is willing to serve God in difficult circumstances. I also admire his willingness to ask questions that challenge the status quo. Most of all, I value his love for God, and for those seeking God. I appreciate Rex writing this article and sharing his heart with you and pray that you find it encouraging.
I was asked to write on the question of whether or not God can heal the heart. That’s a great question and especially a great question to ask around Easter Sunday. Easter among Christians means hearing a lot of talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the story of Jesus dying on the cross on that Good Friday and then rising from the empty tomb on that Resurrection Sunday.
I love the story and as one who believes in Jesus Christ and follows him, I want this story to shape my life…and yours too. But sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes, very hard!
This summer will mark eleven years since my wife and I buried our oldest child, Kenneth James Butts. His death was crushing! All of the prayers for a healthy child… Every hope and dream we had for our son growing up to serve God…
The most difficult thing about such suffering is the way it paralyzes life. Time stops in a way. While the rest of the world continues on, oblivious to horror, the pause button on life has not only been pushed but seems stuck. As a believer, the question is whether or not God can heal the broken heart, restore hope, and give a reason for continuing on in faith.
Struggling With Faith
Catastrophic suffering, which comes in many forms, may be something that a person never “gets over” so to speak. I don’t think I have overcome the death of my son but I have learned how to live with it. That’s what I tell others too. The question is how?
I want to suggest that it’s a choice of learning to have faith in God again. However, I don’t mean a faith that suppresses all questions in exchange for absolute certainty. How could such certainty ever exist again when suffering has opened the door to so many unanswered questions. What I mean by faith is the choice to trust in God and the promise he makes in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ (even when many unanswered questions that remain).
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28, NRSV). I don’t believe that this verse is meant to eliminate all faith questions. Rather, given the context in which Paul describes the Christian life as having “present sufferings” (v. 18) and “groaning” while in wait for the “redemption of our bodies” (vv. 22-23), Paul was offering a word of hope. This word of hope is grounded in the history of what God has done in Christ, namely through the death and resurrection, and what that means for the future.
There is still so much about God and life that remains mystery. We’ll likely never know or understand fully why we suffer. What Paul says reminds us that God is at work for our good, which is our redemption in Christ, and God will get that done. That’s why Paul goes on to say “in all things we are more than conquerors” in Christ Jesus (v. 37). Can we trust God with that?
Trusting God again or for the first time isn’t easy. It takes time, a lot of time too. Forget any programmatic “how to” process. It doesn’t exist or at least I haven’t discovered one yet. But we can choose to believe in the promise that God is still redemptively at work for our good and that in the end all things will somehow work together for this good.
Before my son died, I had a faith of absolute certainty. When it came to the way God and life worked, I was sure. With absolute certainty, I was sure. My son’s death shattered that certainty. But for nearly two years, I kept trying to gain back that certainty. I nearly lost all faith in God doing so. The problem was that the faith I had — absolute certainty — was gone for good. I couldn’t go back living as though what had happened didn’t happen, so there wasn’t any possible way to get the certainty I longed for again. But I did and still do believe that God is redemptively at work in Jesus Christ and so I chose to trust God again and trust what he is doing in Christ.
That choice didn’t eliminate my questions but it freed me from needing the answers… and the need for absolute certainty, which really isn’t faith. In place of that old faith, I gained a new faith that was assurance. It was assurance that God is still at work even though I don’t always understand. This new faith was healing, a healing deep within my heart in the sense that I had hope again. I was able to go on living again. God undid the pause button on my life and pushed the play button again.
If you are reading this and you have endured some form of suffering, I hope my own story might help you towards healing in your heart. I write this with the hope that it gives you the courage to choose faith. I share this story in hope that you can lean into the Easter story, the story of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, trusting God to heal.
May God bless us all, even in the midst of uncertainties, to trust him and his Easter’s promise!
 Unfortunately, this passage has often been used as a prooftext offered in response to suffering. Whether offered as a pastoral response to the pain experienced by those who suffer or as a polemical response to the doubts experienced by the suffering, using this verse as a proof text often comes across as dismissive of the problem. In other words, it is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping wound and acting as though that it helpful when in fact it is not. There isn’t any prooftext which can heal the wounds of suffering. Only God can do that. This passage is merely a window to see that redemptive work of God and that is how I use this passage here.
Bio: K. Rex Butts serves as the preacher and minister with the Columbia Church of Christ in Columbia, Maryland. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, has written numerous articles for Christian publications, and post regular blogs and other materials at www.kingdomseeking.com. Additionally, he has been married to Laura for fourteen years and together they are raising two children.
If this article has encouraged you, please return the favour by leaving a comment to let Rex know. Or perhaps you have questions or comments. I know Rex will check in and respond. So don’t be shy!
For additional perspective on this difficult subject, John Mark Hicks shared his reflection of death and resurrection on his blog here.