What if you got into an accident when you were a teenager, and when you woke up, you realized you couldn’t feel anything below your neck? Sound like a nightmare? Try reality for people like Joni Eareckson Tada who are quadriplegics. Most people would crack under the pressure, but Joni is an overcomer because of God. Her story is one I will never forge, present in Joni and A Step Ahead.
A short summary:
Joni is honest about her trials and tribulations, documenting how at first, she wasn’t even sure she was paralyzed. She also mentions her anger and resentment towards God, wondering how He could allow something so terrible to happen to her. She documents her fits of depression, and how she felt confused and uncertain as she explored other religions as an answer. She wrote about how other patients felt the same fears and uncertainty that she did. But, shockingly, she declared that those trials and tribulations only made her a better person-because God broke her and made her whole again.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished A Step Ahead by the time of this writing, but I will probably have it finished by Saturday, when this is posted. Perhaps I will update my review if I find anything else missing. I also want to be able to read Changes-Choices, but it is out of print and not in the library. So more than likely, I’ll have to find it as a used book store, or ask for a Christmas present 😉
That being said, I’ve read enough of Joni’s earlier books to bring in my own thoughts and opinions. These books are honestly one of the best explanations of suffering I have ever read. Joni details everything she went through, including her own struggles with why God would allow suffering. Her honesty is powerful and her answers to suffering are hard to accept but they are the truths the Bible conveys. What are those truths?
#1 God uses suffering to change us and mold us into his character
This is hard to accept for Christians. We can’t believe that a perfect God would allow his child to suffer so that we could become better people. We think we can become better people through some other way rather than trials. Adding to this issue is that we know God didn’t intend for us to suffer and wanted us to be perfect. However, human beings defied God’s will and now suffer the consequences. That’s why God sent his son to save us from eternal death and give us eternal life. Yet, if Jesus saved us from sin, why didn’t he save us from the consequences of sin: disease, physical death, pain, depression and more?
Joni’s answer is that God wants to shape us into his character and use us as a witness for others (see point two for this second part). She points out that we would not have compassion for others if we didn’t understand what they suffered. If we were never sick, how could we sympathize with those who are sick? If we never lost a child, why would we care about other parents who lost their children? Despite the assertion that the loss or suffering we experience is God’s way of helping us become more like Him, people wonder why God wouldn’t stop all of it as a omnipotent and loving God.
Joni doesn’t have an exact explanation for us, nor does she have an answer to why some people must suffer the loss of a child and others must suffer a loss of a house, both differing levels on what she calls the scale of suffering. Her only answer is that God is in control and that he has his reasons, even if we don’t know why. She points out that we can either question God forever as to why, spiraling further into depression as she once did, or we can accept that God has his reasons and try to find out how best to give him glory.
#2 God uses suffering to witness to others
Once Joni accepted that her suffering was for the greater good, she searched for ways to be used by God. He gave her the ability to paint and then connected her with people who marketed her painting abilities to others. From that grew opportunities to talk to groups of people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Whenever she went somewhere, she was wholly dependent on her family and friends. She had to humbly accept their assistance and have a good attitude about it. She said that is often the hardest part of ministry-having a good attitude about suffering. For how can anyone have joy in the midst of trials, as James encourages us in the New Testament? By focusing on Christ and making a choice to obey his word over our own selfishness. This decision, to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of ourselves, is the greatest witness to other people. When people see your reaction, they are shocked and surprised. Joni notes this in A Step Ahead, where she discusses how the world is astonished that Christians are able to follow God in the midst of suffering. This is often a better testament to Christ than any sermon-the action of trusting God in the midst of sorrow.
These commandments are hard for me to accept. I struggle endure my own stressors and suffering with joy. That’s why Joni’s books are an encouragement to me, reminding me that God is in control and has a reason for everything. Her practical language and easy incorporation of Scripture make her books a must-read for anyone suffering anything. The answers may not be easy, but they are the truth. Now you and I have a choice-will we accept them or continue a spiral of doubt and confusion? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather-
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for the testing of your faith produces preseverence.”-James 1:2-3