Thought for the Month (November 2006)

This summer and autumn have been a roller coaster of emotions for us. We have had some really good times as we celebrated our youngest son's wedding to Hannah and the arrival of our new grandson Joel, who joined his 2 sisters on 20th October. We had a wonderful holiday in Italy with our Canadian friends. We also had some very good times in our churches particularly the Flower Festival at Tunbridge Wells URC.

But life has also been very difficult at times. Bob's mother was very ill all summer and getting worse. On the day we brought her down to Tunbridge Wells to live near us she died and it was a very traumatic day. The consolation was that we were both with her when she died. Karen's mother was also very ill for some time, but happily is much better now. There was a time during Joel's birth when we were all very concerned about whether he would arrive safely.

There have also been serious problems with cars and computers this summer and we have struggled to keep on top of things. Many aspects of church life have been difficult too. In fact there has been a lot of struggle this year and we know we are not alone in that, in fact compared with many our struggles are very small.

The question that is often asked is, 'Where is God in all this?' and it is a very understandable question. I believe there are two opposite and equally wrong responses to times of difficulty and suffering. Some people look at their problems and conclude that God does not get involved in the nitty gritty of life, in short that he is a hands-off God, a sort of master clockmaker who has set the world going and now leaves it to run itself. He is not interested in my problems, some people argue. If people have prayed and there is no apparent answer to their prayers, this lets God off the hook!

Others believe that this is not the God described in the Bible, the God who knew them in the womb and has a plan for their lives, and this cannot therefore be the reason for their suffering and difficulties. They conclude that it must be something wrong with them or that God cares for some people but not for them. Prayers appear not to be answered and, if it is not God's fault, then it must be my fault and if God does not want to answer my prayers then there is not much I can do about it.

Whether it is God's apparent lack of interest or we believe it is our own fault the conclusion is often very similar; our faith in a loving God begins to waver. During our times of difficulty this year our prayer times have been very important to us. God has not explained why it has been a difficult year, but He has reassured us that He knows all about our difficulties and that He will sustain us through them.

One day several months ago, we were driving back to Tunbridge Wells and we saw a short rainbow in the sky and we were reminded of God's faithfulness. The rainbow disappeared from sight and suddenly came into full view again as we rounded a corner only this time there was a cloud over part of it, a cloud in the precise shape of a dove. It made us gasp but it also made us believe not only that God is faithful but that God was with us in all that was going on in our lives. Also as we read our Bibles, God seemed to pour out reassurance on us. Life was difficult but we were not on our own and God would support us through all our difficulties and sorrows. It says in Isaiah that God will not break off a bent reed or snuff out a smouldering wick.

We would like to encourage you. If life is difficult or you are going through a time of sorrow and suffering, please donít argue God out of the picture. There is an awful lot we donít understand in this world, and why bad things happen is not always apparent, but what is clear is that God longs for us to draw close to Him, particularly when life seems to kick you in the teeth (remember the story of the footsteps in the sand). And always persevere in prayer!

After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples discovered that they could face anything with their risen Lord beside them. Today we live on the same planet, we have received the same Gospel and Jesus Christ has not changed. That is good news particularly when life is hard.

May God bless you all.

With love Bob and Karen Street

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church