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In chapters eight and nine of our Book of Revelation, there are highly fanciful descriptions of six visions in which trumpet sounds are followed by afflictions visited on the earth. These six visions are hail and fire mingled with blood fall upon the earth and burn much of its vegetation. Then, a third of the seas are turned into blood. Then, a star called Wormwood falls into the waters of the earth and turns much of it into bitterness. Then, much of the earth is enveloped in total darkness. Then, a plague of stinging locusts torments mankind for five months. Then, an army of hideous creatures riding fire-breathing horses ride over the earth, killing a third of its inhabitants.
Now these strange and disturbing visions in chapters eight and nine symbolize various aspects and degrees of what we call earthly suffering in general. Notice, in the book, no explanation is given as to just why these afflictions occur. No excuses are made. No justification is offered. We are not told what purpose is being served by it all. The whole thing is a big mystery with no solution offered by the writer. It all just happens.
Friends, there is a direct parallel between the way the author states all this and the viewpoint held by many, many persons concerning “earthly suffering in general.” Why does it happen? Where does it come from? What excuse can be made for it? What purpose does it serve? We have to admit that for most persons there simply is no satisfactory explanation as to why. Many have tried to justify why. None have justified it successfully. We still seem to come to the same observation that our author of Revelation had. It all just happens.
Much of the suffering which occurs on earth seems to have no explainable purpose, no constructive purpose. To most people, earthly suffering on the whole seems to be part of a big mystery with no really logical explanation. It all just happens, many persons think. Yet something within us knows differently. Something within us, even though we can’t explain it, knows that somewhere, somehow, in spite of it all, all things eventually do work together for good. This we have to believe with our intuition or we may feel lost.
There are some interesting details regarding these symbolic visions in chapter eight and nine which perhaps would be good food for thought for us as we contemplate or reflect on them. First, all these listed by the writer of Revelation are temporary disasters. None afflict the earth permanently. This is true of all suffering. It is always temporary. Suffering may be a part of a cycle within a person’s life, but it does not become a person’s life. A person’s life is eternal, and nothing that occurs as a part of that life, however, is eternal. Events and conditions are always temporary, and this is especially so regarding any form of suffering experience.
Secondly, these visions describe only 1/3 of the earth and its inhabitants to be afflicted at any one time. This illustrates another important truth, which is that regardless of what you and I may think, the truth is that only a part of a person suffers at any one time. Just as only a part of a person’s life can consist of a suffering experience, not the whole of a person’s life, so it is true of the person himself. Only a part of a person can suffer at any one time, not the whole person. And only a portion of one’s life can be afflicted at any given time, never one’s whole life.
Now this may seem scant comfort, but at least it can offer the beginning of some comfort. Forms of earthly suffering such as pain, sadness, depression, anxiety, sorrow, lack, even though these do hurt part of the man and part of his life, 1/3 of the earth and its inhabitants, they do not and cannot harm the whole man and his whole life. Part of a person is always higher and greater than whatever may be going on in any part of him or any part of his life.
And, here is the most important point of all to keep in mind when you are reflecting on this great mystery called earthly suffering. Eventually, new good has to emerge from all suffering. Now I realize a person’s mind and heart may cry out, but why does new good have to be born out of suffering? Can’t new good be born without the suffering that may give it birth? The answer is yes. Through suffering is not the only way new good is born, but thank God is one of the ways.
Think for a moment. What if earthly suffering were only that and nothing else, period? Then all suffering would be useless, in vain. But this is not so. New good can be born from old good. New good can be born out of present good. And new good can also be born out of what otherwise would have been completely useless, out of suffering. Should we not thank God with all our hearts not for suffering but for the truth that new good is born even out of suffering? For this, can we say and can we mean thank you, Father?