This past summer, my family traveled up to Arkansas to visit my grandfather who lives in Bella Vista. This town is in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so there are some very scenic sites less than an hour’s drive. Since my kids had never been in a cave, I decided it was time for them to experience such an adventure. We packed everyone up and headed to War Eagle Cavern.
Now, when I was younger, my mom and dad had actually taken my sister and me to this cave, but I didn’t remember it–that is, until I got there and actually went through the cavern. Then, everything came back to me, at least with the cave tour. However, there was more than just the cave to see now. The owners had added several odds and ends to make this place a more touristy destination. They added a little restaurant. They added a place where you could pan for minerals. And, they added a maze.
The maze was an interesting concept. You were given a card with five lost Indian tribes, and you were to go through the maze. At certain points, you would find a tribe, which was really a box with the tribe’s name on it. There was a hole punch hanging there, and you punched the tribe’s name with that hole punch. You were supposed to time yourself and see how long it took you to get through the maze and find all the Indian tribes.
My kids had a blast with it. They ran around that maze, climbed the tower that was in it, and found all the Indian tribes. But then, it was time to get out. "Where do we get out?" they asked me.
"I don’t know," I replied. "But don’t worry, there’s a way out. I promise."
We searched around for a while. We tracked and back-tracked. We ran into a few dead ends. We rediscovered a few Indian tribes, but eventually, we found the way out. In a maze, there is always a way out.
Sometimes, it just takes time to find it.
I was reminded of this little incident as I read today’s second lesson from the book of 1 Corinthians. Believe it or not, many Christians paraphrase Paul’s words here an awful lot. First, let’s read what Paul actually writes, and then, let’s paraphrase it. Paul says in verse 13, "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
Guess how many Christians paraphrase this verse? You got it, "God doesn’t give you more than you can handle." But that really doesn’t capture the heart of what Paul is saying, does it? Paul is much more profound.
First off, Paul says that no testing that happens to us isn’t shared in some fashion by someone else. Put it in another fashion, you are not alone in what you go through. Sometimes, when we are best by trials and tribulations, we feel like we are all alone, isolated, with no one who understands. I believe that this happens to us because we are a part of a culture that teaches us to be self-sufficient and independent.
Now, while there is nothing wrong with being self-sufficient and independent, we in the Church believe that we are not called to operate in such a fashion. We are called to bear one another’s burdens while carrying our own knapsacks. St. Paul included that little tidbit in the book of Galatians. There are certain things we are called to carry on our own without help or without burdening anyone else. However, there are other things that are burdens, boulders that it is impossible for us to carry on our own. There are certain griefs, sufferings, pains, and hurts that must be shared or they will literally drag us under. And in the Church, there are those who have experienced those types of pains, sufferings, griefs, and hurts. "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone..." They have learned from that experience, and they can be of great value in helping others get through them.
In our congregation, we have more than a few people who fit this category, and this morning, I would like to share with you how one of our members does such work. I have permission to bring this forward and even name names. A few years ago, LaNell Waldrop lost her husband to cancer. It was devastating for her. She had been with Ronnie since she was 16, and she bore an incredible amount of pain when he died. And God has used her since Ronnie’s death. LaNell has spent many hours on the phone and sending emails to those who have lost spouses. She offers them consolation. She offers them her story. She tells them over and over again, "The only thing that got me through was knowing that God had another plan for my life. I don’t know what that plan is, but I know He has one, and I trust it." LaNell’s witness has helped other people tremendously. Your witness can too. "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone..."
And now, we get to part two of Paul’s statement. This part can be both the most frustrating and the most hopeful part at the same time. "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
You see, Paul announces that it is not simply that God will not give us more than we can handle. It is also that God will provide for us the way out so that we may be able to endure it.
Again, very hopeful, but also very frustrating. Why?
Well, it’s hopeful in that there is a promise. There is the promise of God that He will provide a way out of our trials, tribulations, sufferings, pains, and hurts. Knowing that God is active in such situations gives us tremendous comfort and strength in times of uncertainty. Knowing that in some form or fashion, He has given us a way out, a end, is also very, very comforting. It makes a person breathe easier.
This sounds good, so why is it frustrating? As LaNell said, "I know God has a plan, but I don’t know what it is."
It’s like being in that maze. You know there is a way out, but you don’t know where it is. Sometimes you feel as though you are wandering aimlessly around, covering territory you’ve already covered, backtracking and taking a few steps backward, hoping that just around the next corner is the exit. You don’t know where it is.
Or, and this is the other hell of it, sometimes, when you see the exit, it’s not the way out that you wanted.
I remember when my grandfather was dying of terminal cancer. He was in pain, and he was suffering. After one radiation treatment that I had taken him to, he came home, sat down on his bed and began crying. He cried out, "Why is it so hard for a man to die?"
I didn’t want my grandpa to die. I wanted him to be healed. I wanted the way out of his suffering to be a miracle. But the way out he wanted was death. He wanted to be free not only from his physical suffering, but he wanted out of the mental suffering he still was experiencing from World War II.
My grandfather was granted his way out as he died over spring break my junior year of college. It wasn’t
the way I wanted, but I realize it was indeed God ending his suffering and bringing him to a place of eternal peace and rest.
Now, death is not always the way out. There are many circumstances that the way out is something much more pleasant. In fact some may think I am morbid to talk about death as a possible way out. But as people of faith, is this truly morbid? I mean, our faith teaches that death is not the end. Death is a transition into the glorious peace of eternity with God. And if we realize that death is the path to victory...if we realize that this is the ultimate way out...if we realize that God has even this way covered with His glory and peace...what have we to fear?
13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Thanks be to God. Amen.