August 21, 2014

The Faith of a Suffering Servant

marcella-paliekara-suffering-servant-2005_jpg.jpgToday in chapel, one of my co-workers told his life story. That’s pretty common at our ministry, but this was anything but common.

Doc [not his real name] came to us about three years ago, along with his new bride. Middle-aged and a recent Bible college graduate, looking for a beginning in ministry. Of course, one look at Doc and you know Doc is different. He looks like he survived a war, or a major car accident, or both.

One arm barely works. One eye is non-functional. One leg is almost immobile. He’s deaf in one ear. One side of his head is terribly scarred. He’s a soft-spoken, gentle man, but obviously life has not been gentle with him.

Doc is one of those people who loves to serve. He was a houseparent for a while, but some of his mobility issues hampered his effectiveness. Now he teaches in our tutoring lab, working one on one with students who have learning issues and need to relearn very basic skills in math and language.

Most men don’t like the tutoring lab work, but Doc does his job with joy. His wife is still a houseparent, and when he’s done at 3:30 he goes to the dorm and spends time with the boys till his wife is off work.

Last week, he stopped by to talk to me about ministry opportunities. I discovered that he was leading a boys devotional in the dorms on Friday night, and wanted to know what else he could do to serve. We discussed one of his loves- counseling- and I’m going to have him learn the job of one of our primary counselors who works with students with spiritual issues and questions.

I knew Doc, but I didn’t know his story. So I asked him to give his testimony in chapel. He said he’d be glad to.

So today he walked to the pulpit, with all his usual obvious difficulty.

The child of a Marine alcoholic and a loving Christian mom, he knew the good and bad of growing up in a home of mixed values.

When he was seven, a relative was using a power saw to build a porch. The saw slipped from his hand and ran across Doc’s body. It cut him through his intestines, across his ribs and chest, all the way to his arm

On the way to the hospital, he asked his mom if Jesus really loved him, as she’d always told him. She assured him that he did. he believed her, and years later, he gave his life to Christ and determined to follow and serve.

At age 23, Doc was deer hunting with a friend when he slipped and fell into a direct shot. The shot entered the back of his head and came out under his eye. The picture- which he didn’t show- is of a man with a massive head wound, obviously affecting the brain, vision and mobility.

He shouldn’t have survived, but he did. Multiple surgeries and major expenses followed, but God supplied his physical, financial and emotional needs. He not only lived, he walked and was able to return to a normal life. Now blind and deaf on one side, with immobility because of brain damage, he met and married another hospital patient. She had MS.

After ten years of caring for her, Lori, Doc’s first wife died. In the midst of grief, his pastor directed him toward Bible college, and he took the opportunity. Three years later he was graduating and married again to his current wife. Now both serve with us.

When I hear this kind of story, it is almost more than I can take. My faith is small and my tolerance for pain and loss is low. Questions of suffering and loss are not easy for me to contemplate. What would I do? Would God keep me? Would I despair, quit, abandon faith?

And here is Doc. Standing in front of our students, saying again and again that God is good. His suffering and loss can’t be measured, but his faith has grown every step of the way. In his gentle, Minnesota accent, he says over and over, “God is good. I’m so thankful.”

What is a testimony like Doc’s worth in this world? Maybe nothing to some. Maybe a priceless amount to others. I do not know. What I do know is that Doc is untroubled by the problem of evil. He is untroubled by the questions of theodicy. He doesn’t know the answers of the philosophers. If he has thought about the objections of the atheists, it was long ago. He isn’t a Calvinist and he won’t be lecturing on the comforts of various theories of God’s Will. He’s simple. He is, today, a grateful man.

Doc is the work of God in a world of absurd suffering. Whatever has been taken from him has not left him empty and bitter. He is full of the love of God, and bitterness is nowhere to be seen or heard.

He ended his talk by saying that where the human eye sees half a man, God sees a whole person. Made whole by Christ.

Comments

  1. Michael,

    Thanks for sharing this story. People like “Doc” are the true giants of the faith. Unfortunately, the church is enamoured with the famous, the wealthy and the powerful. Thanks for this reminder that God’s power works in our own weakness.

    Rod

  2. Wow! Deo gratias!

  3. That’s nothing short of amazing especially when I think about the things that get me down. I heard someone say this morning that our degree of thankfulness is the reflection of our spiritual health. Grammar issues aside, if this is true then Doc is as healthy as I’ve ever heard.

  4. I’m not saying my tolerance for pain and loss is high; I’m just wondering why we should ever allow misfortune to make us give up on or doubt God. It isn’t like our decision to follow Jesus has a caveat of, “And I’ll serve You until something crummy happens to me.” If it did, we must’ve been going to Joel Osteen’s church.

    Jesus promised us absurd suffering. Doc gets that.

  5. GranpaJohn says:

    When serving in Abilene Texas I learned a phrase which has stuck well from someone with their own issues as he pondered the woeful story of a servant of God. He simply said “My, the places God’s people come from”.
    I have since come to understand that to mean from His eye, His Heart, His design, and His purpose. He has made each to come to the place they now are by the choosing of their hearts, to glorify Himself. It is not a question of will I gloify my creator but rather a statement; I will glorify my creator. Just like ‘Doc’.

  6. That was amazing. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I can’t believe that I actually thought I had things to whine about. I am humbled. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I echo the “wows.” Doc sure knows the love of Jesus and how to share it. May we all do the same.

  9. what is interesting about Doc’s story is the effectiveness of a true narrative on suffering. Propositional theories on the problem of suffering can only go so far… when you hear a story like Doc’s… and how he sees God as good… it is an amazing testimony.

    vapor

  10. I know that misfortune – especially the undeserved, just-because-the-world-is-corrupted type – can make almost anyone doubt the goodness, the strength, the plan of God. The trick, I guess, is taking the doubts to God and letting him lead us out the other side… eventually.

  11. Memphis Aggie says:

    Good post, suffering is part of the program but I always wonder how much and how well I handle my portion. I believe God never tests us past our strength – so Doc must be very strong and I must be relatively weak.

  12. Doc’s testimony is indeed priceless.

    My dad has a similar spirit, a similar gratitude. His physical ailments are due to internal ailments, not accidents. He is an amazing man of God. Many people have sought out his godly counsel over the years. He is a layman in the church, but is a pastor at heart. He thrives on intercession. He is loving and caring and selfless. And yet he suffers greatly from numerous physical infirmities. He is quick to confess that, were it not for these debilitating ailments, he would not be as close to the Lord. He speaks of moments of intense pain and discomfort drawing him closest into the embrace of his Savior. He knows that his suffering has drawn him closer to his God. And all the while, I am praying for his healing.

    My dad is one of my heroes of the faith.
    Thanks for sharing Doc’s testimony with us.
    I needed to be reminded of these things.

  13. Uncle Mikey says:

    Doc’s story reminds me of the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’. The song was written by a man that lost all that he knew and still saw that God was good in the midst of tradegy. Doc and people like him I see God uses to give us hope, for without such visiual and heart wretching stories would most of contuine on the fight? Maybe or maybe not, but for Doc ‘It is well in his soul’, let be well in all of our souls!!

  14. Sometimes when I hear the stories of the persecuted church in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, etc., I think to myself “These people worship Christ when they are threatened with imprisonment, torture or death for doing so and I have problems getting up early on Sunday morning to go to Sunday School.”

    Perhaps “preachers” such as Binny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland need to hear “Doc” and others like him. Perhaps he could lay hands on them and cure them of their disease known as “Health and Wealth teaching” or “Prosperity Gospel.”

  15. Hello,

    I am the artist of the Suffering Servant you have posted on your blog. Thank you for showing it. It is always nice to see that other people see in His face what I did.

    Marcella Paliekara

  16. The sight of a suffering servant savaged by the world isn’t pretty- but it’s absolutely, breathtakingly…beautiful.

  17. J. Michael Matkin says:

    And what a gift that God has placed such a brother in your community, for you to learn from and treasure.

  18. looks like Copeland is fighting back with a website of his own. I can’t say that I blame him. This article recently came out in Dallas Star Telegram..
    http://www.star-telegram.com/northeast/story/671754.html

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