Faith Forged in Fire

John Gram


John Gram was a junior in high school at the time this was written. This is the text of a speech that John gave in 1998.


Life was good for me at age five. I could spell my full name within an acceptable margin of error, not every girl in my life was convinced I had cooties, and I could identify Moses and Daniel with the greatest of ease from the posters that dotted my Sunday School room. In March of 1986, my entire life changed, permanently. My mother was diagnosed with a form of systemic lupus; no known cause, no known cure; terminal. I simply could not understand this. I knew only a God of puppies, best friends, and silly songs in Childrenís choir. Could such a God allow death and grief? For the past twelve years, God has forged me in the fire of grief and I am better and stronger for it. I am grateful for what God has allowed in my life. Nothing grows you up quite as fast as grief and suffering.

James 1:2-3 tells us that "the testing of [our] faith produces endurance."{1} A major change you undergo during grief is a tremendous strengthening of personal faith. It is very easy to trust when we have the answers; faith comes from trusting without the answers. If Abraham had been told he would not have to actually kill Isaac, it would have been very easy for him to tie his son to the altar. Perhaps the entire family would have made an all-day picnic out of it. Paul tells us that what was "credited to him as righteousness"{2} was his trusting without the answers.

Faith that is not tested is worthless. Simply believing something is true does not make it so. I can firmly believe that I can fly, yet if I try to jump off a building, I will still end as a splatter on the sidewalk below no matter how firm my belief is . . . or at that point . . . was. Only through testing of our faith can we be assured that what we believe is true or discover that what we believe needs a few adjustments. Grief also shows us if our faith is in the right Person. Upon entering trials, many people already have a strong faith; unfortunately, it may not be in God. In an attempt to avoid a direct confrontation with God, many of us are tempted to just believe in our pastorís faith, or our parentsí faith, or our wonderful church organizations. But if we try to place a faith that only the Messiah can fulfill on other people, they will always disappoint us. When these people fall or stumble, they will bring us down with them because our faith is placed in them.

Human beings fiercely covet their independence. Little children often insist on feeding themselves and tying their own shoes. They will not ask their parents for help until they are exasperated from hours of trying it themselves. When we first become Christians, there is a tendency to just say, "Thanks God!", collect our little certificate, and go on our way. We seldom come back to God unless we need something. Grief brings us to our knees and forces us to meet God, face to face.

Grief also brings us into contact with the humanity of Jesus Christ. Every Christians recognizes the "fully God" identity of Christ when we ask Him into our hearts, but many of us fail to see the "fully man" aspect. One of the least used names for Christ is Man of Sorrows. The term can often be very puzzling. In Gothic Church paintings, we can almost detect a smile on the face of Jesus as he hangs on the cross. When I first heard the crucifixion story, I envisioned Jesus singing and stopping to pick flowers along the road to Calvary. I now feel otherwise. When we are grieving, we do not want to hear a Biblical explanation of our grief, we often just want someone to listen. What greater listener could there be than the Man of Sorrows?

The most powerful impact of watching someone die is that it firmly establishes what really matters. I now know that hanging out with the in-crowd will not add a single day to my motherís already waning life and that owning the latest Tommy Hilfiger shirt will not add one day to mine. In the wake of grief, earthly things hold no value. Happiness and fun just treat symptoms of grief like sorrow or depression, but they do not last; you always have to face reality later. Jesus Christ is all that matters. Circumstances or individuals can steal wealth, popularity, or happiness. Nothing can take us from the hand of God.

An old saying goes, "Men throw away broken things, but God will not use any man until he is broken." With grief comes a testimony that God will use in the lives of others. If a woman were to tell me about the pains of childbirth she had experienced, I could certainly tell her how sorry I was or how terrible that must feel; however, I could not really comfort her, having never experienced childbirth, personally. When you submit to God and allow him to bring grief or suffering into your life, He grants you a very powerful testimony, one that gives hurting people a first-hand account of what the power of God can do in their lives.

The most profound irony in Christianity is this: the greatest joy can only be found through the greatest suffering. Grief builds our faith, draws us closer to God, and allows us to be used by Him. There is an old proverb, "God helps those who help themselves." This proverb is actually found no where in the Bible and is not even sound theology. There will be times when we cannot help ourselves; that is why we have a Savior. God does not ask us to find the strength and joy to endure suffering within ourselves. He is ready and willing to give these of Himself. All He asks us to do is keep fighting and donít give up. Even in the times I did give up, God lifted me back to my feet. The sure-fire, 100% guaranteed way to endure grief is to simply rely on the proven strength and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Jesus puts it best in John 16:33, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."{3}

Endnotes

{1}The Ryrie Study Bible, New American Standard, Book of James 1:2-3

{2}The Ryrie Study Bible, New American Standard, Book of Romans 5:22

{3}The Ryrie Study Bible, New American Standard, Gospel of John 16:33

[Editor's Note (27 September 1999): John's mother went to be with the Lord in April, 1999, one year after John originally wrote this speech. In His timing, the Lord called her home less than a month before John's graduation from High School. John is continuing to walk with the Lord and is preparing for a life of full-time ministry.]