Solomon in all his great wealth desired wisdom above all else because he’d tasted of the riches of this world, and nothing could compare to the wisdom God gave him. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wisely he wrote these words thousands of years ago: there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,…” (Ecc. 3:4). Today, for me, it is a time to weep.
Just a few weeks ago, I lost one of my close friends to cancer. She was the women’s pastor at my church, and battled cancer for the past two years. During that season, she believed God would heal her, and asked everyone she knew to be praying for healing. We did. Physical healing did not come. Instead, what came was a strength and dignity in the midst of her pain. Her soft-spoken ways showed us all the tenderness of her heart towards the lover of her soul.
One Sunday morning, before Angie became too sick to minister any more, she preached on coming to the table of God. I will never forget that day! She spoke of an intimacy that Christ invited all of us to, and how that was expressed in the metaphor of the banquet table in heaven.
“The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, He himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!” Luke 12:37 (NLT)
Those who serve God now, will be served by God in heaven? What a dinner party that will be! This is the amazing, awesome, generous, and loving God who we serve. Jesus is so humble this way—He came to serve us on Earth, and will continue to serve in heaven! Wow. How could we not fall down to worship this most incredible God? Jesus shows us how good He truly is.
I can’t wait to invite Jesus over to be the honored guest at the beautiful home He has made for us in heaven. Just the thought of that thrills me to no end! I don’t want Him to wait on me (even though He would because that’s who He is), but I just want to serve Him a great meal, and a lovely dessert. To sit and talk with Jesus during a meal is something I’ve dreamed about ever since I began reading the Gospels. The disciples were blessed to be able to hang out with Jesus daily, breaking bread together, laughing, and joking around while eating. They probably greatly missed those times of fellowship after He ascended back into heaven. Sometimes we don’t realize how good we have it until it’s gone.
This is the subject matter that Angie preached on, and when she finished, there was a quiet that fell over the whole congregation. For her to preach of “dining at the banquet table of God” during her suffering was breathtaking. She honored God mightily in her trial! Her life exemplified a life of serving Jesus, and I know she’s in heaven today, delighting in the presence of our Lord, sitting at His banquet table.
But for me, today is the time to weep, a sorrow for the place in my life that only Angie fit. Her strength was in her gentleness and quiet, prayerful life. That is what I will miss until we meet again on the other side.
Another dear soul just passed away this weekend. His name was Nabeel Qureshi, and although I did not know him personally, he impacted so many lives for the name of Jesus Christ. He was a former Muslim and came to faith after examining the evidence for Christianity. He went on to become a Christian apologist, and wrote best-selling books.
Unlike my friend Angie, who quietly suffered, Nabeel publically suffered. He regularly posted videos of his cancer journey, showing the world his faith in the face of death. He invited all of us into his very private struggle, and similar to Angie, he believed God could heal him. He was so brave!
Why didn’t God heal Angie or Nabeel, both who dedicated their lives to serving Him? We all think God should have left them here on Earth, where they are needed to continue the Kingdom work and be with their families. Yet, God in His wisdom knows things we cannot, and this is where we must rest—in trusting in God’s goodness. When our theological foundation rests in the goodness of God, we can give Him the benefit of the doubt, knowing His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).
Having a theological foundation of God being the ‘Greatest Conceivable Being’ is the key to understanding suffering. If someone does not see God as good due to a misunderstanding, then they won’t give Him the benefit of the doubt. Instead, some see God as heartless, even calling Him a “moral monster.” (There are plenty of good, solid answers to refute that accusation, and Paul Copan wrote on book on it, so I won’t defend it in this blog.)
Instead, this is what I’ve learned: life has seasons. Like Solomon wrote, there is a time to weep, but notice what comes next in the verse (Ecc. 3:4) “… and a time to laugh”, and after mourning, a time for dancing? That seems odd. Yet, this is the paradox of life, isn’t it? Great sorrows make us appreciate joy that much more. Great pain can make us more thankful for when the pain ends. It’s all in our perspective. One can allow suffering to harden him, making one a bitter and angry person, or one can allow God to use it to soften one’s heart, becoming a grateful person for things one never used to notice.
Suffering happens this side of heaven, no matter what we believe, or how hard we may try to avoid it. Everyone, sometime in their lives, will have to endure some suffering, be it physical or emotional. However, when bathed in the faith of God’s goodness, suffering is not in vain. God will use it for good, but it’s not His pleasure to do so. In Lamentations 3:33, it says that God “does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” But when affliction comes, in God’s kingdom, it means something. It matters because it catches our attention—it shakes us to the core, and we recognize what really matters in this life.
So, today I weep and mourn, but the hope is that laughter and dancing will eventually return.
 Nabeel was a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and the author of three books, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Zondervan, February 2014), Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (Zondervan, March 2016), and No God But One—Allah or Jesus (Zondervan, August 2016).