By Rick Lewers
Oh that it would rain! I admit to not knowing a whole lot about sheep and cattle and seasonal crops but I have been a person for sixty years and farming people vocationally for thirty years of my working life. I hope that doesn't sound inappropriate and if it does please forgive me. But like a farmer who hates to see his stock in poor condition I am a person who hates to see any of God's people in similar condition. Sadly those two go hand in hand in times of drought.
People suggest that encouragement is found in the fact that everyone is experiencing the same stresses but I am not sure that a shared suffering is all that encouraging. I am not suggesting that suffering is a bad thing necessarily but I have never found the particulars of suffering all that encouraging. What I have found encouraging is what I have learnt through it and what I have received in the midst of it.
There are some unassailable truths about Christianity that are worth considering in times when the less fragrant realities of life make it pretty dry and it's not just the animals that need a drink. Two immediately come to mind.
For a start suffering often educates the self-sufficient person that we are not sufficient. It is as though God wired the world in such a way as to remind us of this. In fact, that is precisely what God did and frankly the wisdom of this protects us from ourselves becoming self-made gods that others have to fight with. Like one's stock is dependent on the farmer, so we are dependent upon God. We may not like to admit that we are dependent on God but even the staunchest unbeliever would love to know there is a God they can depend on. Even an unbeliever may pray for rain in a drought but rain might not be the first and most important thing for a self-sufficient person to have an answer to. Becoming dependent upon God may be the greatest lesson and encouragement of all.
Leaving God aside for a moment - which really is not possible and only exacerbates our problems - suffering often reminds us that we also need each other. It was John Dunne who expressed in poetry those well-known words, "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;" In drought a tell-tale sign that a person is not travelling well is their increasing isolation from others. At such times nothing could be more important than a friend. With that in mind, the second unassailable truth about Christianity is its teaching that people should be concerned for one another, to love your neighbour as you love yourself. Of course Christianity when lived properly makes concern not a matter of mere words but a love that issues in practical acts of service and support.
Those who love English literature may wish to correct my understanding of John Dunne's poem but I am moved to remember, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."
A drought reminds us all that we are dependent beings. We need God who showed His dependability on a cross and in His resurrection. And as those involved in mankind we are less, we are diminished when we suffer the loss of one another.
Suffering itself is not all that encouraging but when the sufferer learns who they can depend on and when mankind's love issues in practical acts of kindness, even in times of drought some of the best things can grow.•