To what may we compare illness fear and suffering? To a rollercoaster: not an image we find in the Bible of course! Like a rollercoaster you are strapped in and can’t get out. At times nothing much is happening and then suddenly you are terrifyingly thrown around, upside down and sideways before it stops equally suddenly. Then the whole thing abruptly happens again. How do you feel when you get out: you are shaken and your legs feel like rubber.
All this has been my experience in the last week or so. Last Friday I started feeling less than 100%, then I developed a fever and by Sunday evening I had chest tightness. Monday I was admitted to hospital either with coronavirus or some kind of heart issue. Various tests later I am now home, having had neither coronavirus nor a heart attack but some other unspecified illness.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 16:7,8: “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me: I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” When we are bewildered and in trouble - where is the rollercoaster going? - God gives us his counsel. When I feel completely lost and abandoned God knows where I should go and shows me the right path (v 11). How does God counsel and advise us in difficulties? In many ways, but most of all through his Word which teaches us in our hearts. Literally in the Hebrew it’s “my kidneys“ - our inmost being, our essence as a human being.
As we are helped and taught our eyes go away from ourselves. In difficulties I find it easy to be self-absorbed. But our eyes must look up, not down, and look to Jesus. And as we look at him through his Word suddenly we realise he is not just someone to look at, but someone who is with us - at our right hand. If in ancient Israel you wanted someone to protect you, you would place a mighty armed warrior on your right side. You would be invulnerable. It’s the same with us. As the rollercoaster of life takes another lurch up or down, we have seated next to us someone who “sticks closer than a brother”. Being ill or suffering often involves being lonely: in the hospital I couldn’t even leave the room due to coronavirus precautions. But even in isolation we are never alone for he is with us.
Now maybe someone at this point thinks that this is typical of a weak human being who needs an imaginary friend in distress. We may feel happy but is he real? The Psalmist goes on to say “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (vv 9-11)
How do we know our help is real? This verse was quoted in Acts 2 by Peter in his Pentecost sermon to prove that Jesus was the messiah who has come back from death. Ultimately the rollercoaster of life is terrifying because we know what’s waiting at the terminus - death. But Jesus has beaten death, he was resurrected and so will we be. Our hope in fear suffering and death is unshakeable and is founded on the historical fact of the resurrection in AD 33 or 34 of Jesus Christ. As we get off the rollercoaster of fear, suffering and death our legs feel like jelly and left to ourselves they will buckle and we will fall. But friends, this is glorious: we are precisely not left to ourselves because at our right hand is the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes us by the arm and steadies our weak knees: he has conquered death and he will bring us home to his right hand where there will be no more fear suffering and death, only eternal joy and eternal pleasures at his right hand for evermore.
Almighty and everlasting God, in mercy look upon our weakness and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.