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Hope In The Fire Of Post Traumatic Stress

Hope In The Fire Of Post Traumatic Stress

Jesus: Our Eternal Hope

By Mitzi Egger, Retired Air Force Lt Col , ACBC Certified

Suffering

Scripture speaks clearly regarding suffering, from its inception in Genesis to the eradication of suffering in the book of Revelation. Throughout the Bible, suffering is described through the lives of real people experiencing the pain and trouble of living in a fallen world marred by the effects of sin. The struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is both a by-product and a specific example of the suffering that comes from living in a fallen world corrupted by sin.

God illustrates His compassion for man’s broken condition by providing the promise of hope for those who suffer. Our Scripture speaks clearly regarding suffering, from its inception in Genesis to the eradication of suffering in the book of Revelation. Throughout the Bible, suffering is described through the lives of real people experiencing the pain and trouble of living in a fallen world marred by the effects of sin. The struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is both a by-product and a specific example of the suffering that comes from living in a fallen world corrupted by sin.

God illustrates His compassion for man’s broken condition by providing the promise of hope for those who suffer. Our faith rests in the firmest foundation: the character of Almighty God as displayed in His Word. faith rests in the firmest foundation: the character of Almighty God as displayed in His Word. His sovereignty and love are at work in every detail of our lives. Those who live by faith must also view their suffering through the lens of eternity, as Scripture continually portrays a parallel relationship between present suffering and future glory (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Pet. 1:6; 4:13; 1 Pet. 5:1, 10). In Scripture, Christ is presented as the supreme Example and Object of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and He is also our great High Priest who stands ready to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:14, 16). Furthermore, there is great comfort and hope found in Christ as the Suffering Servant and His ability to fully identify with us in our suffering. At the same time, as believers it is important that we understand our hope that is embodied in Jesus Christ Himself (1 Tim. 1:1). Our hope in Christ as the resurrected, glorified, and returning King makes a profound difference in how we view our suffering.

Christ’s Glorious Return

In His incarnation, Jesus Christ voluntarily submitted Himself to the will of the Father and "emptied himself," taking the form of humanity, and ultimately "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6–8). The apostle Paul writes that following Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to the eleven remaining disciples "more than five hundred brethren at one time. . . . Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also" (1 Cor. 15:5–8). There is no evidence in Scripture that Christ appeared to any unbelievers following His resurrection. Thus, the last image of Christ seen by the unbelieving world is the view of a bloody, beaten, disfigured, and unrecognizable criminal hanging on a cross between two thieves.

At His second coming, however, all the world will see Him exalted and in His full glory. This truth was spoken by Christ Himself during His trial before the high priest the night before His crucifixion. Having remained silent throughout the questioning and abuse, He answered in response to the high priest’s question, "‘I adjure you by the living God that you tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you that hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the Right Hand of power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven’" (Matt. 26:63–64, emphasis mine).[1] In His first appearing, Christ came as grace personified. In His second appearing, He will come as glory personified.[2] As believers, our eternal hope is embodied in Christ’s glorious return.

The Pursuit of Holiness

The New Testament writers repeatedly explain how our hope in Christ’s return should shape our perspective on how we live our earthly lives. In writing to Titus, Paul instructs believers to "deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savoir, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:12–13, emphasis mine).

For the believer, there are three magnificent promises encompassed in the hope of Christ’s return. First, He is coming to receive us unto Himself. Second, He will make us like Himself. Third, we will spend eternity in the bliss of His continual presence, as Christ Himself prayed to the Father "that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me." (John 17:24).[3] As believers, Christ’s glorious return should be our deepest heart’s desire, for "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2b-3). As we fix our eyes and hope on Jesus Christ and desire both to be with Him and to be fully like Him in eternity, our conduct in daily life will be dramatically changed.[4]

The New Testament writers continually highlight the correlation between the pursuit of sanctification and holiness and the hope of Christ’s glorious return as illustrated in the following passages:

I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus . . . let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Phil. 3:14, 16)

Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:1–4)

Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:13)

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:52–53)

As believers, throughout our earthly lives we place our trust fully in Christ to continue to "work out" our salvation (Phil. 2:12), becoming increasingly free from sin and more and more like Christ.[5] This is a lifelong exercise of faith and sanctification that will continue until the believer’s final glorification.[6] Fully trusting in Christ for the strength and resources needed and relying on the Holy Spirit’s power in order to obey, the believer becomes transformed into the image of Christ.[7] When the believer sees Christ face-to-face, the transformation "from one degree of glory to another" into His same image will be complete (2 Cor. 3:18). When we die, our souls are finally freed from indwelling sin, where in the presence of God the righteous are made perfect (Heb. 10:23). However, since sanctification involves the body as well, the process will not be completed until Christ returns and He transforms "our lowly body to be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21).[8] As we fix our eyes on the risen Christ and draw from His fullness, we will fulfill the ideal He has set before us. Our power is from Him and through Him, and He will give us the strength and endurance to run the race set before us until we reach our final destination with Him in glory.[9]


An Anchor in the Storm

The writer of Hebrews urges the believer "to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil" (Heb. 6:18b-19). This anchor of hope is Jesus Christ Himself. A.W. Pink provides a beautiful illustration of this truth:

An anchor is used for securing a ship, particularly in times of storm, to prevent it from drifting. It is an invisible thing, sinking down beneath the waters and gripping firmly the ground beneath. The winds may roar and the waves lash the ship, but it rides them steadily, being held fast by something outside itself.[10]

Christ secures the soul, and as a ship at anchor may be tossed and swayed, it will not move from its foundation.[11] The believer is never promised a life free of difficulty, pain, struggle, and suffering. We are, however, promised safe passage through every trial and storm as the resurrected Christ is with us always, "even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

In Isaiah 43:1–3 we see the reality of life’s pain and struggle along with the comfort and strength of His glorious presence: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God." (emphasis mine). Scripture provides a vivid illustration of this promise as Christ walked with the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace with an appearance "like a son of the gods" (Dan. 3:25). If Jesus walks with us through the furnace of our affliction, the fire will have no power, the hairs of our head will not be singed, our garments will not be damaged, and we will have no smell of smoke (Dan. 3:27).[12] The apostle Paul summarizes the steadfast love of God that rests on us through the person and work of Christ: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:38–39).

Strength to Endure

With Christ as our hope, we have the utmost confidence that we can endure the darkest of trials. During times of intense suffering, doubts may emerge as to whether or not we will be able to endure to the end. Paul writes to the Philippians reminding them to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), making it clear that we are an active player in our walk of obedience. At the same time, he re-affirms that "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his own good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). This is a critical truth in times of trial, for though our confidence in our own strength may waver, we can be assured that what God intends to do in us, He will complete as promised: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6, emphasis mine). Paul’s affliction in which he was burdened beyond his own strength was a reminder that he was to rely not on himself "but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8–10). Peter speaks with similar confidence in that while we may be "grieved by various trials" their purpose is that the "tested genuineness of [our] faith . . . though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:6–7, emphasis mine).

We must remember that in Christ we have all we need for life and godliness through His divine power (2 Pet 1:3), and in Him we have the strength to overcome. He does not simply provide the hope and strength we need to endure—He is our hope and strength. Joni Eareckson Tada, no stranger to intense suffering, illustrates this point: "If you are the One at the center of the universe, holding it together, if everything moves, breathes, and has its being in you, you can do no more than give yourself. . . . It’s the only answer that ultimately matters."[13] Our way is never hidden from the Lord, the everlasting God, and the Creator of all things. "He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isa 40:27–29). In the words of John Piper, "We fight as those who are saved by grace and held by Christ. . . . It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him . . . your security rests on Christ’s faithfulness first . . ."[14]

He has promised to keep us from stumbling and to present us "blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy." (Jude 24). Our hope is in the resurrected and glorified Christ, and we have the "immeasurable greatness of his power" that is at work in our hearts enabling us to endure our suffering and walk in obedience. This is the same power that "raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:19–21). Therefore, we have nothing to fear, for He is continually with us and has promised to hold us fast through the darkness of our trials. He will guide us through life and receive us to glory when our race is finished. Amy Carmichael, long time missionary to India, provides a vivid description of these truths: "The grace of final perseverance is that quality of patience which is always equal to the pressure of the passing moment, because it is rooted in that eternal order over which the passing moment has no power."[15] Thus, we can say with the psalmist, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psa. 73:23–26, emphasis mine).

The King Is Coming

There is also great hope to be found in seeing the resurrected Christ in His full glory returning as the Righteous Judge who will ultimately make all things right. Revelation 5 provides this picture where the scene is set around the glory, majesty, and holiness of the throne of God. In order to fully understand the implications of this passage, however, it is critical to know the context within which the apostle John received the command from the resurrected and glorified Christ to write the book of Revelation: "Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this" (Rev. 1:19).

John wrote this final book of the New Testament in AD 94–96, after he was exiled to the Isle of Patmos: "I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9). By this time the beloved apostle was likely in his nineties, hardly fit for a harsh life of an austere existence on an island reserved for criminals. Minimal food and clothing, hard labor, sleeping on bare ground, and isolation from his fellow believers would have taken a toll on him as an old man. Jesus had ascended back to heaven sixty years prior, and John’s own brother, James, had been executed by King Herod shortly after. The rest of the apostles were dead (tradition says they were all martyred), including the early church leaders Peter and Paul. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70, when over one-million Jews were slaughtered and the land of Israel was devastated. Furthermore, the persecution of believers under Roman emperors Nero and Domitian had intensified significantly, and the future looked bleak for the early church.[16]

John’s suffering within the context of Revelation provides a strong parallel to those sufferers who are in despair because of their struggle with PTS. As believers, we know that we must maintain an eternal perspective as we look at our suffering. In reality, however, we know there are circumstances and difficulties in life that we will not be able to fully understand this side of heaven, and ultimate healing and restoration will come only when Christ returns. For those who struggle with PTS, examples include, but are not limited to, a permanent injury such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), amputation,  disfigurement, the gaping hole from the death of a fallen comrade, friend, or family member, physical symptoms that will be a lifelong affliction, and the painful memories of the wounded, dead, and dying that resurface without warning. In addition, there are the mental images and filmstrips of suffering that cannot be understood or reconciled this side of heaven, such as when the victims are the innocent, particularly children. The sadness and grief from such loss, pain, and heartbreak leave the soul crying out for justice and the desire for wrongs to be made right, but then sinking into hopelessness and despair when there seems to be no answer. Hence the cries of the sufferers as described through the pages of Scripture resonate profoundly with the despairing heart.

John, the readers of his day, and sufferers throughout history desperately need the comfort and reminder that Jesus will one day return in glory as the Righteous Judge and defeat His enemies. Similarly, for those who are currently in despair, this promise is a call to hope and courage. The King is coming, as pictured in C.S. Lewis’s story of Narnia and the great Lion: "Aslan is on the move."[17] Through the eyes of John we have a front row seat in living color as the King of kings begins to move.

"After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this . . .’ and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne" (Rev. 4:1–2). Thus, John is transported in his vision to heaven and beholds the glory of the Ancient of Days seated on His throne. In Chapter 5, John sees a scroll in the right hand of God, which is the title deed to the earth, and then a mighty angel proclaims, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" In response to his question there is complete silence, "for no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it" (Rev. 5:1–3). At this point, John begins to "weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it" (Rev. 5:4). This is the only picture of tears in heaven, but sufferers who have lost hope understand John’s despair, for these are the tears of all of God’s people who have suffered through the ages.

From the bitter trials and pains of life, the heartache, afflictions, disappointments, disillusionment, and injustices, these are the ones who cry from the depths of despair, "How long, O Lord?"[18] If no one is found worthy to open the scroll to take back the earth from the power of the Evil One, then all hope is lost. This grief however, is premature, as one of the elders says to John and to us, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll." (Rev. 5:5). The One who is worthy, Christ Himself, is on the move, coming with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13), to take back what is rightfully His,[19] for He has conquered and was slain, and by His blood He has ransomed people for God (Rev. 5:5, 9). Christ is given the title deed to the earth, and He receives the worship and praise of which only He is worthy.[20]

Jesus Christ is worthy to take the scroll because of who He is, what He is, and what He has done. He is the rightful King from the line of David, the Lion of Judah with the power to destroy His enemies, and He has conquered (Rev. 5:5). "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19). However, Paul reminds us that in the end, Christ will deliver the kingdom of earth to God "after destroying every rule and every authority and power . . . the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet" (1 Cor. 15: 24–27). Our Redeemer lives and will take His stand upon the earth (Job. 19:25). As Christ moves to take back the earth and make all things right, the ultimate goal of redemption will be seen, paradise will be regained, and the wonders of Eden will be restored.[21] He is the Blessed Hope for whom all believers wait (Tit. 2:13), and He is seated "at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet" (Eph. 1:20–22a). In the glories of heaven, the former things are passed away and there will be no more tears, mourning, crying, pain, or death, for Christ will make all things new (Rev. 22:4–5).

George Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus" is one of the most memorable pieces of

music ever written. Handel suffered from severe strokes, almost crippling rheumatism, and blindness and had descended from riches to poverty. Locking himself in his study for three weeks, he composed the entire Messiah and explained that as he contemplated each act "I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself."[22]

His words echo those of John and other writers of Scripture who point us to the return of Christ:

Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

The kingdom of this world

is become the Kingdom of our Lord,

and of His Christ,

and He shall reign forever and ever.

King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,

and He shall reign forever and ever.

Hallelujah!

 

This is our Savior and Conquering King who draws near to us when we are suffering, calls us to courage and endurance, and to whom we cling for Him to uphold us (Psa. 63:8) until our earthly race is finished. In light of this hope, the sufferer is called to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).

                                                    ____________________

Mitzi Egger retired from the Air Force as a LT COL in 2016 after 20 years of service as a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) HH-60G helicopter pilot. She was commissioned through the United States Air Force Academy in 1997 and earned her wings at Fort Rucker, AL, in April 1999. As a career helicopter pilot she participated in Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom along with operations in East and West Africa. She has her Master’s degree in biblical counseling from The Master’s University and is also certified with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). Read more.

 


 
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[1] John MacArthur, "Why Jesus Must Return to Earth, Part 3" (sermon, Grace Community Church, Panorama City, June 24, 1973, accessed October 1, 2019).

[2] John MacArthur, Titus, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1996), 120.

[3] Arthur W. Pink, "The Life of Faith," Arthur W. Pink Collection (43 Volumes) ( E4

Group, 2014), Loc 227049, Kindle.

[4] John MacArthur, 1–3 John, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 118.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology—An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan & Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 746, Kindle.

[6] Dr. Stuart W. Scott "Methods of Biblical Change: Implementation" (lecture, The Master’s

University, Santa Clarita, July 28, 2017).

[7] John MacArthur, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway,

2017), 635–636.

 [8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 749, Kindle.

 [9] Arthur W. Pink, "An Exposition of Hebrews," Loc 55890, Kindle.

[10] Arthur W. Pink, "An Exposition of Hebrews," Loc 42733, Kindle.

[11] Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict and Victory Over Itself by Faith (Titus Books, 2013), Loc 3800, Kindle.

 [12] C H. Spurgeon and Roy H. Clarke, Beside Still Waters, Words of Comfort for the Soul (Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 161.

[13] Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the

Almighty (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 125.

[14] John Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God and

Joy (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 35–37.

[15] Amy Carmichael, Gold By Moonlight, Lessons for Walking through Pain (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2013), 79.

[16] John MacArthur, Jr., Revelation 1–11 The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999), 39–41.

[17] C S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan Publishing, Company, 1950), 64.

[18] John MacArthur, Jr., Revelation 1–11, 165.

[19] John MacArthur, Jr., Revelation 1–11, 169.

[20] John MacArthur, ESV MacArthur Study Bible, Personal Size (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 1948.

[21] John MacArthur, Jr., Revelation 1–11, 167–168.

[22] Ace Collins, More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006), 13–15.

 

 

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