Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

When God Allows Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

When God Allows Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

Joni explores the question of why God doesn’t heal every disease and every pain we suffer. She shares her struggles with deep depression after being paralyzed at age 17, and her ardent pursuit of healing from the Lord. After much disappointment, Joni’s perspective changed for the better when she realized that God was more concerned about healing her soul than healing her body. She also reveals the problems that her disability has caused in her marriage to her husband Ken, and how the Lord helped them through those difficult years. As a bonus on day one, we share a brief conversation between Jim Daly and Ken Tada about his deep love for Joni, and the Lord, and how having an attitude of service has helped him cope as the husband of a quadriplegic. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: June 2, 2017

Joni Eareckson Tada: I always thought physical healing had been the big deal. But as far as God was concerned, my soul was the bigger deal.

John Fuller: Hmm, isn’t that quite a perspective? That’s Joni Eareckson Tada. And today, she’ll continue a very helpful message on how to deal with suffering. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I am so looking forward to hearing from Joni today because I know that sooner or later I’m going to go through a time of suffering, either physical or emotional. And I’m gonna need Joni’s insight on how to deal with it.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: She is such an example for all of us. And you’re gonna need it too, at some point, because suffering comes to each one of us. It’s just part of life. And man, how to deal with that biblically is the key. If you missed the first half of Joni’s presentation yesterday, please get in touch with us. We’re offering the complete message as part of a free audio collection called, Enduring the Challenges of Life, featuring wisdom from Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Larry Crabb, and Duane Miller, a pastor whose miraculous healing was caught on tape.

John: Yeah. Well, it’s really a remarkable collection. It’s free and you’ll find it at If you need help finding that, give us a call. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. All right, here’s Joni Eareckson Tada speaking at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention a number of years ago, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And we’ll start with some highlights from last time as we get into today’s content.

Joni: I cannot tell you how many times at night I would picture myself there at the Pool of Bethesda on a blanket perhaps lying next to the man with paralysis on his straw mat. And I would wait alongside him, waiting for Jesus to walk into those covered colonnades, and I would see Him. And I would, in my mind’s eye, cry out, “Oh, Jesus. Jesus, don’t pass me by. Here I am, heal me.” But as many times as I picture myself there at the Pool of Bethesda, and as often as I asked Jesus to heal me, I never got up. I never walked.

Something’s wrong with this picture. What kind of Savior, what kind of Rescuer, what kind of Healer, what kind of Deliverer would refuse the prayer of the paralytic? And that’s when it hit me. It, it’s not that Jesus did not care about all those sick and disabled people at the bottom of the hill, it’s just that their physical problems were not His main focus. The gospel was, the gospel of Jesus that says, “Sin kills, hell is real, but God is merciful. His Kingdom can change you and I am your passport.” And whenever people miss this, whenever they started coming to Jesus just to have their problems removed, the Savior backed away. I always thought physical healing had been the big deal. But as far as God was concerned, my soul was the bigger deal.

Ken and I recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. But I tell you, every step of the way with my quadriplegia, with my chronic pain, every step has been a tough, earnest, rugged, rigorous reliance of Jesus Christ. And Ken and I have discovered a love that holds on through it all, sometimes by a single thread. We have learned that the strongest relationships don’t come easy. They are earned. They are tested by pain and frustration. And sometimes they are pushed to the breaking point.

Like, when I got breast cancer three years ago, a stage three breast cancer with a nearly three inch tumor in my breast, all of it had to be lopped off. And then after my mastectomy, I’ll never forget my husband Ken and my good friend, Judy Butler with whom I’ve worked with for so many years, who took care of so many of my medical year, needs in the years past, all of us were sitting in the office of my medical oncologist who, with his clipboard was listing through a litany of problems I would be facing in chemotherapy.

Beginning with, “Joni, you’ll have to be sent back to the hospital and a catheter port will have to be inserted into your chest. And you will be given highly toxic poisonous drugs. And your bones, which already are fragile, will probably break. You will have many bladder infections, probably lung infections. You’ll probably have pneumonia, you’ll lose your hair. You’ll get nauseous.” A nurse called him out of the room. He quickly had to leave, shut the door.

Ah, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I broke down in great heaving sobs. And quickly, Judy gets up as she often had in the past, especially when Ken was depressed and could not deal with my disability, she came up quickly and pressed me against her chest to hold me. And, and as I’m sobbing, I sense Ken get up and say to Judy, “I’ll take over from here.”

Oh, my goodness, it was like music to my ears. It was like such sweet music to my ears. My husband wanted to take over. I mean, was this the same man who just years earlier was happy to let Judy do everything as it concerned my disability routines? No, no. This was not the same Ken Tada. This was Ken Tada transformed from glory to glory. And the lessons we have learned in more than two decades of quadriplegia and pain, prepared us to battle cancer.

And now, with every squeeze of the lemon, through ever test and through every trial, we are able to let go of the worry, and the blaming, and the anxiety, and the fears of the future. Things, which by the way, are just as offensive to God as selfishness, and spitefulness, and a complaining spirit. And the harder Ken and I were squeezed in the midst of that bout with cancer, the harder we leaned on Jesus, discovering an intimacy and a sweetness we never known in our marriage up until then.

I remember I was heading to, to the office at Joni and Friends. And I… Ken can see in my eyes that I had a particularly painful day coming up on me. And he said, “Wait,” by the front door he said, “Wait, one moment.” He quit, ran and got a yellow Stick Em. And on it wrote with a felt tip pen a big capital C. And he slapped it over my chest, over my heart and said, “You got courage, Joni. I can see it in your eyes. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna do it. And I’m praying for you. You got the courage of Christ.”

Oh, my goodness, what wonderful words to hear from Ken. And he and I are so grateful for the disability, for the pain. And yes, in a strange way, even for the cancer. All of these things helped us stay hungry for the bread of heaven. Help us stay thirsty for the living water. Suffering keeps waking us up out of any spiritual slumber we might find ourselves in. Suffering is the textbook that keeps teaching us who we really are, that we are not the paragons of virtue that we so would like to think we are. No, we are sinners and need a redemption each and every day. And suffering sandblasts us, strips us bare, strips us of our sinful ways, leaving us raw and exposed. Also, that we might be better bonded, better bonded to the Savior.

Oh, my goodness. And when, when we leave sin behind and our hearts start getting beating in rhythm with Jesus, (laughs) you, you, you, you just can’t help but sense the, the favor, and the joy, and the approval from God almighty Himself. When you sense His strength being syringed into your spiritual veins, oh, my goodness, when we obey God and we become holy as he is holy, it’s like he opens up the floodgates of heaven and joy comes cascading down. Spilling up and splashing out of our hearts, and rushing out to others in streams of encouragement. And then rising back up to God in an effervescent fountain of praise. (Singing) Hallelujah, I have found Him, who my soul so long has craved. Jesus satisfies my longings through His blood, I now am saved.

And then we are, as it says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. We are poor, but yet making many rich. We have nothing, yet we possess everything.” And God is ecstasy beyond compare. His son, Jesus, is ecstasy beyond compare. And it is worth anything to be His friend. Anything, no matter what the hardship.

One day, when Ken and I were driving home from chemotherapy, it was a day when I was feeling particularly nauseous. I was so worn out, so tired. And as we drove down the 101 freeway, me in the back of the van and Ken driving, we were discussing how suffering is like, what’s it like? It’s like a little splash over of hell k- waking us up out of our spiritual slumber, getting us thinking about what Christ rescued us from. Ultimately, creating gratitude in our hearts for what He had, has secured on our behalf. Yeah, that’s it. Suffering is like a splash over of hell.

We pulled into the driveway, he turned off the engine. And looked at me in the rear-view mirror, and asked, “Well, well then, what do you think a splash over of Heaven is? Is it those easy-breezy bright days when there are no bad medical reports, when there is no pain, where everything is going well, where everything is comfortable and cozy? Are those things, are those days, is that a splash over of Heaven?”

And in the quietness of that van, we both agreed, “No, no.” No. A splash over of heaven is finding Jesus in your splash over of hell. To find Jesus in your hell is so wonderfully sweet because you recognize that this is the Son of God. Oh, my goodness, He has beckoned me into the inner sanctum of His fellowship of sharing and sufferings. And I wouldn’t trade places for anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.

People often ask, “Don’t you think cancer on top of pain on top of quadriplegia is just a little too much?” Well, is it too much for me? Would it be too much for you if that would be God’s choice of lemon to be squeezed in your life? Well, friend, “To this you were called,” 1 Peter 2 says, “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” And I wanna follow in His steps because if my Savior learned obedience through the things of which He suffered, am I above my master?

John: Mm-hmm. You’re listening to Joni Eareckson Tada, uh, on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And you can find more insights into life and struggle and persevering with God, uh, when you get a copy of the book, Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story. We have that here at Focus on the Family. Uh, make a donation to the ministry of any amount and, uh, help us do ministry. And, uh, when you visit us online, look for a free collection of audio downloads that we’ve put together for you called, Enduring the Challenges of Life. Uh, this is almost three hours of great content from Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Larry Crabb, Pastor Duane Miller and also, Joni Eareckson Tada. Uh, contact us to get that free download and make a generous donation, uh, at, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Let’s go ahead and return now to the presentation from Joni Eareckson Tada.

Joni: My friend, Bobbie, was diagnosed this time last year with stage four ovarian cancer. And after six rounds of chemotherapy, all of us who prayed for Bobbie hung on her husband Robert’s every word in every email. And let me quote for you what Bobbie shared in her journal that Robert then put in an email because I think it sums up so sweetly what I’m trying to say.

She wrote, “Joni, just as chemo medicine is designed to kill the bad cancer cells, so God designs a toxic painful trial to destroy and starve and kill anything in my soul that is selfish, unholy, or offensive to Him. I willingly surrender to His infusion knowing that He has chosen what will ultimately bring me more abundant life, more abundant life than I can ever imagine. So, I choose to open my hands and my heart, and offer my veins to be infused with His choice of trial, so that I might receive His beauty and His perfect health.”

God is still searching me. God is still testing Ken and me, testing, and trying, and seeing if there be any offensive way in us. And it’s why you will often find me quoting the general confession from The Book of Common Prayer on which I was raised as a young child in the Reformed Episcopal Church, “Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have, uh, offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought not to have done. And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.”

I love that confession, but I hate that confession. I hate it. So, don’t be thinking that a new body is what I am looking forward to most in heaven, jumping up, dancing, kicking, doing aerobics. Oh, that’ll be wonderful. It will be a great fringe benefit of being invited to Christ’s coronation party. But that’s not what I’m looking forward to, I want a new heart. I want a glorified heart that no longer twists the truths, or resist God, or looks for an escape, or gets defeated by pain, or becomes anxious or worrisome about the future, no longer trying to justify itself. Oh, that’ll be heaven for me. (Singing) Oh, that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace, I shall look on His face. That will be glory to have a new heart.

And, oh, my goodness, this is a message that we give to hundreds of thousands of suffering people. People with disabilities, disease sick people, who didn’t get the healing at the bottom of the hill. It’s a message also for you. From 1 Peter 4, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”

Dr. MacArthur once said, “We can’t be sinless, but we can sin less.” And he who has suffered in the body is done with sin. As a result, he lives for the will of God. And what is God’s will? Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without complaining. Do everything without complaining.”

Some time ago, Ken and I had the chance to visit the Holy Land. And, oh, it was a wonderful experience to go to Israel. Ken etched out an itinerary for us, and I didn’t really look at it. I had a time. I don’t know what he had planned for the various days. But there was that one day that we did visit the Old City of Jerusalem. He bumpity-bump-bump-bumped me in my wheelchair down those steps of the Via Dolorosa, (laughs) through the Arab bazaar.

And I looked to the right, and there was the Sheep Gate. And then we made a left-hand turn and passed St. Anne’s Church. And then we walked down this, this, this cobblestone path a bit further, then, then all of a sudden it opened out into, “Oh, my goodness, look at this. Oh, Ken, Ken, look. Look, it’s the Pool of Bethesda. Oh, sweetheart, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t believe how many times I used to s- imagine myself here.”

The place was empty. It was a dry, dusty afternoon. There were no tour buses. And as Ken hopped the railing of this, uh, ruin, to run down into the cistern to see if there might be any water left in the Pool of Bethesda, I, I, I leaned against the guardrail overlooking that pool, imagining the many sick and disabled people lying there, waiting to get healed, uh, and huge tears came pouring out of my eyes because God was so precious to give me this moment with Himself, right there at the Pool of Bethesda, right there where I used to imagine, picture myself so many times with nobody else around.

And He gave me the chance to be there at the pool and say, “Thank you. Thank you for the healing that you gave me. The deeper healing. Oh, God, you were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. You were so wise because a no answer to a request to be physically healed has meant, yes to a deeper faith in you.” Oh, Lord Jesus, it’s meant, yes to a deeper prayer life. Yes to a greater understanding of your Word.

It has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on your grace, increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has put complaining behind me and stretched my hope, and given me a lively, buoyant trust in you and an excitement about heaven. And pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow, and it has increased my faith and helped me to love you more. Jesus, I love you more. (Singing) More love to thee, Oh, Christ. Oh, Jesus, I just love you. And I’m so happy that you’ve not given me the physical healing that I want, but the deeper healing.

Maybe tonight, you see yourself at the Pool of Bethesda, or maybe you see yourself as number 15 in a long line of disappointed people by an elevator waiting for their problems to get fixed. Why won’t God remove this problem? Why won’t He change my situation? Why won’t He heal me? Well, God may heal you. Honestly, He may. He might do that. He might remove your suffering. But if not, He will use it to remove anything and everything that stands in the way of fellowship with you, if indeed you are serious about the lordship of Christ in your life.

So, let God have His way. Let Him mold you, and make you, and transform you from glory to glory. That is the deeper healing. And you do not have to break your neck to receive it. So, sing with me in all your beautiful harmony, and with an open heart, and a trust in Jesus, sing with me the closing prayer.

(Singing) Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting peaceful and still. Amen.

John: Hmm, that’s Joni Eareckson Tada on today’s episode of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And, uh, she concluded her powerful message with that song. That was recorded at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention several years ago. And Jim, you were there in the audience.

Jim: I was, John. And it was such a special time. You can feel it even just hearing the audio.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Uh, you could hear a pin drop because the audience was spellbound as Joni spoke from her own experience with such conviction. And at some points, through tears. I’m starting to feel them right now.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Combine that with her wonderful singing voice, and it was an unforgettable time.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And I’d like to encourage you to get a copy of this message. And best of all, there’s a way to get it for free. We’re including Joni’s complete presentation in a downloadable audio collection called Enduring the Challenges of Life. It includes a very inspiring interview that I had with the late Tim Keller, where he sheds some light on the age-old question, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And we also included a discussion with Dr. Larry Crabb on how to trust God, even when he seems distant during our trials and tribulations. Are you relating yet? Uh, Dr. Crabb (laughs) shares very honestly about his own experiences with pain and suffering, and how God helped him grow through those times. And finally, you’ll hear a miracle caught on tape in the story of Pastor Duane Miller, who lost his voice for three years until the Lord, literally healed him while he was teaching a Sunday school class through his whispering voice. You’ll never forget Duane’s story.

John: Oh, that’s right. Uh, those are, uh, incredible, uh, accounts of God showing up in the midst of suffering. So, look for this audio collection we have. It’s called, Enduring the Challenges of Life Collection. Uh, we’ve got the details at, or give us a call. Uh, our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459.

Jim: And Joni is such an amazing example of a woman who clings to the Lord in times of trial. And she’s had so many hardships over the years. After two bouts of cancer, Joni was hospitalized twice for double pneumonia. And she still struggles with chronic pain today. But as she said in this message, that suffering has drawn her closer to the Lord because she turns to His Word, the Bible, for comfort and strength.

And that strength is evident in Joni’s work as an advocate for people with special needs, from serving on the National Council on Disability, to hosting retreats for families and disabled children.

John: Yeah. She is remarkable and, uh, she’s a prolific author in the midst of all that activity.

Jim: Yeah.

John: She’s written over 50 books, and then she speaks literally around the world.

Jim: Yeah. (laughs) It’s amazing. And of those 50 books, the one that fits with the program topic today was written by both, Joni and Ken. And they go into much more detail about the challenges they’ve encountered in their marriage, starting with their honeymoon. Uh, we’d be happy to send you a copy of Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story, when you make a monthly pledge of any amount to Focus on the Family.

And if you can’t make a monthly commitment right now, we understand. We’ll send the book to you for a one-time gift of any amount. Just be sure to get the book from us, which is the point, where the proceeds all go right back in the ministry. Not into shareholders’ pockets. So, be a part of the ministry with us.

John: Yeah. Get Joni’s book and access the Enduring the Challenges of Life Collection, and make a generous donation at, uh, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459.

And just a reminder that if this program touched on a sensitive issue for you or someone you know, uh, maybe a loved one is dealing with a major health issue, give us a call, please. Our friendly staff would count it a privilege to hear your story, and pray with you. And if needed, you can request a free callback from one of our caring Christian counselors.

I hope you can be with us next time as we hear Amber Lia and Wendy Speake, share about motherhood triggers, and how those can lead to anger.


Wendy Speake: These triggers are opportunities. And if we don’t ready ourself to see them as an opportunity, we’re going to respond wrong when they respond wrong. But if we’re prepared, we can respond right when they do wrong, and we can invite them into maturity with us.

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Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story

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