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When God Allows Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 06/02/2017

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Author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic since age 17, candidly explores the question of why God allows pain and suffering, and encourages listeners to persevere in trusting God, even if they can't fully understand His purposes. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript


Jim Daly: Hey John, before we get started today, let me remind our listeners that Focus on the Family has monthly expenses; it’s our budget, just like you do. If this radio program is of value to you, can you respond by becoming a monthly donor to help keep us on the air? Every day this program is making a difference in people’s lives. Recently a young mother wrote us to say, “Focus is my lifeline and is helping me raise my children with Christian principles.” Isn’t that what we all want for our families? Help us be there for your family and for others by partnering with us financially.

John Fuller: And when you join us today as a monthly contributor to Focus on the Family, we’ll say thank you by sending a copy of the book Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story which features our broadcast guest today. That’s just one example of the benefits you receive by becoming a monthly partner with this ministry. Find out more at


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.

End of Excerpt

John: Joni Eareckson Tada continues a helpful message on how you can deal with suffering on today’s Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly; I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, I’m really looking forward to hearing from Joni today because I know that sooner or later, I’m gonna go through a time of suffering, especially as I get older. Either physical or emotional, whatever it might be, I’m going to need Joni’s insights on how to deal with it. And you’re gonna need it too because suffering comes to all of us. It’s just a part of life. If you missed the first half of Joni’s presentation yesterday, get in touch with us. We’re offering the audio download for free, especially if you know someone who deals with chronic pain-- they are going to be blessed by what Joni has to share.

John: And that free download is available to Well here now, Joni Eareckson Tada, speaking to a group assembled just a couple of years ago at the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. And we’ll start by sharing some highlights from our last broadcast.


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. Healme!” But as many times as I pictured myself there at the Pool of Bethesda and as often as I asked Jesus to heal me, I never got up. I never walked.

“Somethin’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 a 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.

The Gospel of Mark showed me the priorities of Jesus, 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 on 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. AStage 3 breast cancer with a nearly 3-inch tumor in my breast. All of it had to 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 for so many years, who took care of so many of my medical needs in 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. (Crying) Uh! 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 sensed 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 early … 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 every 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’d never known in our marriage up until then. I remember … well, it wasn’t really that long ago at all, it was really rather recently, I was heading to … to the office at Joni and Friends. And I … Ken could see in my eyes that I had a particularly painful day comin’ up on me. And he said, “Wait by the front door.” He said, “Wait one moment.”

He quick ran and got a yellow stickum and on it wrote with a felt-tip pen, a big capitalC. 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 prayin’ for ya. 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 help 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 in need of 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 we leave sin behind and our hearts start beating in rhythm with Jesus, oh … you … you just can’t help by sense that 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, when 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, whom 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, chapter 6, verse 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 uh … little splash over of hell, kinda wakin’ us up out of our spiritual slumber, getting’ us thinkin’ about what Christ rescued us from ultimately, creating gratitude in our hearts for what He has secured on our behalf. Yeah, that’s it … su … suffering is like a splash over of hell.

We pulled into the driveway. He turned off the engine and looked at me in the rearview 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 in 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, chapter 2 says, “Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” And I want to follow in His steps, because if my Savior learned obedience through the things which He suffered, am I above my Master?

Program Note:

John: Joni Eareckson Tada on Focus on the Family and we’ll have more from her in just a moment, but let me mention: you can get a free audio download of this broadcast so you can listen again or pass it along to a friend or a family member. That’s available, along with a way for you to become a monthly pledge supporter to this ministry. Just stop by

Let’s return now to Joni Eareckson Tada as she was speaking at a National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention in 2013 on Focus on the Family.

End of Program Note

Joni: My friend, Bobbie was diagnosed around this time last year with Stage 4 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 e-mail. And let me quote for you what Bobbie shared in her journal that Robert then put in an e-mail, 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 that 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 theBook of Common Prayeron 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 of … offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought 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, jumpin’ up, dancin’, kickin’, doin’ aerobics. Oh, that’ll be wonderful. That will be a great fringe benefit of being invited to Christ’s coronation party. But that’s not what I’m lookin’ forward to. I want a new heart. I want a glorified heart that no longer twists the truth or resists 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, [SPEAKING] 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, diseased sick people who didn’t get the healing at the bottom of the hill. It’s a message also for you. From 1 Peter, chapter 4, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with this 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 chapter 2, verse 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 ahead of time. I didn’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 bumpety, bump, bump, bumped me and my wheelchair down those steps of the Via Dolorosa. (Laughter) 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 Saint 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 at Bethesda. Oh, sweetheart, you would … you wouldn’t believe how many times I used to 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 ruin (Laughter) 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.

(Groan) 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 that 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 has increased my faith and helped me to love You more, Jesus. I love You more. [SINGING] More love to Thee, O Christ. [SPEAKING] O Jesus, I just love You and I’m so happy that You [have] 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 No. 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: Joni Eareckson Tada on today’s Focus on the Family concluding a two-part message recorded at the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention just a few years ago. And, Jim, you were there.

Jim: I was, John, and it was a special time-- you could hear a pin drop in the room because the audience was so spellbound by what Joni spoke from her own experience with such conviction. It was really something to be part of. And if you know of someone who needs to hear this powerful message, visit us online to get the free audio download. You know, Joni is an amazing example of a woman who clings to the Lord in times of trial and she’s had so much hardship over the years. We are pleased to say that she has been declared officially cancer-free now, but as she said, 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 her work as an advocate for people with special needs, from serving on the National Council on Disability to hosting retreats for families with disabled children.

John: Yeah, she does a great deal of really wonderful work and Joni is a prolific author-- she’s written over 50 books and she speaks all around the world. In fact, she is one of the keynote speakers at the Evangelicals for Life Conference next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, January 18-20th in Washington, D.C.

Jim: And, boy, John, I wish everyone could be at the Evangelicals for Life Conference and the March for Life-- they are amazing events! I’ve attended several times and, I’ll tell you what, every year I come back from Washington feelingre-energizedto defend the sanctity of human life.

John: And the line-up of speakers is over 40 people that’s really impressive. Folks like Joni, as we’ve mentioned, Dr. Russell Moore, Ann Voskamp, Rich Stearns and from our own team here at Focus on the Family, Kelly Rosati, Tim Goeglein and a guy named Jim Daly.

Jim: It’s a privilege to be there, John, and I enjoy getting out and being with folks, especially the pro-life community. It’s a wonderful experience. You know, there’s actually four areas of the Sanctity of Human Life movement where you can be a voice for someone who can’t defend themselves. Here they are: there’s the effort to protect the pre-born child, where you have the opportunity to be a voice for the hidden. There’s the adoption/orphan care area where you can be a voice for the abandoned. There’s the aspect of protecting the rights of people with special needs and that’s what Joni will be speaking about-- being a voice for the vulnerable. And then, lastly, there’s the elderly. People who are often isolated from their families and we want to encourage you to be a voice for the forgotten.

John: Boy, there’s so much there and there are going to be a lot of workshops that are very practical, like how to help your church develop a pro-life ministry, how to be a pro-life parent, the impact of the millennial generation and the future of pregnancy resource centers.

Jim: Man, we’re covering a lot of ground, John. But we would love for all of you, our listeners to attend. But if you can’t travel to Washington D.C., you can watch portions of the event for free through a live simulcast from your home, office or church. You could get your Bible Study together too and watch together. It’s a great way to inspire more pro-life efforts in your community. So let me just encourage you to pray about how God would want you to be involved in being a voice for the hidden, the abandoned, the vulnerable and the forgotten. And then reach out to us here at Focus on the Family so that we can help you get started.

John: Yeah, we’re a phone call away. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.And you can also find information about the Evangelicals for Life Conference and simulcast at our website. While you’re there, be sure to request the free audio download of today’s message from Joni. The site is

And if you enjoyed today’s broadcast, please tell a friend to join in next time as we have a mother/daughter team offering some great advice about children and discipline.


Erin MacPherson: I say, how would you like to do that differently? How did that feel? I don’t try to correct at that point, I try to get it to the heart level of who does he want to be and how does he want to respond better? And he has all the right answers and then we’ll pray and I’ll say okay, let’s try that again.

End of Teaser

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Joni Eareckson Tada

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A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson Tada, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she was determined to help others in similar situations. Joni is now an internationally known advocate for people with disabilities. She is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, a best-selling author of more than 50 books, a radio and TV host, and a featured guest in numerous media outlets. Joni and her husband, Ken, reside in California. You can learn more about Joni and her ministry at