Joni Eareckson Tada Lends Her Experience of Suffering as General Editor of New Bible
By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
AGOURA HILLS, CA (ANS, Nov.23, 2016) — Have you ever suffered physically, emotionally or spiritually and wondered why? Do you have family members or friends with disabilities and struggle to know what to say or how to act around them?
That’s the question posed by publicity materials for a unique new Bible, published by Tyndale in cooperation with Joni Eareckson Tada’s ‘Joni and Friends’ (JAF) disability ministry.
Joni and Friends says people with disabilities are considered one of the world’s largest under-represented groups.
“The church is largely unprepared for the burgeoning disabled population. One of the primary goals of the Beyond Suffering Course is to address this issue by preparing leaders in ministry, education, medicine and science to become involved in this life-changing ministry,” according to information from the ministry.
Since the Christian Institute on Disability (CID) opened in 2007, JAF Vice President Steve Bundy envisioned a bible-based, comprehensive course to equip students, pastors and lay leaders for disability ministry.
“We needed a way to shatter the Church’s apathy toward disability ministry,” said Bundy. “To accomplish this, we prayed for like-minded, Christian professionals who could make significant contributions to such a study. And God powerfully answered!”
The original 16-lesson undergraduate course, Beyond Suffering: A Christian View on Disability Ministry, was published in September 2011. Since that time, Beyond Suffering has been translated into several languages and embraced by national and international Bible colleges, universities and seminaries.
“But we couldn’t stop there,” says JAF website information. “We knew lasting change would only happen if future generations are equipped with an understanding of what Jesus taught about those with disabilities.”
Young people have been an important part of JAF ministry since the early days of Joni and Friends. Thousands have faithfully served as Short Term Missionaries at Joni and Friends Family Retreats and other disability ministry events. So the youth edition, Beyond Suffering for the Next Generation, was published in 2015 to impact future generations of Christians to change the way they think about suffering and become beacons of hope for the disability community.
JAF says there is hardly a person who doesn’t know someone dealing with a disability, disease, chronic illness, or other form of personal suffering.
The Beyond Suffering Bible is the first study Bible to directly address those who suffer and the people who love and care for them.
Now, from bestselling author, singer, and radio host Joni Eareckson Tada and the experts at Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability, the Beyond Suffering Bible is filled with thousands of notes and features that invite readers into a conversation about suffering and its place in each person’s life. Each feature has been carefully created to provide readers with valuable information, meaningful encouragement, and challenging applications as they encounter God’s Word.
In an exclusive arrangement, Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com) was the first to interview Joni Eareckson Tada (@JoniandFriends) about the worldwide premier of the Beyond Suffering Bible (Tyndale House, 2016).
Jonathan Petersen, Manager of marketing for Bible Gateway, conducted the interview. The event was a 30-minute Facebook Live Event called, “Finding Hope in Suffering – Joni Answers Your Tough Questions,” which took place online Friday, July 22 with Joni Eareckson Tada. Questions for Joni were submitted at the Facebook Event Page or by Tweeting, Facebooking, or Instagramming questions with the hashtag #BeyondSufferingBible. (See: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2016/07/the-beyond-suffering-bible-an-interview-with-joni-eareckson-tada/)
Peterson asked ‘Why is this Bible needed?’
“Suffering always prompts heart-wrenching questions: if God is good, why would He allow this pain in my life? Is God truly sovereign over accidents and birth anomalies, or does the devil set the world’s agenda? How do I counsel people who are despairing of their condition? What are the right choices when it comes to assisted-suicide and other tough ethical issues? For that matter, where does a person struggling with a life-altering accident or illness find peace of mind and a purpose for living?” said Eareckson Tada.
“The answer is the Word of God. Now, most people who suffer realize that the Bible contains answers for their plight; they just don’t know where to look. This was my story shortly after the 1967 diving accident in which I became paralyzed—even in my despair, I knew in a vague way that the Bible held hope for me in its pages. I just didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully, God brought wise Christian friends alongside to help me discover life-transforming precepts in his Word. The Beyond Suffering Bible can be that ‘wise Christian friend,’ helping those affected by disability grasp the goodness of God amidst critical questions about pain and hardship.”
Eareckson Tada said many people in the throes of suffering, disappointment, and despair, feel utterly stuck in their circumstances. “They see no hope beyond their day-to-day drudgery of disability routines; but when hurting families place themselves under the shower of God’s mercy, suddenly the clouds part. They realize there’s hope, life, and even joy beyond their suffering. ‘Beyond’ is a word that beautifully reflects Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ What a powerful promise for those who suffer and their caregivers!”
Eareckson Tada was asked what perspective does she bring to this Bible as its general editor?
“When it comes to this particular study Bible, there’s great value in a general editor who has an intimate knowledge of life-altering, gut-wrenching affliction. As general editor, I rely on scholars more gifted than I when it comes to the Beyond Suffering Bible’s copious study notes and commentaries—yet even these contributing scholars are acquainted with disability!.”
Eareckson Tada added: “The success of God’s Word in our lives is linked intrinsically to our application of its truth. The point behind the Beyond Suffering Bible is to help the reader move biblical insights from the intellect into their daily grappling with affliction and hardship. And as general editor, I want the reader to understand that every commentary, study note, personal profile, and word of counsel is offered up by individuals who are not only skilled in God’s Word, but skilled in applying it when disability feels utterly devastating.”
According to Eareckson Tada, most people wish they could erase suffering out of the dictionary. “Today’s culture of comfort and instant gratification has no patience for suffering—most people want to drug it, escape it, divorce it; do anything but live with it. Yet suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. As I often say, ‘God permits what he hates, to accomplish what he loves.’ I can’t think of a better answer to the ancient question of suffering. Even at the cross, God permitted what he hated—the unjust and agonizing death of his own precious Son—in order to accomplish something he prized above his own Son’s cruel death; that is, salvation for a world of sinners. So the world’s worst murder becomes the world’s only salvation.”
Eareckson Tada says The Beyond Suffering Bible takes this powerful truth and relates it to our personal struggle with suffering.
“True, God hates Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, mental illness, autism, and the rest (these conditions are all symptoms of the Fall). Yet he permits these things to accomplish something far more precious in our lives: patience, endurance, compassion for others who hurt, and refined faith and trust in God, to name a few.”
One special feature of the new Bible is ‘Faith in Action: Biblical and Contemporary Profiles.’
“The truths of the Bible are never just abstract concepts; they’re always related to real people,” she said. “So throughout the Beyond Suffering Bible readers will enjoy stories of those whose lives have been touched by suffering and transformed by God’s Word. Some of these are people who are named on the pages of the Bible, but others are contemporary individuals—some well-known, others just ordinary people with extraordinary lessons to share with the reader.
“It always helps to know that other parents with special-needs children are surviving, and surviving well. Faint hearts are encouraged when they read about others who, despite amputation, spinal cord injury, or psychiatric disorders have a vibrant trust and confidence in God.”
In answering how does this Bible approach modern ethical issues related to suffering, such as stem cell research and euthanasia, Eareckson Tada said: “Many good Christians are confused about complex social issues of our day, such as doctor-assisted death or medical research which uses stem cells from human embryos. They wonder, ‘Why shouldn’t science use discarded fetuses for research?’ And if someone finds his medical condition intolerable and hopeless, ‘why shouldn’t he have the legal right to end his life?’ Although the Bible does not address these issues in particular, it does provide guiding insights. Sometimes, however, we need help in ‘connecting the dots’ biblically, and the Beyond Suffering Bible provides that guidance. It underscores the scope and extent of what it means to bear the image of God, and how that makes all life sacred. Once the reader firmly grasps the truth of human exceptionalism under our Creator God, then the answers to confusing cultural issues begin to be clear.”
Eareckson Tada was asked what she means when saying that after years of suffering, she believes God allows one form of evil to expose another form of evil?
“God turns on its head one form of evil—suffering—in order to defeat another form of evil—that is, our transgressions. It happened at the cross, and it occurs in the lives of followers of Christ every day. For instance, I deal daily with chronic pain and, at times, my pain feels like a lemon that God ‘squeezes,’ revealing my sour attitude, peevish spirit, and tendency to complain or grumble. Did not God use my pain to expose my sin, I might—like many of us—not be aware of the sin of which I’m capable. But we’re not the paragons of virtue that we’d all like to think we are. And so, to shatter that myth, God will use suffering to expose the stuff of which we’re made.”
She continued: “We’ve got to remember that the core of Christ’s plan is to rescue us from sin. Our pain, poverty, and broken hearts are not his ultimate focus. True, he cares about these things, but they’re merely symptoms of the real problem.
“God cares most not about making us comfortable, but about teaching us to hate our transgressions and to grow up spiritually to love him. In other words, God lets us continue to feel much of sin’s sting through suffering while we’re heading for heaven. This constantly reminds us of what we’re being delivered from; exposing sin for the poison it is.”
Eareckson Tada said that often when people are diagnosed with a life-changing medical condition, they feel overwhelmed. “They feel choked by darkness and hopelessness. Those are times when answers simply do not suffice. That’s because answers don’t always reach the problem where it hurts: in the gut and in the heart. God knows this, and so he gives us Ecclesiastes 3:4 which speaks of a time to weep and mourn. In Romans 12:15 we’re told to ‘mourn with those who mourn.’”
She added: “It’s why when I feel overwhelmed by chronic pain, I’m always helped by Isaiah 50:10 — ‘Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.’ This scripture reminds me that the Bible isn’t quick to give answers; it mainly gives the Answer. When we hurt, God doesn’t always give us lots of words; he gives us the Word; the Word made flesh who is intimately acquainted with our grief and suffering. That’s what helps the most.”
Joni Eareckson Tada is founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Joni and Friends provides practical support and spiritual help to special needs families worldwide, and equips thousands of churches in developing disability ministry. Joni is the author of numerous bestselling books, including Joni: An Unforgettable Story, Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story, Diamonds in the Dust, Heaven, When God Weeps, A Lifetime of Wisdom, A Place of Healing, Life in the Balance, Making Sense of Suffering, and A Step Further, winner of the Gold Medallion Award. Joni and her husband, Ken, have been married for more than 30 years.
Photo captions: 1) The Beyond Suffering Bible. 2) Joni Eareckson Tada. 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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