January 19, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: November 15, 2015

A Pair of Shoes, van Gogh

A Pair of Shoes, van Gogh

Today in chapel, one of my co-workers told his life story. That’s pretty common at our ministry, but this was anything but common.

Doc [not his real name] came to us about three years ago, along with his new bride. Middle-aged and a recent Bible college graduate, looking for a beginning in ministry. Of course, one look at Doc and you know Doc is different. He looks like he survived a war, or a major car accident, or both.

One arm barely works. One eye is non-functional. One leg is almost immobile. He’s deaf in one ear. One side of his head is terribly scarred. He’s a soft-spoken, gentle man, but obviously life has not been gentle with him.

Doc is one of those people who loves to serve. He was a houseparent for a while, but some of his mobility issues hampered his effectiveness. Now he teaches in our tutoring lab, working one on one with students who have learning issues and need to relearn very basic skills in math and language.

Most men don’t like the tutoring lab work, but Doc does his job with joy. His wife is still a houseparent, and when he’s done at 3:30 he goes to the dorm and spends time with the boys till his wife is off work.

Last week, he stopped by to talk to me about ministry opportunities. I discovered that he was leading a boys devotional in the dorms on Friday night, and wanted to know what else he could do to serve. We discussed one of his loves- counseling- and I’m going to have him learn the job of one of our primary counselors who works with students with spiritual issues and questions.

I knew Doc, but I didn’t know his story. So I asked him to give his testimony in chapel. He said he’d be glad to.

So today he walked to the pulpit, with all his usual obvious difficulty.

The child of a Marine alcoholic and a loving Christian mom, he knew the good and bad of growing up in a home of mixed values.

When he was seven, a relative was using a power saw to build a porch. The saw slipped from his hand and ran across Doc’s body. It cut him through his intestines, across his ribs and chest, all the way to his arm

On the way to the hospital, he asked his mom if Jesus really loved him, as she’d always told him. She assured him that he did. he believed her, and years later, he gave his life to Christ and determined to follow and serve.

At age 23, Doc was deer hunting with a friend when he slipped and fell into a direct shot. The shot entered the back of his head and came out under his eye. The picture- which he didn’t show- is of a man with a massive head wound, obviously affecting the brain, vision and mobility.

He shouldn’t have survived, but he did. Multiple surgeries and major expenses followed, but God supplied his physical, financial and emotional needs. He not only lived, he walked and was able to return to a normal life. Now blind and deaf on one side, with immobility because of brain damage, he met and married another hospital patient. She had MS.

After ten years of caring for her, Lori, Doc’s first wife died. In the midst of grief, his pastor directed him toward Bible college, and he took the opportunity. Three years later he was graduating and married again to his current wife. Now both serve with us.

When I hear this kind of story, it is almost more than I can take. My faith is small and my tolerance for pain and loss is low. Questions of suffering and loss are not easy for me to contemplate. What would I do? Would God keep me? Would I despair, quit, abandon faith?

And here is Doc. Standing in front of our students, saying again and again that God is good. His suffering and loss can’t be measured, but his faith has grown every step of the way. In his gentle, Minnesota accent, he says over and over, “God is good. I’m so thankful.”

What is a testimony like Doc’s worth in this world? Maybe nothing to some. Maybe a priceless amount to others. I do not know. What I do know is that Doc is untroubled by the problem of evil. He is untroubled by the questions of theodicy. He doesn’t know the answers of the philosophers. If he has thought about the objections of the atheists, it was long ago. He isn’t a Calvinist and he won’t be lecturing on the comforts of various theories of God’s Will. He’s simple. He is, today, a grateful man.

Doc is the work of God in a world of absurd suffering. Whatever has been taken from him has not left him empty and bitter. He is full of the love of God, and bitterness is nowhere to be seen or heard.

He ended his talk by saying that where the human eye sees half a man, God sees a whole person. Made whole by Christ.


  1. My problems? Not worth mentioning in light of Doc’s story…

  2. I started typing something about the humility that is born of suffering but in light of the murderous finality of Paris on Friday my words sounded hollow. God forgive us and create light from our darkness.

    • I don’t think that suffering usually leads to humility, but I refuse to believe in the finality of any evil. Faith in the resurrected Jesus is my way of rebelling against the powers and principalities that otherwise hold us in thrall. I believe that Jesus is ultimate; everything else is penultimate. Without that faith, I have no hope, and no sanity.

      • Brianthedad says


      • I can’t speak to each and every case Mr. Robert but I have seen a good smack in the face from life take the edge off of more than one brash soul, including my own, to good effect. Perhaps hardening and resistance are other responses. It seems odd but Jesus learned obedience and was made perfect through suffering. Is not learning obedience very much like learning humility? Not my way but yours. Humility is a fundamental and necessary component of obedience and he learned that obedience through the things he suffered. Whatever the case, I’m done for today. Hasta mañana.

        • Funny, because I was going to tie suffering and obedience together, too, as I see you’ve done here, Chris.

          I know that word “obedience” makes a lot of us long time Christians flinch (often used as a club by preachers), but in addition to suffering leading to humility, I think suffering can also lead to obedience. It’s saying, “This sucks, but I’m going to try to use it for God’s glory somehow.” It’s how and why Paul and Simon could sing praises to God after having had the crap beat out of them.

          By God’s grace, I hope I never see the suffering Doc saw; I hope I never live through a Paris-like attack. But if I do, I hope and pray I’m able to be faithful to God and be obedient to somehow use that suffering for His glory.

        • I have seen obedience lead to suffering often enough, the reverse not so much. When Hebrews talks about Jesus learning obedience through what he suffered, I don’t think that it means he learned obedience because of what he suffered: I think it means that his willingness to be obedient caused him to pass through the gauntlet of suffering, and to know suffering. But then, I’m not a scholar of New Testament Greek. Perhaps someone who knows the subject could enlighten us here.

          • In either case, Jesus’ suffering came about through voluntary obedience; it was not the result of sudden random violence thrust upon him, or disease and death from natural causes. Suffering that comes from obedience may lead to further obedience and even “perfection”, but there is no such thing as an accidental martyr.


          • Obviously, the story of Doc is of someone who has learned to accept the suffering thrust upon him, and be obedient nevertheless; but nothing in the story suggest that he believed that God was the cause of his suffering, or that in accepting his suffering he was being obedient to God. Rather, it was the narrative of trust in a loving God, which even as a child he had incorporated, and which his mother re-affirmed to him in the midst of his early crisis, that made him able to endure his suffering, and prevail despite it.

  3. ‘the Peace of Christ’ in the midst of troubles . . . this is a great mystery that hopefully everyone will experience at some point in their lives if only to realize that there IS such a thing, that it exists as a reality, and that even the worst kind of trouble does not have the power to destroy it

    • I can say that I have experienced it. Somehow, though, the memory of it has not informed my spirit in subsequent trials, or at least has not seemed to. Perhaps the grace of such peace is not a function of memory, or not primarily of memory
      I don’t know.

  4. The car accident at 15, 40 years ago. Should have never survived. The hard work every day in masonry. One time I had to thumb to a job for six weeks with a walking cast on till it literally fell of. I never bothered going back the ankle cracks with every step today. Or the 12 hr days building foundations in 90 degree plus with high humidity. The scars too many to count. Duck tape and McDonald napkins and any clean water if there was any. So sick sitting on a bucket to work because I couldn’t stand. The things we do to eat.

    I’ve always considered myself fortunate. I had a chance. Many never do. I wonder about them a lot. Use to sponsor many over seas. Corrupt world. I have always since I have remembered talked to God. Sometimes I have been real angry with Him. I found through that he is so much bigger than my anger and doesn’t seem to hold it against me. Only replies in a voice that lifts and is always short and to the point with meaning go deeper than I could ever imagine. Oh now I’m the kook. So what. I gave a dually truck away just a week or two before wrecking my work truck. it hurt bad 40 years to the day I was 15 exactly. I heard in my heart to do this for a man who lives in a trailer and has nothing. Everybody thinks I’m an idiot. So what. I haven’t missed in 4 years my special ritual of feeding mountain cats. Guess what everyone thinks I’m an idiot. So what.

    I’ll keep talking to God cry when I need to and smile if it comes and doing the things I hear because I know no other way. The real heroes are day to day. Not taking away from those on the field. They work hard. Maybe when we look into each others eyes if we could just see some of it. We wouldn’t be so mean and nasty. Maybe this man can see it in the writing above. Truly that is blessed.

    • Love to read your thoughts and experiences, w. Puts perspective on a lot of our iMonk chatter.

    • ” maybe when we look into each others’ eyes if we could just see some of it. We wouldn’t be so mean and nasty.”

      well said, W
      I expect you’re right about this.

      Thing is, a lot of those ‘mean and nasty’ people are hurting too, and their pain comes out in the mean way they treat others . . . most of them, in fact, are pretty far from ‘okay’

  5. I agree with w. So what? I’m thinking Jesus probably said that a few times to His disciples!

    I woke up this a.m. thinking along the lines of this post. Especially the idea of 3rd paragraph for the end. Who cares about theodicy, atheism re Italy’s, etc? The real question is always : do I know God ? Not know about Him, not know what He does, His acts, etc…but do I KNOW Him?

    That is what gets me thru hard times, suffering, depression, distance from family, etc….I know Him, and more importantly, H knows me, my name.

    All the rest….that’s just life….and I am not getting through it alone….may feel like I’m alone at times, but I am not.

  6. Ronald Avra says

    This story gives me a vision of people who will populate the kingdom; not the megastar pretenders who hide in gated homes and won’t let their supplicants within a mile of them, but those who are willing to care at the level of personal interaction with the hurting who can’t or don’t care to help fund the circus.

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