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Home Home Schooling Joni Eareckson Tada - MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING


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The horrifying acts of terrorism in New York and Washington have caused many to ask why? The Bible tells us God alone knows why such things happen. It also declares this is His world and nothing is outside His control. The wonder of Christianity is this same God is also working all things for the eternal good of His people and that out of evil He brings good. As His image bearers, it's natural we want to make sense of why He allows some to suffer great pain, sorrow and even death while others seem to enjoy lives of relative easy and comfort.

It's not surprising people came and asked Jesus a similar question in His day. Listen to Jesus response as He spoke loving words of sober truth to them and us. "Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell, do you suppose they had failed in their duty more than all the rest of the people who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, certainly not. On the contrary, if you do not repent you will all perish just as they did." Luke 13:4-5 Weymouth's NT in Modern Speech.

As those who believe only the Bible makes sense of life, we need to have its answers when our children ask questions like, " Mum, why does God allow people to suffer?" It can be helpful to interpret recent terrorism in light of the Gospel.  We can do this by telling our children God controls this world He made and is also a  just and holy person who to be true to himself must punish all who rebel against Him. The good news is God sent His only Son to suffer His punishment on a cross. Why? So these same rebels  might know God's forgiveness and grace. It's only then we can begin to make sense of suffering when it occurs in our world, ourselves, our families or friends. We of all people can give our children this true hope, why? Because it's only in Jesus suffering on the cross that suffering really makes sense.

There is another point of reference that can give us concrete and practical teaching on suffering useful in a Home School environment. That's those of  God's people who have known deep suffering and pain and can communicate the sense of it to others. The great advantage of looking at such a person is that they can give us the Bible's teaching within the context of their own life of suffering. One such person is Joni Ericksen Tada who is a living testimony to God's help for people who suffer. No one has written more helpfully today on suffering or making sense of it than her.

Joni - Her Life

Joni was born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She has three sisters; Kathy, Jay and Linda. Interestingly Her father; Johnny Eareckson who Joni takes her name from was a creative, artistic man who could turn his hand to anything. A product of the Great Depression he built the family home from recycled building materials he picked up on the side of the road. He owned a flooring business in the city and bought a farm not far away where Joni learnt to become a champion horse rider. The family also enjoyed other outdoor activities like, tennis, hiking and swimming. Her family where members of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

Joni has described herself as an "immature and headstrong teenager." and that, "July 30th, 1967 was the beginning of an incredible adventure." Paralyzed from the neck down after a diving accident her life changed forever.  As a teenager she came in contact with "Young Life" a religious orientated youth work to high school kids. It was at a camp run by "Young Life" that she understood the Gospel and gave her life to Christ. Just before her accident she prayed, "Lord if you're really there, do something in my life to change me around, I'm begging you....!  After weeks in a special frame she began rehab and physical therapy at a nursing home; Green Oaks. During this time she battled with depression and self pity. Friends read her the Bible and she found comfort in prophets like Jeremiah. Her faith was severely tested, she read philosophers like Sartre and Marx but these drove her back to the bible. She was greatly helped by reading, "Mere Christianity" by C.S Lewis and works by Francis Schaeffer. She sought to glorify God immersing herself in God's Word and claiming his promises.

An Occupational Therapist suggested she draw with her mouth. A gifted artist before her accident, she was soon producing astonishing art works.  Noticed by a Charity Fund Raiser he organized a local exhibition of her works, which was a sell out. Through this she received local media attention appearing in the newspaper. Soon invitations came to speak to those with disabilities at Churches. She took public speaking lessons at the University of Maryland.

Incredibly on 11th September 1974, twenty-seven years to the day before the attack on America she appeared on Barbara Walter's "Today Show" in New York. She spoke for ten minutes about her new life of suffering to millions of people. This opened doors all over the country to speak to those with a disability. Joni and friends Ministry was born, she began a fruitful ministry of writing. In 1978 she stared in the movie "Joni" this was about her accident and new life in a wheel chair. In 1982 she married Ken Tada, a Hawaiian Christian. They now live in Southern California and are members of Grace Community Church where John MacArthur is Senior Pastor.

Joni - on suffering

"In the Psalms we're told that God does not deal with us according to according to our sins and iniquities. My accident was not a punishment for my wrongdoing- whether or not I deserved it. Only God knows why I was paralyzed. Maybe He knew I'd be ultimately happier serving Him. If I were still on my feet, it's hard to say how things have gone. I probably would have drifted through life - marriage, maybe even divorce - dissatisfied and disillusioned. When I was in high school, I reacted to life selfishly and never built on any long-lasting values. and almost always at the expense of others." "But now you're happy?" a teen-age girl asked. "I really am. I wouldn't change my life for anything. I feel privileged. God doesn't give such special attention to everyone and intervene that way in their lives. He allows most people to go right on in their own ways. He doesn't interfere even though He knows they are ultimately destroying their own lives, health or happiness, and it must grieve him terribly. I'm really thankful He did something to get my attention and change me. You know, you don't have to get a broken neck to be drawn to God. But the truth is, people don't always listen to the experiences of others and learn from them. I hope you'll learn from my experience, though, and not have to go through the bitter lessons of suffering which I had to face in order to learn." From "Joni" The Epilogue.

Practical Ideas: For the younger children

Systematically read all the Bible's stories of those who suffered. Consider with the children the people's response to their suffering and what God did about it. Discuss how they would handle suffering in the light of God and the Gospel. Finish by getting them to write the story in there own words drawing it to reinforce the ideas. You may like to read parts from Joni's books (Listed below) and discuss them with the children. 
For the Older Children 
Repeat the above exercise, getting them to read the Bible stories. Work through with them Joni's Books. Work through he Bible teaching on suffering in "A Step Further."  By discussing suffering we can help them prepare for it when it happens. Why not arrange for a mature Christian who has experience real suffering to come and talk about it with the family.

Suggested Reading:

Joni, A Step Further, Choices Changes all by Joni Eareckson Tada Available from

Reference: Joni Eareckson Tada: Her story. Pub; Inspirational Press, 1994.

Paul Thompson. Paul is married to Amanda and they have two adult children and one high school child. They attend Grace Evangelical Church - Newcastle. They are both involved in a cross-cultural ministry


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