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Suffering and Spiritual
By Gary F. Zeolla
This article is continued from Suffering and Spiritual Struggles - Part One.
“Why me, Lord?” “What did I do to deserve to suffer like this?” “Why
is God allowing this to happen to me?”
Is God punishing me?” Or to quote from the Bible, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?” (Psalm 22:1; NKJV).
Anyone who has ever suffered (which is probably all of us to one degree or another) has probably asked questions like these. Christians especially seem to believe that God should protect them from suffering. And when we do suffer we often try to blame God for it.
However, in many cases the reason why Christians, and anyone else for that matter, suffers is due to our own doings. Many health problems are caused by such things as smoking, drinking to excess, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, and being overweight. And if someone is engaging in such unhealthy behaviors, then if they develop health problems it’s not God’s fault but theirs.
But what about me? For the most part I had been trying to live a healthy lifestyle for some time. As the author of the book Creationist Diet, I have been following a healthy diet for some time. And over the years I have tried to stay in shape. But, as indicated in Part One of this article, it seems my very attempts to stay in shape have been the cause of many of my health problems. As a result, I have cried out to God many times, “Why me?”
To try to answer the question of why, I have tried to rationalize why I have experienced such problems in my life.
First, I have tried to look for any "good" that has come about as a result of my suffering. So, for instance, back in college, powerlifting was my life. I lived to powerlift. It was the only thing that gave me any self-confidence or respect. One could say that powerlifting was my “god.” So it is very possible that if my lifting hadn’t been taken away from me I might never have become a Christian. As Jesus said, “No one is able to be serving as a slave to two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt 6:24; ALT).
But then, I have often thought that if I had been able to continue powerlifting and had become a Christian nevertheless, then my lifting would have given me many “openings” to witness to people. The respect I would get from people due to my lifting abilities just might have caused people to listen to what I had to say about spiritual matters. But then again, maybe God knew this wouldn’t be the case-that the only person I would use my lifting to bring glory to would have been myself.
Maybe I am now a “better” person as a result of all of my suffering. But this is rather hard to gauge. Only God knows what I would be like today if I hadn’t been through so much. So it’s hard to find comfort in something that I’m just not sure of.
But, as indicated, the direction of my life changed as a result of my back pain. And maybe I can take comfort in saying that it was more important that I write spiritual articles and books than to be engaged in a fitness field. But it would really help matters if I was making a decent living writing. Moreover, the lifting I have been able to do has reminded me how very much I enjoyed being involved in the whole fitness arena, and especially with lifting weights. And there are times when I really do regret not having been able to continue powerlifting and to be involved in the fitness field.
Another way of looking at things is to look at my own role in my suffering. As I look back, many of my problems just might have been avoided if I had taken the proper steps much earlier.
For instance, Dr. John Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain was published in 1991, three years before my back pain progressed to the point of being crippling. So if I had done some investigation on back pain in the early 1990’s maybe I would have come across this book, and my back pain would never have gotten to the point of crippling me.
Moreover, my back pain started back in 1982. And this just happened to be the same year that Dr. Sarno published his first book Mind Over Back Pain . So again, if I had done some investigation on back pain way then, such as simply going to the very large library at Penn State, I just might have come across this book. And if I had, I would have found the answer to my back pain 18 years before I did, and maybe I would never have had to give up powerlifting.
But instead, I just listened to the few doctors I went to and learned to live with my back pain. It wasn’t until it had crippled me for several years that I actually began to try to learn as much as I could about it on my own, and in doing so came across Sarno and his theories.
Second, as indicated in Part One, I knew I had allergies dating back to at least high school. But I just ignored them. And this allowed them to progress to more severe problems. But again, if I had done some investigation way back in high school, this could have been prevented.
Now NAET wasn’t around yet back in the 1970’s when I was in high school. Dr. Devi didn’t “discover” NAET until the mid-1980’s. But maybe therapies like appropriate supplements might have been enough to control my allergies before they had gotten so severe.
And by the time I began to experience the perpetual congestion in the 1990’s, Dr. Devi had already published the first editions of her books. So with just a little investigation at that time, I might have come across this information.
So the answers to my health problems were out there all the time. All I had to do was some investigation to find them. And most of all, I shouldn’t have just ignored them until they became crippling. The time to treat health problems is when they start not after they’ve mushroomed into serious problems. So I really can’t blame God for not leading me to the solutions sooner when I wasn’t even looking.
And in some cases, I can look back and say that God was actually protecting me. For instance, I had just started wearing a bicycle helmet for the first time in my life three weeks before my serious bicycle accident. And if it weren’t for that helmet, I very likely would have been killed or at the least have suffered brain damage. As it was, the only head injury I suffered was a mild concussion. So I could easily say that it was God who led me to purchase and start wearing the helmet.
However, I can’t rationalize all of my suffering away so easily. First off, many people live very unhealthy lifestyles yet never seem to suffer ill effects as a result. But despite my best efforts to take care of myself, my health completely fell apart. And this seems so unfair.
Moreover, some of my worse suffering this year was actually the side effects of the NAET treatments, which is to say, my very attempts to overcome my health problems caused even more suffering. Now in some cases this is to be expected, such as when cancer victims get sick as a result of chemotherapy. But as indicated, most people suffer little or no side effects from NAET treatments, so why did I have to suffer so much?
Also, if NAET had worked as quickly for environmental items as it did for foods, then I'd probably be fine by now and would have avoided the recent two-week flare-up. And for many people, all of their allergies do clear rather quickly. But the length of time it is taking my allergies to clear seems to be dragging on and on.
Now the doctor did tell me that for people with serious allergies, it does generally take quite a while for them to fully clear. However, she has never had anyone have flare-ups like I have. They generally just gradually improve. So why did I have to be the one to have such problems?
And as much as I try to rationalize that God was actually watching out for me all along, it still holds true that He could have, for instance, prevented my bicycle accident altogether. And the accident was not my fault. The fault was clearly with the driver of the car that cut me off.
So where does this leave me spiritually? Before trying to answer this question, let me try to relate my experiences to what a lot of people have been going through over the past year.
I finished writing this article on September 11, 2002, one year after the attack on America. And many people are still asking “why?” And to deal with the tragedy, many have tried to use rationalization, as I have with my health problems.
First off, people have long discussed the “good” that came out of the attacks. Much of the news coverage at the time and now during “first anniversary” programming is focusing on the actions of the heroes of the attacks. Tragedies do very often have a way of bringing out the best in people.
First there were the heroes of flight 93, which crashed not too far from Pittsburgh, near which I live. It took a lot of courage for these heroes to purposely crash the plane to save the lives of others. Similarly, it took a lot of courage for the rescue workers to charge up the steps of the Twin Towers to try to save those trapped in the upper floors. And one could say that God is the One that gave all these heroes this courage.
Then in the days following, “God bless America” signs began popping up all over the country. Congress even sang this song on the steps of the Capital Building. It seemed like a real spiritual awakening was occurring throughout the USA.
And many believe such is spiritual awakening is surely needed. In fact, some even pronounced publicly that the attacks were the result of God punishing America for its sins. But personally, I cringed when I heard this. It is true that the Bible records many instances of God punishing corporate, national sins. But I would never want to take it upon myself to judge that this was true in this case. And such pronouncements probably just worsened the agony of those who lost loved ones in the attacks. And one can always ask if God would punish the innocent along with the guilty?
Other rationalizations concerned the extent of the tragedy. Given that anywhere from 50,000-100,000 people could be in the Twin Towers at any given time, estimates of the number of dead on the day of the attacks ranged in the tens of thousands.
I can even remember saying to my niece the day after that attacks that the number of dead could end up exceeding the number of Americans killed during the entire decade-plus long Vietnam War. And the number could very well have exceeded 50,000 if the first plane had hit an hour later in the midst of the business day, rather than at 8:46 am. And many have thanked God for this “mistake” of timing on the terrorist’s part.
But still, the deaths of over 3,000 people in one day is unbelievably tragic. And no amount of rationalizations will lessen the emotional struggles 9-11 has caused. Even now, a year later, I have been fighting back tears while typing this section. And I am sure a river of tears has flowed since that fateful morning. And the emotional trauma caused by 9-11 has profoundly affected many people spiritually.
“Faith and Doubt”
The week before the first anniversary of 9-11 PBS aired a show titled “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” It was a very thought-provoking show. In fact, when they later replayed it, I taped it. It raised many interesting questions, and I could picture myself using it as a basis for a series of Bible studies. A transcript of the program is located at PBS.
The show looked at people’s differing reactions spiritually as a result of the attacks. Basically the show chronicled that people have had three different reactions.
The first reaction was for people’s faith to have increased since the attacks. Many people have found comfort by turning to God. They truly believe that God has given them the strength to go on despite the loss of loved ones and the magnitude of the tragedy. They feel they would have probably fallen into despair without His comfort.
And I can understand this. I have no doubts that God has been there with me during my difficult times. I could have easily “lost it” during the times when I was completely paralyzed. I cannot even describe what it is like to be unable to move a muscle for hours at a time. But in some way God comforted so I was able to stay calm during these episodes.
Now the two-week ordeal described above did stretch my patience to the limit. One day of not being able to move was trying enough, but as the days dragged on, I really didn’t think I would make it. But God brought bring me through somehow.
Another way in which people’s faith increased is if the person or a loved one was one of the survivors. For those who managed to get out before the Towers fell, it is easy to see God’s hand in their deliverance. However, a minister on the show “Faith and Doubt” made an interesting observation in this regard.
He stated that if you’re going to say that God delivered you or a loved one out of the Towers before they collapsed, then you’d better be prepared with an answer to the person whose loved one didn’t make it out. Why did God deliver the first person but not the second?
Jesus had something to say in regards to a somewhat similar situation of His time:
Luke 13:4 "Or those, the eighteen, on whom the lookout tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you* think that these were debtors more [fig., worse sinners] than all the [other] people dwelling in Jerusalem?
13:5 "Not at all, I say to you*, _but_ if you* are not repenting, you* will all likewise perish" (ALT).
So the answer cannot be found in the “righteousness” of the respective persons. Now an Arminian might try to find the answer in the respective person’s “free will.” But Jesus made no such appeal in His comments. Moreover, what “free will” decision on the victims’ part could have possibly been involved in the case of the collapse of the Towers?
The Calvinist might quote God’s statement to Moses, "I will show mercy to whomever I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I have compassion” (Rom 9:15; ALT). But that is a rather harsh thing to say to someone who has lost a loved one. So frankly, from any viewpoint, I really don’t have a satisfactory answer.
But that said, I am sure that if had fully recovered by now I would be singing praises to God. But this is similar to the person thanking God for delivering them out of the Towers. If God were behind my healing, what about all of those Christians who suffer with low back pain, fibromyalgia, stiff person syndrome, and other disorders but never find relief? Is God not working in their lives? But still, it is a lot easy to praise God when things are going well than it is to trust Him when things are not.
Loss of faith:
The second spiritual response some people have had as a result of the attacks is to lose their faith in God. And it is easy to look at such a tragedy and say that if there were a God this wouldn’t have happened. And there are no easy answers to this.
I know it would be easy for me to lose my faith as a result of all that I have been through. It can be hard to trust in Someone who allows such suffering to occur. But for some reason I haven’t. I know that in some way God is still there, working in my life.
As said above, I know He has been comforting me. And when I did finally start to look for answers to my problems, I do believe that God was directing me in the right direction. NAET treatments are rather “out there” even for alternative medicine, and a lot of circumstance occurred that led me to try this treatment method that I won’t go into here. But I will say that I believe it was God that led me to try NAET treatments.
And as a result believing God led me in this direction, all along I have had the confidence that the treatments will work and that eventually I will fully recover. I have had family members and others encourage me that it is time to try something else, but I simply have no “peace” about doing so. So God’s leading has been very instrumental in my life.
Spiritually numb/ Angry with God:
A third reaction to the attacks some people in the PBS show reported was that they feel “spiritually numb.” They haven’t lost their faith but they can’t honestly say they’re really trusting God either. They simply don’t know what to believe anymore. But what was most interesting was that no one in the show, that I can remember anyway, said that they were angry with God. Maybe this is because a year later such anger has worn off.
But as for me, I must confess that at times I have been angry, and maybe even somewhat bitter. No matter how much I try to rationalize or look to God for answers I can’t and probably never will understand why I have had to suffer so much for so long. But I don’t think I’m really angry with God; I just get angry at times, and most of all just fed up. So there are times I would say my attitude toward God could be described as “numb.” I know He’s been comforting and leading me, but still at times He just seems so distance. So I am struggling.
Much more could be said on these subjects. But I’ve written about all I can handle for now. And I know I haven’t given any specific answer to the question of “why?” in regards to 9-11 or in regards to suffering in general. And the reason for this is there really is no one answer that will satisfy everyone. Each person must deal with such issues in their own way.
But as for me, I look at the cumulative effect of the various possibilities I have discussed in this article. Though no one answer is satisfying in itself, looking at all of the possibilities together, I can see “God’s fingerprints” throughout my life. Things have not gone the way I would have wanted them; I am fed up with my health problems, and I do struggle spiritually at times as a result, but God has clearly been working in my life. And in that I can take comfort.
And finally, I would like to thank all of those who have been praying for me. Your prayers are much appreciated, and I am sure have helped me to endure all of this.
It is now July 2006, so I wanted to update this story some. After several more episodes of being paralyzed over the next couple of years, I had the last such episode in April 2004. And it seemed like I was on the road to full recovery. But then my allergies progressively worsened to the point now that my condition could be termed "multiple chemical sensitivities."
Basically, I am reacting to all kind of chemicals, including cosmetic products. So just being around people is very difficult. And the fatigue is still a problem. As a result, I am living mostly an isolated life. I am now 45 and still single, never married. So loneliness is a constant problem. And with the health problems, finances are also a constant problem.
However, despite the problems, I have actually been able to compete in powerlifting again, and have been doing surprising well. I have been the #1 or #2 ranked masters (over 40) powerlifter in the USA in my weight class for each of the last three years.
I have only been able to continue my powerlifting training by setting up a gym in my home and my writing by working out of my home. But I haven't even been able to make it to church for the last couple of years. And that is something I sorely miss. Articles on my this newer Fitness for One and All site discuss the various treatments and practices I have tried and chronicle my powerlifting training and contests.
Emotionally and spiritually I am still struggling, but I am doing better than when this article was written. I still often ask "why?" when I have yet one more setback.. But my faith is still there. In fact, I would say it is the only thing that keeps me going. And I do thank God that I have been able to powerlift again and to work on my Web sites. I consider these sites to be my ministry. And I believe I have been able to help may people with many issues through them. So despite all of the problems, I have been able to accomplish something worthwhile with my life. And for that I am thankful. For more in this regard, see the article Thanking God for 15 Years of Ministry.
Nambudripad, Devi, M.D. The NAET Guide Book . Buena Park, CA: Delta Publishers, 2001.
Say Goodbye to Illness.Say Goodbye to Illness. Buena Park, CA: Delta Publishers, 1999.
Sarno, John. Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. New York: Warner Books, 1991.
Mind Over Back Pain . New York: Berkley Books, 1982.
Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
Selfridge, Nancy, M.D. Freedom from Fibromyalgia . New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
Zeolla, Gary. Creationist Diet: Nutrition and God-given Foods According to the Bible. AuthorHouse © Gary F. Zeolla, 2000.
Overcoming Back Pain. © Gary F. Zeolla, 2001.
Scripture verses marked ALT are taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation
of the New Testament of the Holy Bible. © Gary F. Zeolla, 2001.
Scripture verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
The above article was posted on this site September 21, 2002.
The Update was added July 15, 2006.
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