IT IS GOOD FOR ME THAT I HAVE BEEN AFFLICTED
Testimony of John Farese
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver. Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments. Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word. I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, According to Your word to Your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight. (Psa 119:71-77)
And He (God) has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being... Acts 17:26-28a
John Farese lives in Florida with his brother Paul and sister-in-law Janis and their four children. He enjoys a very productive life, is keenly interested in a variety of sports, and has a special involvement in information technology, including the maintenance of his own Web site.
He has been disabled since birth, is paralysed in both arms and legs, and has been unable to sit up for over 10 years.
I came into this world on 27 August 1956, the second of Vincent and Joan Farese's seven children. My older brother Bernie was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a severely crippling disease that meant that he was never able to walk. So was I - and a younger sister Tina. In each case, the doctors told my parents that the child concerned would not live beyond its eighth birthday. Tina died of pneumonia when she was four years old.
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and quietly accepted the doctrines taught to me by my parents and the parish priest, especially the idea that a person got right with God by obeying the sacraments of the church. At one stage I was told that if I recited forty-five prayers from a particular Catholic prayer book every day for a whole year I would escape the pains of purgatory and hell, and be immediately accepted into heaven when I died. I never missed a day - but had no assurance that my discipline would pay off.
One special highlight I remember was a trip to Lourdes, in France. My mother took my brother Bernie and me there to seek healing from the Blessed Virgin Mary - but we came back home in exactly the same state as before.
My early years were spent in suburban Boston, Massachusetts, but when I was fifteen my father's business relocated our family to Florida, so we all moved south. Leaving behind relatives and friends in whom I had found a sense of security was devastating to me, yet in God's providence it was to prove the best move of my life. Brought up in a city where Catholicism was a dominant factor, I had come to believe that anyone outside of that tradition was beyond salvation. Yet four months after moving to Fort Lauderdale, and when I was still home-sick for Boston, our next door neighbour invited my mother to a home Bible study. Although we had a large white family Bible in our home, it was hardly ever opened, and I was shocked when my mother accepted the invitation. There was another shock when she agreed to the Bible study leader's suggestion that her son, who was then a freshman at Florida Bible College, might come and talk about the Christian faith to my brother and me
That visit, and others which followed, had very different sequels. Bernie and I were so impressed by what John Tardonia told us about Jesus Christ as the one and only Saviour that we both gave intellectual assent to the gospel of grace and said a 'sinner's prayer'. In Bernie's case, this marked a dramatic change. He began to pray, study the Bible and go to church, and eventually enrolled in Bible College. Even more marked was a radical change in his lifestyle, which now seemed driven by a daily desire to please God.
In my case, the only change was for the worse. I had made some new friends whose lifestyle was rampantly self-centred and immoral, and I pitched in with them, determined not to let my disability keep me from enjoying life to the full. For the next twelve years gambling, heavy drinking, marijuana abuse, weekly visits to strip clubs and frequent engagements with call girls provided a means of escape from the pain, loneliness and emptiness I was experiencing.
Some years after Bernie and I went our separate ways, my younger brother Paul, who was a popular athlete in high school, joined me in the sex and drugs scene, until he went away to College on an athletic scholarship. During his first term, he got into so much trouble that he was on the verge of being expelled, yet when he came home for Christmas two months later there had been an amazing change. Like Bernie, he had become a committed Christian, and he was soon urging me to turn away from my dissolute lifestyle and get right with God. I knew in my heart that he was right, and even prayed with tears that God would change my life, but I loved what I was doing, and found myself unable to break my destructive habits.
At this point Bernie gave me a Bible, which I promised to read, but it sat unopened on a shelf for the next six months, while I went back to gambling, sex and drugs. Yet there was a difference. For the first time, I began to feel uncomfortable doing what had given me such undisturbed pleasure before. I kept remembering my conversations with Paul and my promise to Bernie that I would read the Bible. These nagging thoughts eventually became so strong that I took the Bible down and began to read it. I began at the first page, and in three months had read it right through - but by then I too had become a Christian. It was while I was reading the Sermon on the Mount that God opened my eyes to the truth about my sin, the inability of religion to deal with it, and the need to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as my own personal Saviour. As I did, I was given an assurance that my sins had been forgiven and that I had become a true child of God.
Like most new Christians, I found myself full of zeal. I wanted to be baptized, join a Bible-believing church, and do whatever I could to serve others. I remembered Jesus had said that he 'did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Matthew 20:28) and that 'no servant is greater than his master' (John 13:16). Being bedridden, I was not sure that I could contribute anything to others, but by the grace of God I am able to be of energetic service in ways far beyond anything I had imagined.
In light of my physical condition, I am often asked the age-old question, 'How can an all-powerful God of love allow you to suffer in this way? Surely the Bible says that God always does what is right? Yes it does - and he does! I have come to see that suffering is one of the many ways in which God demonstrates his unfailing love to those who have come to put their trust in him. Writing out of his own painful experience, the Psalmist says, 'It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees' (Psalm 119:71) - and I gladly endorse every word of that testimony.
Among other things, suffering empties us of pride and self-dependence, and makes us realize our complete dependence upon God. When we reach the point where we have nowhere to turn except to God, we begin to get a clearer view of who and what he is. Day by day, I am discovering more and more of his wisdom, love and grace. I am also finding that God's power is made perfect in my weakness, and that 'when I am weak, then I am strong' (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Jesus went through appalling suffering, physical, mental and spiritual, yet at the end of it all he was to 'see the light of life and be satisfied' (Isaiah 53:11). I count it a privilege to experience in some small way 'the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings' (Philippians 3:10) Although I am bedridden, struggle to breathe comfortably, and often have to contend with painful bed sores, I count them as 'light and momentary troubles' (2 Corinthians 4:17) For all the difficulties they cause, I know that they are achieving for me 'an eternal glory that far outweighs them all' (2 Corinthians 4:17) How trivial they will all seem in the light of the eternal bliss that awaits God's children in the world to come!
One of the psalmists wrote, Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me' (Psalm 66:16) - and I gladly do so. He has turned my mourning into laughter and my desolation into joy. He has made my heart rejoice with 'an inexpressible and glorious joy' (1 Peter 1:8). When I struggled to escape from his grace, he drew me to himself. I bear witness that never servant had such a master as I have, never brother such a kinsman, never spouse such a husband. No sinner ever had a better Saviour than Jesus, no mourner a better comforter. I want none beside him. In life he is my life, and in death he shall be the death of death. In poverty, he is my riches, in sickness my health, in darkness my sun. Jesus is to me all grace and no wrath, all truth and no falsehood: and of truth and grace he is full, infinitely full.