Have you ever had anything happen in your life that was so awful and destructive that it did not make any sense at all for God to allow that to happen? Unless you are a child, I suspect that the answer to that question lies in a knowing nod. In every aspect of our lives, we see things taking place that just should not be, and we frequently cry out to God in our pain, anguish, and heartbreak about these things. The Bible is full of examples of this.
Job in Job 3:1 – 11 curses the day he was born and wishes out loud that he had never been born.
Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:2 – 4, 13 (NIV, 1984) cries out, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen. Or cry out to you ‘violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me: there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. … Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves.”
David anguishes in Psalm 6:1 – 7, “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint. O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? … I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
Jesus Christ in Luke 22:42 – 44 pleads, “ ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me’ … being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Atheists chide Christians in this area saying that if there were a God, things like this would not happen. This is especially true if you claim God is loving and looking out for our welfare as many of our songs, especially the songs of childhood, claim. Atheists may be repulsed by our singing “God Will Take Care of You,” and yet atheists suffer just like the rest of us. Their non-belief in God does not make any of the hurt go away.
Your author makes no claim to have all the answers to this issue. I have stood by the bed of my dead wife, and held my son as his body endured seizures, blindness, and brain damage. I have uttered the same cries as Habakkuk, Job, and David during those times.
May I make five suggestions to those of you who are people of faith or people who desire to have faith? These suggestions come from over 75 years of fighting through the agony of nothing making sense. I hope they will be helpful to you and perhaps will ease a small part of your pain.
DO NOT DEMAND TO UNDERSTAND.
We have all heard quotations of Isaiah 55:8 – 11, “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ ”
We all know the song “Farther Along,” which tells us that in the future we will understand why God allows these things to happen. The point of the song is that we cannot see the future, and even a problem may bring about something fruitful beyond our wildest dreams.
I apologize for all the personal references in this discussion, but that is all I know as a base for my teaching. When my son was born blind, mentally challenged, schizophrenic, and with cerebral palsy and a form of muscular dystrophy, I did a lot of yelling at God. Nothing made sense. Now, 53 years later as I look at my son who is happy, stable, joyous, and full of spirit, I see it differently. I have been made stronger by my son and by my wife who was taken from me after 49 years of marriage. The good that has been done is far beyond what would have been possible had these tragedies not have happened. The story of our struggles with raising Tim is in a book titled Timothy — My Son and Teacher. Now that I am “farther along,” I understand why God did not stop the pain I was having at the time.
Proverbs 3:5 – 6 tells us, “Trust the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Following God's word for making life's decisions works, but our selfish desires can so easily get in the way. Job tells us this in Job 42:1 – 6, “Then Job replied to the LORD, I know that you can do all things, no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said ‘listen now and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” We cannot demand understanding in this life because we do not know the future. Our eternal future is far more important than what happens now.
DO NOT BE A FAIR-WEATHER CHRISTIAN.
Going to church and going through the motions of being a Christian is easy when everything is going well for us. Unfortunately everything does not ever go well our entire lives.
Revelation 2:10 warns us, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution … Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This was written to the church in Smyrna, but it is happening in rapid acceleration today throughout the world.
Hebrews 3:12 – 13 warns us, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily as long as it is called today, so that none of you will be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” Problems, suffering, and disappointment are the agents Satan uses to harden our hearts. Remaining an active Christian when things get difficult is a challenge. We need each other's encouragement and support not to give up.
DO NOT BOW TO BITTERNESS.
When problems come upon us, it is easy to sink into the darkness of bitterness. In the song “Farther Along” there is a line that says, “Tempted and tried we're oft made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long, while there are others living about us, never molested tho' in the wrong.” I have seen bitterness and understand why people get bitter, and the darkness bitterness brings is terrifying. Isaiah 50:10 warns us, “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”
First John 1:5 – 7 tells us, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin.” In this passage, the darkness is the Greek word skotia, not the word zophos which mean blackness. Skotia is the darkness that ignorance produces — the hopelessness. We are to be people of hope, optimism, and positiveness — not angry, bitter people who repulse and are repulsed by their pain.
DO NOT BE UNWILLING TO WAIT.
Genesis 39 – 41 tells us the story of Joseph, a man who had a promise and a vision from God. He did everything right but was mistreated by his brothers and then by the people he was trying to help and serve. He endured years of slavery and oppression. He waited in prison for years before a fellow prisoner fulfilled a promise. This was followed by many more years in a foreign land working for a dictator. When many years had gone by, he had an opportunity to retaliate against those who had sold him into slavery. His response was, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:4 – 5). He had not demanded to understand in the past, and now he was “Farther Along” because he had waited out God's action.
DO NOT LET GO OF YOUR DREAM.
The story of Joseph is a story of a life of dreams. He had no idea what the dreams meant at the time. He was heavily pressured to reject the dreams (see Genesis 39:10). He suffered because of his dreams, but he never gave up on them. Do you have dreams, hopes, goals, plans, or ideals? The difference is that God's Spirit helps you with your dreams. Jesus promises us that our spirit dreams will happen. Jesus said in Matthew 7:7 – 8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” This does not mean that selfish dreams will happen. James 4:2 – 3 tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
God will answer those good and constructive dreams and plans we have in ways we could never dream could happen. Accept the fact that you will never understand all that happens in this life. Do not be a fair-weather Christian. Stick with God and engage in encouragement and support with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Do not allow yourself to sink into the darkness of bitterness. Be patient. Understand that God sometimes operates over long time periods and do not give up.
What DOES NOT make sense? Rejecting God and abandoning your faith when the struggles of life happen. You do not gain wisdom or understanding by turning to the atheist's guiding principle of “survival of the fittest.” Rejecting God's message of hope and patience leads to isolation and despair and frequently suicide. None of those things makes any sense — not now or in eternity.
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