Truth for Triumphing over Trouble #3
Truth #1—What we can see is not all there is; there’s a lot that God is doing that you don’t know about.
Truth #2—God has the right to remove whatever He has graciously given in the first place.
Job 2 recounts a second phase of suffering that hit Job physically, prompting his wife to urge Job’s capitulation.
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).
Truth #3: It is unreasonable of us to expect only unmixed good from God.
That’s easy enough to say sitting on the sofa at home watching the World Cup. But you have to see Job saying it—robe torn, head shaved, and now covered head to foot with painful sores: Should we expect God always to send us blessing and never to permit affliction? That’s an unreasonable expectation.
A former student stopped by my office. He was working as a hospital chaplain and counselor in a cancer ward and described what it was like being with parents when they lose a child. Grief. Confusion. Often anger at the apparent injustice of it. And questions. Like, “Why should God take my child when he lets murderers and thieves live?” All he can really do in that moment, he explained, is validate their confusion and frustration. There is an apparent injustice in such events. People who do terrible things live and prosper while others who don’t, suffer and die. It’s an ancient enigma. Solomon, Asaph, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah all wrestled with it. (Job and his friends will as well, later in the book.) What are we supposed to think when we don’t understand what God is doing? Three observations can help us with that:
(1) We have to distinguish between “bad” things and “evil” things, because Scripture does.What we consider the premature death of a child or a spouse is a ‘bad’ thing. But it is not inherently unrighteous or morally evil. God is not wicked or unjust for permitting it. It may seem unfair; it may make no sense. But it violates no promise he has made and no right that we possess. It clears our thinking when we understand the difference between “bad” things and “evil” things.
(2) Remember Truth #1: what we see is not all there is. If there’s one overarching reality, one fundamental grounding truth of human existence that the book of Job affirms, that’s it. When we begin judging God and his character strictly on the basis of what we can see, we are (as Job put it) speaking foolishly — in fact, irrationally. This life and this world, and the miniscule slice of my experience in it that I can see, is not all there is. God’s justice will be total and pristine but not necessarily when and where we want, or in ways that we can always see.
(3) The reason loss hurts so much is because God was so good to you in the first place. I have never yet known a parent who, having lost a child, would rather have never had that child. Maybe there are parents like that. The sting of pain and the ache of grief is real and dominating, and the loss is a bad thing. But it feels that way because God was so good to give you that relationship in the first place. A corrective to focusing on the “badness” of the loss is to teach your soul to be grateful for the “goodness” of God to give what he gave in the first place.
Jonathan Edwards died at the age of 55. To some of you that probably sounds really old. To me it sounds disturbingly young. (If I were Jonathan Edwards, I would have died 3 years ago.) After his death Sarah, his wife, wrote this to their daughter Esther:
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives, and he has my heart.
That’s another way of saying that it is unreasonable to expect only unmixed good from God. We are, after all, just sinners living in a sinful world.
Years ago I had a phone conversation with one of my aunts who was not a believer. She complained about all the crises and tragedies and scandals troubling the nation and world. Then she dumped all of it at God’s feet: “What is God thinking?!” The obvious implication was that God was either cruel or incompetent to be allowing all this — as though the sinful choices of fallen people had nothing to do with any of it, as though freely chosen evil actions should have no consequences.
Ironically — providence is often ironic — within two days of that phone call, a massive storm system spawned a cluster of deadly tornadoes that swept right through her city. What do you think God does to someone who talks about him like that? What do you think happened to my aunt? Nothing. Houses all around her were leveled; her home was untouched. I wondered if she ever asked herself, “What was God thinking? Why should He be so good to me?” As Russian novelist Dostoevsky once wrote, “the best definition of man is ‘the ungrateful biped.’”
Given who we are and where we live, it is unreasonable to expect only unmixed good from God.