How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? – Psalm 13:1
Late summer lightning
What do you do when the bottom falls out? When things go so completely wrong that it seems impossible that God is still involved in the situation? What do you do when you know He is powerful to stop something from happening, or to clear an obstacle, but He simply does not do either one?
I want to believe that somehow, all my faithfulness to Him will be rewarded with health, long life, stability, finances and human love on this side of eternity. I want to think that if I’m good to Him, He will be good to me in the way that I think is right and good and worth my effort, here and now in this life.
But I know that’s not true. In my heart I know the real rewards are yet to come.
This is one of the hardest things about following Jesus. God is good, yet bad things still happen, and it’s even more difficult when bad things happen to good people. I know that God can intervene and change the outcome of any situation, and yet sometimes He doesn’t. I grieve losses and disappointments and wonder why He doesn’t just make it all go away.
I was thinking about this the other day when I read something that struck me. It was from Pastor Timothy Keller, who has taught extensively about suffering and the Christian worldview. He said, “The best people often have terrible lives. Job is one example and Jesus—the ultimate ‘Job,’ the only truly innocent sufferer—is another.”
Not very comforting, and yet completely satisfying all at the same time. If even Jesus suffered, why do we think that we will not? We’ve been fed this line that if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us with material blessings and protection. Maybe a nice house and a car, a good marriage with wonderful kids, a full bank account, our health and a great job that will fill our desire to make an impact – our “calling”, as it were. Kind of like karma – be good and good things will come.
Except that’s not how it works. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”
Not that we go looking for it; we don’t have to. In certain seasons of life, it finds us. And it doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair. It hurts.
Earlier this month, we lost an incredible evangelist and passionate teacher. Nabeel Qureshi’s life and books have impacted thousands of people around the world! This guy loved Jesus. He was willing to give up everything for the sake of the cross. Surely he would be healed of his sudden stomach cancer diagnosis! Surely God would do a miracle in his life to show His power and glory! Thousands of people prayed for healing. Thousands of voices lifted morning after morning, night after night – asking Jesus to remove the cancer in this young husband and father and give him a bright future as an author, teacher and speaker.
The answer came on September 16th, 2017 as Nabeel was welcomed into eternal life with Jesus. We know he is experiencing the incredible joy of seeing the Lord face to face! But we can’t help but ask the question, “why Lord?”
Why do we have to suffer? Why do good guys have to die?
We were watching Bambi with the kids a few weekends ago and our four and a half year old was horrified by the very idea that the storyteller would include the part about Bambi’s mom being shot by a hunter.
Her face was stricken with a mix of confusion and fear as she cried out, “WHY?! WHY DID THEY EVEN PUT THAT IN THERE?!”
I know, right?! I feel like that every time something nasty comes my way.
We think we’ve got things covered, but when something goes sideways we face the reality that we are not in charge. That phone call. That doctor’s appointment. That work meeting. The economy. The weather. The timing of a particular moment. In just seconds, we are driven to our knees with shock, grief and fear.
And rightly so. In the moment it is so difficult to understand why or even how something like this would happen.
Here’s the amazing thing. When suffering comes, we are not expected to fold our hands and shrug our shoulders and say, “oh well, it’s God’s will”. We are free to wail and grieve. We are allowed to cry out to the Lord from the depths of our hearts. We can run to Him to be held, comforted, reminded of who He is – the God who redeems and restores our lives for all eternity!
Suffering takes our faith to depths we’ve only heard about in stories and testimonies. Places we will not go on our own. Places that bring us into a closeness with Jesus we’ve never had before, as we share in His sufferings.
Author Ann Voskamp says, “When we know Christ, we always know how things are going to go — always for our good and always for His glory.”
We don’t have to explain it away, because we have a Saviour who suffered too. A Savior who bore our sin, shame, pain and grief, who died a brutal death, forsaken by all. And He is the very same Savior who came to life again, breaking death’s power for all eternity.
When we see God for who He really is, even in the middle of the darkest of nights, we come to understand that He really is the One who holds it all together. We begin to see that God is working all things for our eternal good – and for His glory. These sufferings are temporary. He is eternal. With our trust placed in Jesus, our future is secure, free from suffering and filled with hope.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)