Recently, small disappointments and less than ideal circumstances has led me to confront some of my major beliefs about God.
These disappointments cannot compare to anything major like death or mass injustice, but it was just enough to start asking myself, Is God really trustworthy if my happiness does
not seem important to Him?
And this led to the heavier question: Is He really trustworthy if He allows His children to undergo major suffering throughout the world?
After coming home from an amazing time in Tahiti and learning to trust God in a new and exciting way, I entered into a completely new season where things just didn’t seem as adventurous and I didn’t seem to be “doing” as much. God just wanted me to rest and learn something new about Him, and part of what He’s been teaching me is related to happiness and suffering.
As a side note, I am definitely not a huge fan of these times of “rest” although I know they are good for me in the end. Someone from my women’s church group said to me, “This is why Psalm 23 says that Jesus makes us lie down in green pastures.” I thought that was a pretty funny interpretation.
Anyway, if you don’t already know, I am currently doing a Family Ministry School in Hainichen Germany, a small, small town in the eastern part of the country. The base is nestled in a quaint neighborhood within walking distance to town. We are a bit far away from any major city and fortunately protected from the noise of the speeding cars on the autobahn.
I am instead blessed by the pleasant calm of birds chirping, children laughing (and crying!) and the occasional car driving by our base to their cute little home that I love to gaze at.
Although by now I am settled in the YWAM community here and am enjoying learning about God’s perspective on families (which I will save for another blog post), I have been on the other hand wrestling with the truth about God’s trustworthiness and character.
God has been showing me that the reason why I have come to doubt Him so much is because I have been trying to interpret the character of God through the lens of my own expectations for this life. And because my expectations haven’t been met, I felt myself hardening my heart out of self-protection as I perceived some kind of betrayal by God.
Although it has never been the case that things always go my way, for some reason I am only now confronting this false belief in my heart that God is only good when the circumstances around me are good and when I receive what I believe I am “entitled” to.
What am I really entitled to? I suppose I thought I was entitled to anything I wanted as a child of God. And in some cases, God has really given me so many of my heart’s desires like a father does for his daughter. He surprises me so much and I really do experience His protection, provision, and grace over my life.
But other times, He tells me “no,” and things just don’t go the way I want, and I have only now realized how much I hate this and mistrust God because of it. I know God is challenging my thinking and helping me grow out of being a spoiled child.
Slowly, I am beginning to accept that this life isn’t going to fulfill my own expectations for happiness. This is not what God promises. He promises us that joy is available, but it’s not going to look the way I think it does.
And honestly I feel a bit silly writing this, because as a Christian perhaps I “should” know this, but I guess that’s the human in me who takes a bit longer to see reality from God’s perspective.
A while ago while I was still in Tahiti, God led me to purchase C.S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain. I only recently began to read it and it has helped me tremendously since I started asking these questions about God. This excerpt below sums up what I have been dealing with regarding God and my own personal happiness:
What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented? We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoy themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds.
C.S Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I think this idea of happiness and how the world should operate can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people to overcome in their worldview and relationship with God. Believing that our version of happiness is what God is most concerned about, or that He will keep all of His children from experiencing hard things, this is simply not true and can become a blockage in spiritual maturity.
And in actuality, although I may think I know what I want from my life, I really don’t, and God has shown me that His goodness doesn’t change just because He doesn’t say “yes” to all of my requests:
Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact, be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
As I was having lunch with a couple families last weekend, we were talking about Josiah, King of Judah, who was made king at the age of eight. One of the children at the table was amazed at this and said something like, “I bet a king at the age of eight would force everyone to eat candy!”
I found this statement to be quite telling of what my life would look like if I wasn’t submitted to Jesus. Not that I obey Him perfectly now, but if I did life without seeking His guidance, I know I would continue to chase after a
cheap version of joy, like allowing myself to eat candy all day long (not really but you get it).
But when I take an honest look at what truly makes me happy, I know beyond a doubt that there is absolutely nothing greater than this internal freedom I’ve been given and the amazing relationship I have found in God.
So I have been able to see that my happiness isn’t always God’s version and that I cannot interpret His character solely through what I can see in my current circumstances. I simply cannot see everything from down here.
But what about the question of suffering? Is God still good in the midst of darkness, evil and tragedy?
After all, it is reality that Christians suffer, and God doesn’t necessarily take His child out of the suffering. I only need to recount the dozens of testimonies that I have heard over the years of good Christians experiencing tragedy, or the news about the beheadings of Christians in the Middle East, or simply read the Bible to see that suffering is just a part of this world.
Jesus and the apostles made it very clear to the original hearers of the Word that they would go through suffering. They made no pretense that this life would be without trouble, and I believe that is still true for us today:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What does this say about God?
God has been really helping me stand upon the truth that God can and does bring good out of suffering. What our enemy means for purely pain and destruction, God can redeem it if we look to Him and His perspective.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Suffering does happen, even to those closest to God, and I just have to accept it although I don’t have to fear it.
Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Marriage, which is required reading for the school I’m in, gave me a much better perspective on suffering (I highly recommend this book for anyone planning on marriage or already married!).
The author’s premise is that when hard times hit a marriage, the couple can view it as an opportunity to learn how to love God and one another in the way He intends:
If we take our faith seriously and make our way through a difficult marriage in pursuit of witnessing God’s reconciling love for a sinful world, then a difficult marriage becomes part of our exercise to prepare us for heaven…this isn’t to suggest that we just “hang on” until heaven comes. I’ve found that obedience to God creates quiet fulfillment in the present. There is a spiritual satisfaction that comes even in the midst of our trials. It is a demeanor that may not be as “showy” as gleeful happiness, but it is much less subject to moods and makes for much more permanent a disposition.
Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage
God’s way is the only way, and if He has allowed suffering in this age, I need to trust that it is for a really, really good reason that I just can’t fully understand because I’m not God. But God is never my enemy!
Perhaps this is not the ‘best of all possible’ universes, but the only possible one…The idea of that which God ‘could have’ done involves a too anthropomorphic conception of God’s freedom. Whatever human freedom means, Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them. Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
And strangely, the more I have come to accept this about life, the more I can separate negative circumstances from God’s character. I am maturing in love and feel more secure in Him. Part of it is because He has been removing the “shock” element whenever I experience pain:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
1 Peter 4:12
As I mentioned before, when I first began to confront these beliefs about suffering a couple months ago, I found myself really doubting in God and I began hardening my heart. That made everything so much worse.
But recently, thanks to the Holy Spirit, I was reminded of the amazing
healing and transformation He has done in me over the years. Once I remembered this, and the truth of what Jesus did at the cross, it became impossible for me to doubt in His absolute goodness anymore. This brought a resurgence of hope in my soul that I really needed in my relationship with God!
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.