We are all theologians. Because we all think about God- who He is, what He does, how does and how he relates to this world. And since none of us gets all of this right, we are all heretics somewhere.
The reality of suffering and hardship
The suffering we see in the world give us questions:
- If this is God's world, why is there so much pain and suffering in it?
- If God is a loving Father, why do horrible things happen all around the world and in our own lives?
- Is God really in control?
- How can we know God is good, working on our behalf when we see so much bad happening?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2 (NIV)
CS Lewis wrote his own personal lament in the book A Grief Observed "Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms [of grief]. ...Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside."
You Are Not Alone
What do you see in GODISNOWHERE?
The Biblical writers see God.
Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 (NIV)
God promises to get us through hardship.
But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3a (NIV)
A Double Fisted Faith
To claim by faith that God is always present leads us to ask the right question. We often ask the wrong question when we suffer.
- We reflexively cry out, "Why me?"
- We need to ask "For what purpose?"
One purpose which is always in play: to help us grow up. The apostle Paul understood this.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Notice the progression:
- Suffering rightly understood and handled leads to perseverance
- Perseverance leads to character (the tempered nature of the individual strengthens like a muscle)
- Character leads to hope (it's going to be ok because God will get us through)
This mature perspective was exhibited by the three young Jewish men in the court of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. When commanded to bow down to the pagan image the king had erected, they refused even if the penalty for refusing was death in a fiery furnace.
Their story of standing up to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 3:14-18 (NIV) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Our Response- Surrender
This leads us to the question, "Just what will we do the next time we encounter pain and suffering?
We can choose to fight and argue with God.
Or we can be like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV) Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Develop a Character Like Christ
We come to the end result of this kind of living: maturity in Christ. We've already looked at the maturing process of a double-fisted faith. Applying this faith in hardship forges a spirit that has a proven and mature character trusting in God. We will take on the character of Christ Himself. A faith that sees the ultimate destination of our existence.
Jesus depended on this process when facing His own death. In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
It's time to grow up. It's time to take on life's tribulations and give God the glory. As Paul wrote in the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.