Me: “How are things going?”
You: AMAZING! I can’t believe how good things are! I don’t understand why God is allowing this to happen?”
Get the point?
No, it’s generally in dark times… difficult times… times when you feel the world crashing around you that the question comes up. They are often times of pain.
I’ve studied pain a lot in the years since I’ve become a pastor. I’ve done it because of the pain I’ve seen in others and the desire to help but I’ve also done it because of the pain I have experienced myself. It can be physical, emotional or spiritual, I’ve had them all and they all hurt….that’s adversity.
I’ve tried to explain and rationalize them. When I’m feeling like an eminent theologian I will say something like this: there is God’s moral will which we can know from the Bible. Follow that and things generally work well. Then there’s God’s sovereign will which we will only know in hindsight. That one’s trickier and where faith comes in. Sounds pretty good and it works most of the time.
But what about when it doesn’t?
The problem is when you throw in the free-will of sinful people (us included!) and how they act upon it along with a corrupted, broken world this can be a difficult question to nail down.
God himself complicates it also because He does what will glorify Himself. He said “my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Paul echoed this when he reminded us no one knows God’s thoughts but Himself (1 Cor.2:11).
So this leaves us with the real likelihood that at some point we’re going to face adversity of some form which will cause pain. For a long time I did everything I could to avoid things that cause pain. This is a wise strategy for the most part and something I encourage. But there are times you can’t avoid it: a poor decision from the past, the choice of another. It happens and then you’re in a time of turmoil.
Next I tried I tried to ride it out, to weather the storm. That wasn’t too bad but it often led to fear of the thing happening. Then the Lord allowed me to injure my back (through my own foolishness by the way though I wanted to blame Him for a while!) and after praying and meditating on it a bit I decided on a new course: I would seek joy within the adversity. I would embrace the pain (no, I’m not a masochist) and seek to learn from it. It’s been an interesting journey and one that has had some surprisingly sweet and fulfilling moments. Yes, it’s hurt, it’s been frustrating at times, but not nearly as bad as in the past. But best of all, I’ve not only had no fear but joy throughout. While happiness is based on what happens to us, joy is based on what we do with it. The journey led me to James 1 where he writes:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (v.2-3)
So why does God allow us to go through adversity? I’m still not sure with 100% certainty, that’s above my pay grade. He didn’t promise a smooth ride, just a safe landing. I do know though in my own experience the sometimes bumpy ride has helped me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have given a choice and I can rest on that.
I hope you can too!