Recently, I had very a challenging week ~ only one among many challenging weeks. A close friend of my daughter, only fifty-ish, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, which had metastasized to her colon and liver. She died two days after her surgery. Another friend developed a condition which may have left residual brain damage. Our prayer list at church is swelling with ever more requests from people who are going through trials of various kinds: health and financial and family problems which are all real and all hard. Farther from home, we are hearing of the residual effects of those who have gone through some of the natural disasters we have experienced in this country and around the world. I read the blogs and forums on CWO and hear the cries for help, and see the bravery of those going through real problems, real pain, and I wonder to myself if all the words about the sufficiency of Christ are enough to make a difference.
How do we comfort? How do we come to terms with real suffering, real pain, either physical or emotional? God doesn’t always change circumstances because we pray. At times His will seems arbitrary and almost indifferent. His silences are eloquent. We begin to doubt if He is really there at all, or if He is, does He still love us? Then why? Why? This is the cry that we all send up, and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an answer.
Truthfully, I don’t know why. God’s ways are not always clear or reasonable to us with our human limitations of imperfect vision and without His omniscience. We have some answers, but I doubt if we will ever be able to explain completely, logically, why these things happen, and what is in God’s mind as He allows them. Man wants things to be logical and just, (according to our understanding of what is logical and just) and insists that God provide a rational answer for all the questions we have about Him and His way of doing things. The only problem is: God does not have to be accountable to us. As a result, we are sometimes overwhelmed with frustration and doubt and fear. All we really have to sustain us is whatever degree of faith in His grace we have learned.
Job asked all these same questions of God when he was suffering in the great debate between God and the enemy. Job was a man of faith; he did all that was required of him and blessed God. God pointed to him as a model human, but the enemy challenged God and sneered that of course Job was obedient: he had nothing to lose. So, God told the enemy to do his worst to Job, outside of taking his life, and see if Job’s faith held up. The enemy stripped Job bare of all those physical things that were important to him: his family was wiped out, he lost his home and all his possessions and wealth; he was afflicted with terrible boils all over his body which made his life miserable and painful. He had three “friends” who came to give him their opinion of what the problems were, and each piece of advice was worse than the other, which attacked Job’s emotional and spiritual stability. In all this he did not curse God, but he finally had to ask, “Why!” He rebukes God, and says, “I cry out to You but You do not answer me! I have done all I could in my life to serve and please you, and this is how you reward me! Why?”
Finally, God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind. He asks Job where he was when God created everything that has been created. He recounts the complexity of His design and the wisdom and beauty and grace behind all of it. Then He asks Job, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it!” Job is finally brought to the place where he can respond to God, “I know that You can do everything and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you and you shall answer me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job recognized his status as creature, and that he had no entitlement; that all he had been given was by the grace of God. He chose to submit himself willingly to God’s sovereignty.
Men have a tendency to try to make God over into an image with which they can be comfortable. This is futile; God is much more than we can ever understand with our finite minds. In our present day, there are many who want to make God into some kind of cosmic Santa Claus Whose only purpose is to make us happy and bring us lives which are pleasant and comfortable. They self-edit out the part where He has told us that we must take up our crosses and follow Him – even if that path takes us through suffering and even death. We are told to be warriors, and given the armor to protect ourselves against the enemy who is still trying to cause us to curse God and die.
Jesus tells His followers that if they see Him, they have seen the Father. We need, then, to see Him as He is, not as we want Him to be. He is not our Sunday School vision of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. Instead He strides through His world shaking people up, challenging the establishment, being angry at those who hide behind keeping the rules without any appreciable change of heart. He demands that we love our enemies; bless them that curse us; go counter to many of the self-motivated things that mark our humanity, and look outward and upward. He proves by His own life and death that there is something beyond the fleeting years of life which are given to us, and that our frame of reference is to be eternity.
The bottom-line answer to “Why” is that God is God, and that we are not capable of understanding Him completely. There will always be mystery involved in our understanding of Him, and the why and how of His plans for His children. Ultimately, all we have is our faith in His character, which we learn through the scriptures, and our close observation of Him, and through our own experiences with Him. These things all tell us that His intent toward His own is one of essential good. I think that, among other things, faith is the process of learning how not to lean on our own understanding, but to accept that God is, and that all He has given us is by His grace.
We are to follow Him because we love Him and trust Him, no matter if our faith seems illogical and credulous. It may seem naïve to the world, but I believe, “The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to everyone who believes – for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” (Rom. 1:16. 17) Faith is really all we have, but we know in Whom we have believed, and know that in all these things, He really is sufficient.