San Bernardino. Paris. Colorado Springs. Baghdad. Jerusalem. Kenya. Cameroon.
Children. Parents. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Hundreds of other places, thousands of other lives.
And that’s just a fraction of the terrorist related attacks this past year. That’s not including the every 20 seconds that a child dies from a water related illness. Or the every 30 seconds a child is trafficked. Or the every 10 seconds a child is abused. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the pain and heartache that gets displayed every few seconds around the world, across our towns and cities, in our own backyards, and even in our own homes. Cancer, accidents, illnesses, death, broken homes, broken families.
People. With families and lives and heartbeats and dreams.
And the world asks: Where was God? Where is God?
As Christians, we can know and believe “there is a God in heaven” (Daniel 2:28), but the truth of His existence makes the front page declaration of New York Daily News that much harder to explain. They say, “God isn’t fixing this.”
This is why so many people can’t wrap their minds around the reality of God. “If God is real,” they say, “why isn’t He fixing this?” One day a close friend on the edge of their faith asked me this, “If God is real, why didn’t He just create us as we would be, and we could go right to heaven and skip all this pain in the middle?”
I don’t have a good answer for you, I just have an honest one: I don’t know. The mind of God is beyond my understanding.
Here’s what I do know: Right now, we only know in part, but someday, we shall know Him fully even as we are fully known. I have seen enough of God to know He is real. So, if He is real, He is the only One who can tell me who He is. And who does He tell me He is?
He says He is good.
He says He is love.
He says He is just.
He says He is merciful.
He says He is forgiving.
If I believe that, then I have to filter my pain and this broken world and these hopeless situations through the truth of God’s Word, and ask for the eyes of eternity to give me the courage and hope to hang on.
First, allow me to fix a couple of myths about Christianity:
Myth: If God is real, there would be no pain.
Truth: Jesus Himself told us, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
And God is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…”
The existence of pain is not proof of the absence of a loving God.
The existence of pain is a reminder that we are not in heaven yet and we still have time to bring people to Christ.
Christianity offers the only hope in the midst of a tattered world: Jesus, God’s answer to our darkness and pain. Some suffer way more than others, and I cannot fathom the extent of their pain. But God promises that the fiery trials and suffering walked through with Jesus “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Something miraculous happens in eternity in the midst of pain and suffering when we lay it at His feet. And once in a while, we get a glimpse of that piece of eternity. Oh, may we look for it and not miss it!
Myth: If God loved me, I would not be suffering.
Truth: One of the Bible’s many teachings on suffering says this: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” (Italics mine, added for emphasis.)
As difficult as pain is when it hits us hard and close to home, we are told not to be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon us. God has not forgotten us, He has not lost His goodness toward us, and He is not withholding His love from us. On the contrary, check this out:
“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose. ”
Bear with me for a minute while I tell you only one small part about this verse that I find exciting. The Greek word used for “all” is the word pas which means “each, every; each “part(s) of a totality”… (“each, every”) means “all” in the sense of “each (every) part that applies.” The emphasis of the total picture then is on “one piece at a time.”
One piece at a time.
So, where is God?
The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort is co-working alongside us in our circumstances to cause each and every piece, one piece at a time, to work together for… what?
I’ve heard over the years people explain this verse to mean that our painful or difficult or impossible circumstances work out only for the good of the Kingdom, the good of God’s glory, the good of the lost… etc. But not our own good. As if we are selfish to want to believe otherwise and need to bear up under our pain and trials solely for the good of others. And that’s a self-sacrificing, seemingly Christian sentiment to carry.
But it’s not what this verse says. At all.
The Greek word used for “good” is agathos: “intrinsically good, good in nature, good whether it be seen to be so or not… inherently (intrinsically) good; as to the believer, (agathós) describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life, through faith.”
This is a good that permanently and inseparably belongs to the believer!
Dear ones. This permanent and inseparable good is empowered by God for us– for you– the believer, through faith. And yes, God is glorified. And yes, the Kingdom is strengthened. And yes, hopefully the lost see and believe because of our testimony. But do not miss the fact that this verse is speaking personally and intimately to the believer in the trial, that our God has neither forgotten nor forsaken us, and there is a personal, eternal, permanent good which God is working into a plan. For our good. Even when it doesn’t seem it can ever be so.
As for why even allow pain and the enemy to wreak havoc in the first place and why not just create us for heaven and skip the pain of earth… I don’t have all the answers. I only know and believe what God tells me is true: Something miraculous happens in our fiery trials… they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
An eternal glory, dear ones.
As I close this post, I leave you with something written by Jeff Hostetter, a life-long missionary in Africa and a dear friend of my family since childhood:
“Why this life, here, now, on earth? Why haven’t we been ‘raptured’ up? I’ll tell you why. There are no Christians created in heaven. Jesus was the first. Firstborn of many brethren (Rom.8:29). The protokos (Col.1:15f). The Last Adam. He came to found a new race of men, new creatures in Him. Born again people. He had a physical body, from the line of David. He overcame on this earth. This world is now an INCUBATOR for new creatures in Christ (2 Cor.5:17). Whilst we are still in the flesh, the Spirit comes into us to transform us into something new. The world is a testing ground, a grand stage where we perform acts of faith and thus prepare for our eternity with God. We are practicing for our eternal state of existence. Practicing being royalty. Losing bad attitudes, habits, values, ways of seeing and doing things. Our fleshly existence is a trial period, a time of probation for living forever in heaven. ‘His bride has made herself ready. It was given her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints’ (Rev.19:7-8). As Esther prepared to meet her king for one year with spices, so we are preparing to meet our King. How’s your preparation going?”
So, where is God? Right here alongside us, within us, working good in the midst of pain, preparing us for heaven.
How’s your preparation going?