You have been there. The wrecker drives off with that vehicle that you couldn’t finish paying for, no matter how hard you tried. The man whom you married just won’t listen to you, won’t go through counseling, and is bent on breaking up a family that should be well established by now. The doctor doesn’t crack a smile as he gives you the news that your child isn’t going to make it through the night. You can’t connect with your daughter as the divide between the two of you gets bigger and bigger — with no end in sight.
Trials are no laughing matter. We all have them, and we all deal with them.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard a fellow believer say, “I wouldn’t have made it through this trial, if I didn’t have Jesus.” I could probably feed the homeless in my community single-handedly. I know people mean well when they say these things, but I wonder if we consider that people all over the world go through the same trials we do, sometimes much worse…without Christ. Spiritually speaking, some who claim Christ weather trials and do not “make it,” though they remain among us.
I read an article written by a woman who recounts just that. You can read the whole article here. This is an excerpt:
I reasoned two things to answer my question about where was God, when I was in Vancouver [in the midst of her great trial]: God either was present and there, and did nothing about it, or God was not there, and does not exist. It is easier for me to think that God does not exist, than to think that God was present and did nothing. A God who is present and does nothing is not all-powerful, and is not all-loving, and I simply cannot forgive a god who stands by and watches while people get hurt after he promised to protect people. If I had the power to stop something bad happening to someone I loved, I would do everything I could to stop it. Of all of the times in my life that I needed God, God was not there. This is where I stopped believing in God — I would rather think that God simply does not exist, then think that God abandoned me.
She is one who did not make it — and she had Jesus, at least in the beginning.
Actually, trials are often the reason people abandon the Christian faith in favor of another worldview. I have family members who have done so in favor of a more agnostic position exactly because of a visceral loss in life. Having faith in Christ doesn’t exempt the believer from trials. In many cases, it ensures them. Scripture predicts this very thing (2 Tim 3:12, Jas 1:2). It is irresponsible to teach new believers that trying times are the result of a lesser faith, or substandard level of commitment to Christ. These tests are for everyone, and some of them are very difficult.
My wife and I lost a child. That was hard. How we prayed and asked God to deliver us! We believed in Him and followed Him with all of our hearts. Nevertheless, we watched in horror as our healthy, nearly born child was ripped from our lives by a pragmatic medical system that saw no hope. Why God? Where were You? It still hurts.
I have had some other pretty stiff challenges in my short, five decades. I know the pain of loss, failure and uncertainty quite well. Why don’t I just hold God accountable for all the injustice in my life and get on with enjoying myself without His nagging presence in my mind? I’ll tell you why. I know better, and it has little to do with how I feel.
Yes, God was there in the hospital when our daughter was taken. True, He did not change the course of events, and I don’t know why, either. But this I know:
- Jesus lived
- Jesus was crucified under Pilate on a Roman cross
- Jesus rose from the dead and left His tomb an empty hole
- Jesus’ followers were transformed into dynamos who were willing to die for the claim that they had seen Him alive again
- The Church arose out of a religion that had rejected Jesus’ claim to deity
- The Church grew in the midst of great persecution and eventually eclipsed Rome
- The Church persists 2,000 years later holding the Scriptures as foundational to the testimony of Christianity, although it has been vigorously resisted throughout history
- The veracity of those Scriptures has been affirmed repeatedly through history
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the evidence for God’s loving presence.
When taken as a whole, these facts of history hold up under the most vicious opposition. They aren’t just Church claims; they are historical record. They have been supported in archaeology, literature, logic, prophecy and experiences. For me, they have been a bulwark of hope.
Would I have come to doubt the presence of God in my own life, if I had not known these truths? Would I have begun to see God as malevolent? I don’t know. I know very intelligent people are doing just that. But when the difficulties of life have come and challenged my commitment to Christ, these realities (and many others) have been my anchor.
When I am tempted to doubt God’s presence, the historical record reminds me that Jesus is who He said He is. That will not change regardless of how I feel. Everything I own can burn to the ground, and those truths will remain. Everyone I love can leave me, and still the reality of Christ will persist. Little green men from a planet on the other side of the galaxy can come and knock on my door, and the historical acts of Jesus are steadfast. They are etched permanently on the backdrop of human history for anyone who is willing to consider them. The secular world has a “story line” for humanity, but the historical Jesus calls me to another narrative.
The Christian metanarrative (big story) teaches us who God is, who we are in relation to Him, and what our greatest need is. It informs our ultimate destiny too. According to the Christian worldview, we are sinners. Contrary to what many who reject our basic doctrines teach, we are not born in innocence.
G.K. Chesterton, the witty author of the 19th century, once answered this question in a newspaper, “What is wrong with the world today?” Here was his response:
“Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
Chesterton understood then what many Christians today seem to be forgetting. We are the problem, not God. Furthermore, we are not only caught up in a sinful blight when we enter the human race, but we are also the progenitors of sin itself. That means, we originate it. The world we live in, groans under the weight of the sin that each of us has ushered into existence. We can’t justly blame the other guy — or even God. We, every one of us, are the true reason for the suffering and evil in the world.
If the truths I have listed above are true, then so are the Scriptures — at the very least they should be taken seriously. If the testimony of Scripture is true, then God is both good and immanent.
What do we make of the claim that a good, knowing, and able God would certainly dispose of evil? The short answer is that He certainly will. In fact, He could do so right now, but doesn’t because He would have to rid the world of the sources of that evil — that would be all of us! He restrains His judgment because of His great love for all people, waiting for those who will come to Him to do so (1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pet 3:9).
Why weren’t we weren’t allowed to raise our third child? I don’t understand the specifics of “why” God allowed that or a myriad of other pathologies in the world. But I can say that as a human, I’m part of the reason that evil in the world exists at all. If I were the only sinner on the planet, I would have defiled the whole lot of us. But I’m not the only sinner.
To abandon God because He won’t help you in times of trial is to opt to continue birthing sin while blaming God for allowing it! What irony! Never mind that God allows us to temporarily know sin and its consequences, so that in time, we who belong to Him will be free from it, yet retain the wisdom that comes from having known it so intimately.
For the time being, we must endure the sin and depravity that we have helped usher into existence. Instead of blaming God for our troubled times, let’s remember, He is the only One who actually did anything about it on our behalf. Jesus is our hope. We patiently await the culmination of human history and the King, who will fully establish His reign in righteousness.
No doubt, some will twist my words to be saying to the victim, “You made your own bed.” Ours is to seek justice on behalf of the victims, to comfort those in need, and to remain faithful to the One who holds the surety of our redemption. Our Master taught us to say, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Many Christians in the world today do exactly that after having received horrendous treatment from others. We who actually understand our fallen nature are more capable of giving compassion to others who, like we, do not deserve it.
When I am challenged to concede my faith, the historical Jesus stands fixed in time. His presence in the earth is a testimony to the Christian worldview. I cannot easily reject the truth that God will deal with all suffering and evil in the right way at the right time.
Yes, we can react to trials and stumble away from Christ. It happens all too often. But if we truly understand the reality of God’s plan for us, we have every reason to continue believing that one day all will be put right. Through my own trials the historical truths surrounding Jesus serve as an anchor to my soul — always bringing me back to reconsider the veracity of the Christian “story” and God’s plan for me. How difficult it must be for those who are put to great trial and are not aware of the historical nature of the Christian worldview.