Just a month ago I was glued to the TV for an entire weekend as our nation replayed and remembered the tragic events of 9/11/2001. Even after all these years, the many stories of heroism and survival cannot remove the sting of that day. As I watched the video tapes of those well-documented events, I was brought to tears by the stories of so many families who were . . . and still are . . . living with sadness and great loss.
The way this story was reported ten years later reveals to me two of the most difficult ideas for many people to accept-- (1) the existence of pure evil in our world and its expression through the actions of human beings, and (2) the possibility that good may come out of tragedy. While not all tragic events come through human initiative, this one did. Everyone was caught off guard that day because most of us had never even entertained the thought of flying passenger jetliners into buildings. Yet, in the name of religion, that is exactly what happened. It was diabolical . . . it was a compelling example of the existence of evil and its destructive force in our present world. Yet ten years later, many choose to tell the story without even mentioning the perpetrators. Why is this? It would seem to be a desire, conscious or subconscious, to avoid the admission of human depravity. When one’s world view denies the extent of human sinfulness, it is impossible to understand many things in our fallen world. But, when we embrace this idea, it clarifies a world struggling against evil, one where we can only find meaning through the peace and promises of God. Accepting this can only come through faith in God’s perception of our reality—that we are all sinners in need of his saving grace (Rom 3:23).
Another truth that we cannot “see” clearly without faith is that good might come from the trials and tragedies of life. In his classic book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes our dilemma in this way: “’If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”How are we to understand suffering and trials in the presence of a good and omnipotent God? The process of wrestling with this question provides for most of us some important steps along our road to spiritual maturity.
Where do we begin in this pursuit of a robust “theology of trials and suffering?” For those who believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, infallible Word of God, it certainly makes sense to begin with God’s statements on the matter. In several blogs to follow, I plan to wrestle with some of the Scripture passages on this subject, and relate them to life stories experienced by me and others as we pursue the truth about trials. I’m inviting you to do the same as you read the Good Book Blog and respond with any comments you wish.
I must interject a word of caution. Do we fully answer our questions about suffering by generating a biblical “checklist” of the results of trials in the life of a Christian? To some degree this systematic approach is helpful, providing a grid through which we process what we think when we encounter trials. But a simple “checklist” stops short of a complete understanding of the meaning of Christian suffering—especially the way God views it. Though many benefits come to the believer when he perseveres through trials, the greatest purpose is that glory is brought to God by a demonstration of genuine faith (Job 1:8-11; 2:3-6). In our incessant pursuit of rational explanations for life’s dilemmas, how easy it is to assume, “If there is something good in this, it must be all about me and something God is doing for my life.” With this view of life we may miss altogether God’s wisdom at work. There will always be elements of “mystery” in our relationship with God. Trusting God implicitly, even without rational answers for the toughest questions, is the greatest expression of faith there is. Isaiah records the word of the Lord:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts. (55:8-9)
Hebrews 11:1 states this in another way, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Our prayers during trials most often ask for immediate deliverance, but Margaret Clarkson reminds us, “It is not by miraculous deliverance that our faith grows but by discovering His faithfulness in the midst of our pain.” This discovery is a part of the mystery of our sovereign God allowing suffering for those he loves the most.
More to come . . .