Sometimes, we Christians are terrible at acknowledging reality. We act as though we’re exempt from the consequences of living in a fallen world, something Jesus categorically refutes [John 16:33]. The truth is that we live in dual realities, often at odds with each other. That’s the tension we must acknowledge and deal with. God is good but bad things still happen, even to devout Christians. God is a healer, but not everyone gets healed. Quite possibly, someone somewhere who has lived a godly life will die of an illness this week, despite fervent prayers for a different outcome. There’s no point espousing a fantasised view of Christianity when it’s undeniably evident that faithful followers of Jesus experience profound tragedies.
Was God on vacation when Nazis slaughtered millions of Jews? I can assure you that the God who annihilated Pharaoh and his armies on account of the same nation of Israel was also able to stop the holocaust. We witness Christians around the world being murdered on account of their faith, without God intervening. Conversely, there are many testimonies of Christians who have been miraculously delivered from similar situations. Why is one person saved and another isn’t? When confronted with this reality, some of us try to defend God’s reputation or provide cute answers because we don’t want God to look bad. Yet, God has never asked us to be His defence attorneys.
The Bible is an honest book, it paints a realistic picture of the Christian walk. You can be chosen like Joseph, but that doesn’t prevent you from being sold into slavery and thrown into jail for a crime you didn’t commit. You can be anointed, physically and spiritually, like David, but you may still have to run for your life and hide in the wilderness. We read the story of Peter being miraculously rescued from prison by an angel [Acts 12:6-19], but that chapter, opens with James, the son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve, being beheaded. It was because Herod saw that killing James pleased the Jews that he had Peter arrested, to kill him too. Was James less of an apostle than Peter?
The most curious of these examples for me involves Jesus. For 33 years, the God who made the universe lived under Roman occupation on earth. This was one of the main reasons many refused to believe He was the Messiah. For centuries, the Jews prayed for the promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies. Then Jesus shows up and does nothing to vanquish the Romans oppressing God’s people in the Promised Land. This was such a contentious issue for the Jewish people that even after Jesus’ resurrection, it remained a foremost question for His disciples [Acts 1:6]. We have to recognise that God’s ways are not our ways. And sometimes, God’s ways might cause us to doubt Him, or even lose our faith if we’re not careful.
So, how do we reconcile this tension and prevent tragic circumstances from breaking us? How can our claims about God remain true despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary? I believe that it’s important to remember that God isn’t flustered by our experiences, doubts or questions. He hasn’t lost control of the universe, irrespective of how dire the situation might seem. The scene in Revelation 4 and 5 is one we should imprint on our minds because it’s a perspective from a far superior reality, which will one day engulf our present reality. It’s a picture that reminds us of who God is, which is the key to resolving the tension. I also believe that without an accurate view of who God is, it’s tremendously difficult to trust Him or His word, especially when life does its worst.
An oft-quoted Bible passage states: “…all things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28]. While this is true, God doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see this promise fulfilled in your lifetime. In fact, the Bible records that many before us didn’t receive what God had promised them in their lifetime [Hebrews 11:39]. As such, Paul tells us that we’re to be most pitied of all peoples if our hope in Christ is only for this life [1 Corinthians 15:19]. So, in dealing with the tension, God calls us to trust and hope beyond the boundaries of this life. Therefore, He reveals Himself to us in Scripture to give us firm reasons for trusting and hoping in Him [John 20:31].
I’ve found that I don’t trust God enough with my unknowns or the tragedies I can’t explain. Like many, I want answers and if God won’t give them, then I’ll find someone who will. Yet, answers bereft of God are always unsatisfactory. I’ve realised that if I don’t trust God completely [Proverbs 3:5], life is going to hurt every time I encounter undesirable outcomes, especially when they’re sudden. I also need to better understand how much God loves me. It’s love that drove Jesus to the cross. He died for me knowing I could still reject Him after such a costly sacrifice. If He could do so much for me before I chose to follow Him, would He then let me roam like a sheep without a Shepherd if I choose to trust Him, no matter what? What sort of God would that make Him?
These are questions we must wrestle with, preferably before life forces us to confront them. How we answer them will decisively impact our Christian walk. Ultimately, living in denial about the realities of disappointments, pain, suffering and death in this world will only hurt us, and eventually erode our faith in God. Like the songwriter, we need to be able to confidently say: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul”.