God and Our Troubles
|By: Dr. James Van Dyke; ©2000|
|When your world seems to be falling apart, can you assume that God has abandoned you? Surely He wouldn’t allow His children to suffer, would He? Dr. Van Dyke gives four reasons why Christians can and should TRUST God in the midst of trouble.|
Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, volcano eruptions, shootings in schools and churches, raging brush fires in recent weeks have almost made us feel that our world is falling apart. When we add to this the number of friends, relatives, acquaintances being struck down by cancer, we truly feel overwhelmed. We should not find all this strange, because we know, deep down, that troubles are an inescapable part of life. It was Job, that great sufferer of old, who said, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)
But, sometimes, troubles come to us or those we know and love in such overwhelming proportions that we begin to have our faith shaken, our perspective twisted, and we are likely to echo the agonized cry of our Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” If God is a God of love and mercy, as we know Him to be through the Bible, then WHY do such terrible things happen? We even begin to wonder, like the friends of Job, if our troubles are the direct result of some sin we have committed.
But, again, we know through God’s Word that such is not the case. If we were punished with suffering directly for our sins, then none of us would ever make it.
So, this leaves us with the question of WHY and of just where God fits into the picture. What is God’s role in our “troubles”?
He Allows Them
This is a far cry from saying that God directly and deliberately causes our troubles. If we should conclude that, we would be in danger of making God the author of evil, which his Word will not allow. Yet, He does make evil with its many expressions, a possibility, and He openly tells us in His Word that we will have troubles in this world, this earthly life.
In ISAIAH 43:2,3 we find God speaking through his servant, the prophet Isaiah, to the captive peoples of Judah, languishing in captivity in Babylon, “WHEN you pass through the waters. . . and through the rivers… WHEN you walk through the fire….” Not IF, but WHEN! And in John 16:33 we find Jesus bluntly telling His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation…”
God allowed the possibility of suffering, troubles, when He first determined in the Garden of Eden to give mankind a choice as free moral agents. Had He not done this, even with the risks, He would have made us less than the beings He wanted us to be. But, as a result of that free choice, SIN began and with it all the host of troubles the world has known ever since. So, while our troubles are not the DIRECT result of sin, ultimately they all are the result of sin and evil in the world.
Of course, we need to remember that some of our suffering is simply the price we pay for being in an ordered world, in which God has created certain natural laws and ordained that they shall function. Thus, the law of gravity is quite cruel to someone who falls over a cliff or out of a twenty-story window, but without this law we could not live on this planet. And just think how destructive and horrible fire can be, but were there no such thing as fire we could not survive. When we reason like this we begin to thank God that He DOES allow our troubles.
While God does not spare us from troubles but allows them, He DOES accompany us in our sufferings and trials. He says to us still today, “When you pass through the waters, I WILL BE WITH YOU; and through the rivers, THEY SHALL NOT OVERWHELM YOU: when you walk through the fire YOU SHALL NOT BE BURNED AND THE FLAME SHALL NOT CONSUME YOU.” (Isaiah 43:2,3)
Here we are told that in all of these various trials of life God promises His people that He will be our strength and stay; our shield and supply (Psalm 46:1). This has been carried forward even more powerfully in the New Testament, where Jesus, God in flesh, who experienced the sufferings common to humankind, promises, “Lo, I am with you always…” (Matt. 28:20)
Through the ages God’s people have experienced this fact. They have felt God’s strengthening presence just when they have needed it most, and knew that they did not suffer alone; that God truly cares.
He Conquers Them
While the Bible makes it abundantly plain that God’s will for man is NOT that he should be spared all troubles, the Bible also teaches that it is God’s will that His people be victorious over the worst that life can throw at them, enduring endlessly through God’s gift of eternal life. Thus, we find our Lord telling His disciples just a few hours before He was to leave them via His death on the cross, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Even though it required Him to experience the worst of the troubles we may know— rejection, loneliness, prejudice, hatred, persecution, pain, death—He is now able to assure us of FINAL, COMPLETE VICTORY, regardless of what sufferings, tribulation, trials, we may have to endure in this earthly life. The truth is that since suffering, heartache, death, all sorts of troubles, first began by man exercising his free choice and sinning against God, God has been working to undo the damage—yet without making us puppets on a string. He has done this by becoming IDEAL MAN in Jesus, and by dying as REPRESENTATIVE MAN on the cross; satisfying God’s justice and showing His mercy at one and the same time.
Dr. John Anderson has written: “Suffering, you see, is not a denial of God’s love; it is but another sphere of its operation. God’s purposes encompass more than a physical existence. With Him, our spiritual welfare comes first; our destiny is not to be comfortable on earth, but to be conformed to the image of His son in heaven.” And Gertrude Behanna once said, “God never promised us through His son a bed of roses. He just promised NO DEFEAT.”
He Uses Them
On the surface, we might wish for a world without troubles. But, should such be possible, wouldn’t we be the losers? Dr. Rollo May, an authority in the field of psychotherapy, has said that suffering is one of the most potentially useful and creative forces in nature. He adds: “As the pearl is produced in the endeavor of the clam to adjust itself to the irritation of the grain of sand, so the great works of Poe and Shelley and Van Gogh and Dostoevski are understandable only in relation to the sufferings these artists experienced.”
The Bible makes it plain that God does use our troubles. He used Joseph’s adversi‑
ties to save Israel from extinction. He used Samson’s affliction to wreak vengeance upon the enemies of God’s people, the Philistines. He used Job’s sufferings to teach the necessity of unwavering faith in God. He used the Babylonian Captivity to discipline and cleanse the nation of Judah after apostasy. He used the crucifixion of Jesus to offer eternal life to all who accept God’s grace by faith. He used the suffering and death of Stephen to soften and prepare Saul to become a Christian and the Apostle Paul. He used Paul’s sufferings to spread the gospel throughout the Roman empire. He used Martin Luther’s excommunication to reform His church. He used Martin Niemoller’s imprisonment and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death in a concentration camp to stir the conscience of the world against the evil of Nazism.
And He will use our troubles to bless us, if we let Him. We are told in Romans 5:3-5: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”