If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that God does not guarantee us a 1 + 1= ___ for the kind of outcomes we can see, physically– on our own time schedule.
No matter how great our faith, even the best of material gains or human relationships will disappoint us in life– and leave us in death. Yet, even though God also may disappoint us– (by not giving us everything we ask for when we want it)– the Bible gives us more than enough evidence to believe that his reasons for withholding are always better than our reasons for wanting.
Although I returned last night from spending two wonderful weeks in Asia, with co-workers from around the world, I’m reminded today that the Apostle Paul had a different experience in his travels to the “East”. Reflecting on some of the worst days of his life, he wrote, “I think you ought to know… about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead” (2Cor 1:8-9, NLT).
Paul referred to this “dark night of the soul” not for his readers’ sympathy but to explain what he had learned by experience–that, when we give God a chance to show himself faithful, he “Comforts us in all our troubles so that… when others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (vv3-4).
In light of what Paul and so many others have experienced, I’m convinced that one of the cruelest things we can do to young (or old) followers of Christ is to encourage them to believe that prayer + Bible +faith +service to God and others = problems solved.
Although we can be sure that nothing is too hard for God, he gives us no guarantee that he will protect us in life from unwanted physical, emotional, or mental problems. Neither does he promise to make us immune to any of the problems that come with being fallen people in a broken world.
One of the oldest stories of the Bible tells us about a man named Job who experienced huge losses he could not understand. When Job’s friends came to comfort him in his troubles, they ended up adding to his pain with their formula-based reasoning. (Job 4:7).
Their view of life was simple. Do good and enjoy God’s blessing. Do evil and bring pain upon yourself. They were not all wrong (They were right in thinking God blesses those who trust him). But neither were they all right (They were wrong in not seeing that God sometimes takes away what is important to us so as to deepen our trust in him).
Whether we like it or not– and whether we ever come to terms with it or not– wisdom is found by those who can say with Paul, “We walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor 5:7).
Paul, like Job, had to learn by experience that our circumstances are not necessarily a reflection of how God feels about us. “Yes,”, he wrote, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us (1:9-10).
The formulas God gives shows us what he wants us to think, trust, and do. They do not assure immediate outcomes of circumstance or relationships with others. Yet his guarantees are still better than anything we can experience on this side of life. What could be better than to be learning to trust in the goodness and grace of the one who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5-6).