04 September, 2020

Trusting God when life is hard

A disclaimer here to start: my life isn't that hard at the moment, and it has never really been majorly hard! (Not in the ballpark of an unfaithful spouse or death of a close family member.) Probably the biggest thing hanging over us at the moment is that our boys are at the age where we're wondering about their futures and wondering how they'll get from where they are to fully functioning adults in the next few years. Sometimes that causes me to want to pull my hair out, and I commented to a friend just this week that sometimes it's hard to "count it all joy".

Nevertheless, it has been good to ponder this topic again recently. I think it is a topic that we try to avoid, so that when trouble does hit it catches us by surprise. So it is good to think on it, and examine our hearts closely.

I mentioned last week that I'd been reading When God's Ways Make No Sense, by Dr. Larry Crabb. It's really another book about suffering—about how we tend to think about God when we hit rough times.

I like the way Crabb writes: he's honest, much more soul-wrenchingly honest than most writers! Plus, he writes clearly, for the layperson, not the theologian. He states upfront that he's not theologically trained himself, but he obviously works hard to understand scripture and what theologians say about it. So I didn't find his book hard to read at all (which is quite a feat in light of the challenging topic), in fact if anything it bordered on repetitive at times.

But I didn't set out to write a book review on the book, rather to reflect on the theme. Crabb says there are three main ways that "Christians" respond to hardship: like Jonah, like Saul pre-Paul days, and like Habakkuk. That is, run away from God when trouble strikes, believe a counterfeit gospel, or tremble and trust.

With something of a shock, I realised that though I struggle at times to feel at peace with my faith in God amidst the troubles around me, I have not ever tended towards running from God, or distorting the gospel. I'm not boasting here. God put me in a family where I grew up in a church that didn't shy away from hard truths, I grew up in a family that valued reading the Bible. So it is God's gracious work in me from a very early age that means I am what I am. 

From an early age I understood that the Christian life involved trouble. As I read the book it jarred me to realise that many don't understand or believe this, even those who aren't so obviously into Prosperity theology. God never guarantees that life will be easy this side of heaven. He never guarantees blessings that will make life more comfortable, or to protect us from what we fear. He doesn't give blessings as a result of my good behaviour or that if I pray a lot (or get lots of people to pray with me about something) he'll answer in the way I want. He also doesn't seek my advice about what a good result would be in a situation, and go about making it happen.

And I'm starting to feel very dubious about writing about this topic at all, after-all, I'm no theologian either. As I've pondered this topic, it's occurred to me that even if I'm not dramatically rebelling against God in this matter, I certainly am guilty of thinking wrongly at times. So many of our "Christian ways" are potentially tainted by these thoughts, e.g., some of the songs we love to listen to, the fervent praying we engage in for present-day blessings.

But basically, the conclusion I've come to in my life (and Crabb agrees) is that I'm "too small of brain" to comprehend the ways of God. Actually God says this too:  

Have you not known? Have you not heard? 

The Lord is the everlasting God, 

the Creator of the ends of the earth. 

He does not faint or grow weary; 

his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28 ESV)

I've not thought specifically about the word "unsearchable" in that verse before. In the days of the Internet and search engines, the word "search" is more common than it was pre-computer days. But the word "unsearchable" is not such a common word. The thesaurus lists as its synonyms words like "inscrutable", "mysterious", and "enigmatic".

And indeed this is the impression you get of God as you read the Bible carefully.

After God spoke to Job (recorded in Job 40-41), Job said this: 

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:1-3)

Paul agrees: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33 ESV)

And one of my long-time favourite Psalms 139 starts this way:

Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is high; I cannot attain it.

For further pondering, see Ecclesiastes 8:14-17.

So ultimately, I think that I would do well if I could follow the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (ESV). Easy to say, not so easy to live by every moment of the day and in every thought.

We are to tremble at problems that might not be solved the way we'd like them to, and at the same time "trust that all is well. [God's] good story is on-track." (Crabb, p 229) Because God "cannot and will not allow true disciples to be satisfied with less than the depths of His holy love. Suffering is inevitable in order to combat premature contentment with a comfortably blessed life. God can and will do a good work in us that empowers us to patiently endure life's difficulties. He does not prevent as we wait eagerly for the eternity of perfect joy He promised." (Crabb, p 228 and 229)

This is a bit of rambling post that I actually tremble to hit the "Publish" button on. But it's been pressing on my heart, so my hope is that these rag-tag thoughts might be a help to someone else.

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