John A. Braun
Everything will work out! We’ve all heard that little encouragement in the face of difficulty. Of course, it’s not really such a little encouragement. It’s God’s promise (Romans 8:28), and we rest our confidence on his promise. With a little effort, we can easily find some favorite supporting passage to bolster the message of Romans 8:28. And we go on.
But as we look at the path ahead, we don’t know how it will all work out. Our experience with the path we’ve already traveled may not be as helpful as we hope. In some cases, I have heard Christian friends comment on how God has turned events out for their good. Yes, sometimes we can see how God has guided all things. But I’ve also heard Christian friends question God and wonder why things didn’t work out.
It’s not that they didn’t wait long enough to see how God worked for their good. It’s been years and even decades without any relief. The pain persists. Perhaps physical pain. Maybe mental or psychological. Perhaps even both. They may ask when they can wake from the nightmare, only to find no end. We may be a bit naïve to think that Christians do not endure chronic pain and enduring trouble. They do.
A couple of things, then, can happen. First, the question, “Where is God when you need him?” leads to abandoning God altogether. The confession then becomes, “God can’t help me, so I’m giving up on God.” Pain leads to anger, defiance, bitterness, and then a self-imposed isolation from God. We may have talked with people who have chosen this path.
The anguish of chronic suffering also can lead to a second response. Faith turns to Jesus for more strength. Pain may at first lead to anger and bitterness, but it makes a sharp turn back to the promises of God. In those promises, the sufferer finds power to persevere and hope.
It also seems to me that turning to the promises of God in such difficulties brings one to acknowledge a couple realities. The first is that we are all limited and flawed humans infected by sin. That’s our lot here. Because of that, we know we are not God. That leads us to another reality. God is greater than we could possibly imagine. He exists beyond what we can fully grasp. Job had to confront that reality when he complained about his suffering (Job 38–42). His ways are not ours. His thoughts are not ours (Isaiah 55:8).
One more reality. God has not left us in the predicament of only knowing our limitations and his superiority. He demonstrated a deep love for all sinners. We know his heart by looking at a little baby in Bethlehem. We learn the depth of his heart by looking at the cross and the One who suffered there. So much he cared! He did not promise to remove every pain and trouble, but he did come to reveal his love so we might endure them all, no matter how devastating or prolonged. He loves us and wants us to be with him forever—soon without pain and trouble.
The path ahead this year is unknown. When we find our hearts troubled, anxious, confused, impatient, or just restless, the cross sustains us. God loves us and has proven it by the death and resurrection of his Son. We may not have all the answers we want on the path ahead. We may be profoundly confused, but we have one important assurance of God’s deep and ultimate love—the cross of Jesus.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015
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