That God is good is meant to provide hope, but can it sometimes provide pain? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I find it awfully odd many times when I argue with atheists and they accuse me of having beliefs that make me feel secure and happy and that the reason I defend them is I’m really scared to step outside of that kind of thinking that brings so much joy. After all, you believe in a good and loving and all-powerful God who is watching over everything. How can that not be a joy and comfort to someone?
If such a person thinks that is why I defend Christianity, they are sadly mistaken. In fact, this is one of those beliefs that I can say is so far off that it’s even a compliment to say the belief is wrong. I am not an emotional person as is. I do not experience waves of emotion from God. I do not go to bed at night and wake up in the morning just wanting to say “Thank you God for beautiful day!” at the start and “Thank you for a wonderful day!” in the evening. I can frankly have times where I read the Bible and I really don’t get anything out of it. It happens. I think we have too much Christianese built into our culture about what the Christian walk is supposed to be like.
But how on Earth can a good God be a pain?
When I go through times of suffering, it can feel like I’m trapped by my own apologetic. You see, in those times, I know that Christianity is true. I know that Jesus is Lord. I know that God is all-good, all-powerful, all-loving, and all He does is right. All of this is stuff that I cannot deny. It is not based on having a warm fuzzy. It is based on argumentation. You could argue that you think the argumentation is poor. That is one thing. Let us not make a mistake though of thinking that it is not based on argumentation. I really find the arguments to be undeniable at this point and all I normally get is just-so stories.
Sometimes, that’s just horrible.
Why? Because many times suffering does come. When it does come, and when it is intense, one cries out begging for God to intervene and do what you think needs to be done. In all of this, the Heavens are silent, as if the Almighty is not listening to you at all any more. There is no hope or comfort that is given. In fact, at such times, it is very easy to feel intense anger to God. You do not serve God for a reward, but you wonder how is it that you serve so much and then when it comes time to making one request of your own, that that request goes unanswered. Are you really asking for too much? Is it not a simple request.
What makes it so odd after that?
Someone like myself goes on and serves Him still anyway. Now you could call me delusional or something like that if you want, but the thing is I’m convinced Christianity is right which means Jesus is Lord. The right thing is to serve Him anyway. You treat the King like the King. You do it also because if it’s true, other people need to know about it.
You do it ignoring the pain that you can feel at the time.
At times like that even, I find great solace in the prayer of Madeleine L’Engle. She was a Christian author who years ago wrote the following:
I hate you.
That prayer is a great blessing in suffering.
And you know what? It’s okay to be angry at God. It’s okay to rage against Him. It can be difficult still. You see, in times like this, it would be easy to believe in an evil god. If there was an evil one, not only could you rebel rightfully, it would in fact be noble to fight against such a tyrant. Yet what do you do when your opponent is good? Do you not relate to Habakkuk who cries out violence and God does not save? Do you not relate to Job who says that though God slays him, he will trust in Him?
I have to remember at this time that no feeling or experience lasts forever. The reality of what happened lasts. The past is not changing. To stay with the feeling is a choice.
Think back in time to a point in your life when you were really happy. For most of us, we can think of our wedding day. If you have never been married, you can think of something else, like graduating or getting a good job or getting your first car or a really special Christmas. These are times of great happiness and joy, but they can’t be relied on forever. This is one reason addictions take place. People keep wanting a high over and over because no experience lasts forever. This can be so even with legitimate desires. A husband has an awesome experience when he has sex with his wife, but he needs that regularly because the euphoria of the experience goes away and he can’t just look back and say “Well that was awesome then.” It certainly was and he can feel some joy at thinking about it, but the feeling is not the same.
Think back also to a time of great suffering. For instance, you could think of being at the funeral of a loved one or a time of having painful surgery. Those times are incredibly hard. For a funeral, you go and look at the casket and it hits you. When my grandmother died, I was expecting the news. I heard it and I was incredibly sad, but there were no tears. I was a strong guy then. My wife knew it was hard, but hey, I was strong.
And then I got to the funeral home and saw her in the casket and the reality hit home.
Yes. I could not stop bawling at that point.
In fact, it was even harder for me because I was one of three pastors assigned to do her funeral. In fact, I was the last one to speak and had to be a Master of Ceremonies. I had decided since I had ten minutes to speak that I would spend the first five talking about the resurrection of Jesus and how we know it’s true. For the last five, I would talk about what that meant for the resurrection of my grandmother. I can say that when I got up there to speak, I was fine at that point, but that was the first time ever I was truly terrified to speak publicly. Until then, I always loved public speaking. When I got done, many of us were in a good mood. We actually left feeling pretty good. We had all shared good memories, but no doubt, there was still emptiness.
When I think back to that funeral, I can still be sad.
It won’t change the reality. Until the resurrection, my grandmother is dead.
With marriage, biblically, till death do us part, we are wed. There are times of great joy and times of great sorrow in marriage. You let the times of joy carry you through the times of sorrow. You do the right thing because you made a covenant.
And when it comes to God, I made my own promise to Him. I promised Him my whole life and service and I aim to give Him that. If He is true, He has promised me He will in fact reward me handsomely eventually, but it is in those hard times that I have to swim against the current. It is when the heavens are the darkest and the world seems the most intimidating and nothing makes sense. This is when a man finds himself tried the most.
A poem by an unknown author as far as I know, goes like this:
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.
If such is the case, then submission is what is done. While one has one fist raised to the heavens in anger, the other is an open hand helping to lead others into the Kingdom. One is entering into enemy territory with the bullets firing at them not sure if their commanding officer has really placed the guards about him, but they are fighting anyway. This is the time true testing begins. I am convinced that those who can survive through the hardest of testing are those who will ultimately survive through anything. Make no mistake however. This is one time where the idea of counting all things joy seems impossible. It is a time where one would jump ship if the opportunity presented itself.
But the reality one is out at sea and realizes the only harbor they have is the boat that they’re on. It makes no sense to jump from the empty boat to the shark-infested waters below.
Sometimes it is a pain to realize that God is good, and those are the times where holding on can be the hardest, but it must be done.