I love the quote from the movie, The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” There is real truth in that. Human nature is to do whatever we can to avoid pain in life, making pain-relief a good selling point. God has taught me about His faithfulness and my own endurance by bringing me through seasons when I thought the trials would crush me. But these experiences didn’t teach me how to handle it when people I love face pain and trials. The obvious response is prayer, but I long for something more that I can say or do to carry their burdens.
Our world is a hurting mess. Every day brings news of disaster or mayhem. There is a growing evil in our society that keeps erupting into mass murder. I am forty-one and I have been following Christ since childhood, but I still don’t know what to think or say about the terrible things that happen in our world. I remember September 11, 2001; it was the first time I understood why a believer would be anxious for the Lord Jesus to return. I didn’t have a right perspective because I wanted a long earthly life. But that day I understood that an end to all of the evil was more desirable than living out more days on earth. Evil is still reigning. God is allowing disasters which bring death and devastation to many.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
I have wrestled with what to write to my sponsor child in Haiti whose home was damaged by earthquakes in October. It isn’t necessarily my role to explain to her why God allows adversity in our lives, but I feel as though I should offer her some encouragement. It occurred to me, though, that she probably understands, better than most American adults, that life is hard. Perhaps her experiences help her to have a more realistic outlook. Maybe knowing God from inside a place of extreme poverty makes her less likely to ask God, “Why.”
I was wondering if when we ask God “Why?” we want to know why he allows pain, suffering, and evil in the world, or if we are more concerned with why He has allowed it to happen to us. I suspect that this questioning is fairly universal among humans, but I am wondering if people living in the third-world are less likely to ask “Why me?” because everyone around them faces similar struggles. The answer that I have come to understand for these questions will not satisfy most people. But those who choose to follow Christ must work to gain the most accurate understanding possible of the character of the God we serve.
God’s ultimate purpose in everything is His glory. Jonathan Edward’s work, The End for Which God Created the World, pointed me in this direction. My own reading of Scripture over the years confirmed the hypothesis in my mind. The Old Testament prophets record God’s purpose time and again: “For My name’s sake.” What does God mean by His name other than His reputation, His honor, and His very glory? This was the grounds on which Moses appealed to God to not destroy the Israelites when they had sinned against Him (Exodus 32:9-14).
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
But His glory being His end shouldn’t make you feel like a pawn on God’s gameboard. If He has chosen you to call you His own, and if you claim the blood of Christ to atone for your sins, then your rescue and your salvation are part of God’s plan. No hero would be considered such if, in gaining victory, he abandoned his own people to their destruction. That would not be victory. We have a God who will never forsake us. He loves us and has sworn by His own name – putting His reputation on the line – in His promises to us.
As I was contemplating the difficulties that people I love are facing and God’s purpose in these things, I came to 1 Peter in my morning reading: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials. . .” (1 Peter 1:6) The ‘this’ is referring back to the previous verses in which Peter reminded his readers of the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. . .” (v. 3-4) Isn’t this truly why we can rejoice in suffering, because we know how the story ends?
It is difficult to express this to people who are caught in the middle of pain, whether it is physical or emotional. And even when we understand it, putting it into practice is still a challenge. But nothing will make you want to more than meeting, hearing about, or reading about someone who has lived a life of joy in the midst of hardship. So, perhaps the best thing that I can do is model for others a joyful hope, no matter what comes my way. Not easy, but doable. I think I’ve heard that nothing worthwhile is easy.