A friend I hadn’t seen in years somehow found my lost wallet the other day. As we caught up, he revealed his story, of which I’d heard only snatches. Great pain, through a mixture of his own errors and others’ betrayal. The years since youth group had not turned out as he’d hoped (boy, can I relate). When he finished, I asked him how his faith was doing.
He said it was behind him. “I suppose if there is a God, he might have had a purpose in all this…” he mused uncertainly. I don’t remember what he said next. I was already agonizing over what he had evidently never heard.
God is furious about what’s happened to you.
There are some of you who need to hear that, too.
That parent who walked out on you, or made your life a living hell. All the shaming and stalking you experienced in high school. Losing a job through false accusations. The devastating accident from someone’s foolishness. The maelstrom of sin that has brought a shattering to every life.
God is furious about what’s happened to you.
Does this take you aback?
When I read those eight words one day, it changed my view of God forever. That day was a sunrise. It was a balm on years of encrusted pain from my family’s collapse, the trailhead of a long walk back to him.
Because despite years spent in church, I had never heard those words before.
Some of you never have either. Instead, like my friend, you’ve mostly heard the “purpose” angle. In a rush to secure God’s sovereignty, well-meaning Christians told you that “everything happens for a reason” – that God is in control and therefore must have arranged your suffering for his glory.
I want to apologize on behalf of those Christians.
For in some of your minds, this piece of otherwise very true theology has crystallized all wrong. It’s an easy piece to mess up. What you heard, intentionally or not, was “Stop feeling bad. God isn’t concerned with your pain. Be more spiritual.” It is an awful view of God, one unsupported by Scripture, yet one that has lodged many a barb deep in Christians’ souls – especially, I believe, the younger generation.
In reality, God is furious about what’s happened to you.
I can guess the next question. “If he cares so much, why did he allow it?”
The question is difficult. I could talk about how God, in the Bible, does make a distinction between him doing things, man doing things, and Satan doing things. Sometimes God’s explanation is “this was done for God’s glory” (John 9:3) and sometimes it’s “should not this victim of Satan be freed?” (Luke 13:16). Sure, both were allowed by God. But that doesn’t always seem to be Jesus’ lesson. I daresay we should not put words in his mouth.
And I could point out that God spends a great deal of the Bible outraged by what’s going down on this earth – the poor denied care, widows denied justice, his faith desecrated and ignored – despite the fact that he must have allowed it.
But that just gets us into arguments. Some people would disagree. “Only being joyful in God’s purpose can make us more satisfied in him,” they would say.
Here’s my response to that.
Knowing that God grieves with me, made me more satisfied in him than I’d ever been.
And it was through his closeness, his anger on my behalf, that I found that joy.
Of course that’s how it works! When something bad happens, don’t you want someone who’s indignant on your behalf? Does this not deepen your friendship and closeness with that person? How fitting then that this friend should be God! He is on your side. He is your advocate.
Some of us, when tragedy strikes, just don’t have the strength to see a purpose. It’s too great a leap in that moment, too heavy a burden. There is plenty of time for that later, once the shock has passed. This is why a wise God tells us to simply “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
I must be clear on one thing. God is all-knowing, so it’s true that he either ordains or allows all things. Scripture does not let me say that pain is never God’s will, as some do. Suffering is part of the deal. It was with Jesus.
But even then…
Imagine a heart surgeon. He must intentionally damage his patient’s body to do his job (cracking the rib cage, pumping him full of drugs, etc.). But a surgeon does not do this lightly; he does it because his patient will die otherwise. Nor does he leave his patient rent and bleeding on the table for the rest of his life. He heals! He provides a safe and restful environment, monitors him closely, provides generously for his restoration.
God is not aloof or detached from your suffering just because he knows its purpose. “Sympathy or sovereignty” is a false dilemma. There is both. This is not the dad from Calvin and Hobbes we’re talking about. He shares our mourning. He cares. Indeed, that is his glory, another facet of it. And he seeks to make things right, in this life or the next.
“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8)
I hope dearly that this will be a new trailhead for you.