Years ago, there lived a good man who had been blessed with many riches. He lived off the land, owning numerous oxen, sheep, and donkeys with many servants on his payroll to tend to these livestock and his fields. This man also had a wife, three daughters, and seven sons. Many considered him the greatest, most accomplished man in his part of the world.
Yet, in the course of a few days, he lost all that he had. First, invaders from the surrounding land stole his oxen and donkeys, killing his servants in the process. Then, a fire ripped through his sheep, destroying every last one. At the same time, a tornado struck the house in which his sons and daughters ate and killed them. Lastly, the man himself broke out in sores from head to toe. Only his wife remained untouched by the disasters, yet she had given way to bitterness, hatred, and despair so that she could hardly aid him in his time of trouble. She in fact suggested that he curse God and die. In the face of this suffering, particularly for a man who had done no apparent wrong, how could one continue to believe that God is good, that he truly cares for our well-being?
Many of us don't have to look to the lives of other people to see the sort of suffering that may call into question God's goodness. Perhaps a relative has been struck with cancer and you've cried with her through the surgery and chemotherapy; or perhaps your father or grandfather has suffered through Alzheimer's disease, an illness that eats away at the very fabric of a person's being until there seems nothing left of your loved one but an empty husk. Maybe an accident occurred that took a loved one away in the blink of an eye and you found yourself crying out 'Why?!'
Through these circumstances and others, you may wonder how God could permit these things to occur. Or, you may question whether God really exists at all, and if he does, he must not care for the people who inhabit this world very much. For those who endure tragedy, betrayal, or pain I can offer little to console them. Words often help little for those who mourn and grieve, but as a writer separated in distance from the struggles my readers endure or have endured, I have little to offer other than words. So I must attempt to explain with the only tool at my disposal-words-my own faith in God's goodness despite the struggles I endure.
Imagine for a moment that you take a trip to the mall during your lunch hour. Your spouse is supposed to be at work, but you see her at the food court with another man. Nothing they're doing is particularly suspicious-they're just eating together-but you fight the urge to run over in a fit of rage and demand to know what she's doing. Instead, you watch discreetly as they finish lunch. She gives him a hug and they go their separate ways. Anger bubbles up inside you as jealousy rears its ugly head. Inside, you stew all afternoon, hardly able to concentrate on your work, as you contemplate the idea that your wife, whom you trusted completely to this point, has betrayed you.
On the way home, though, thoughts begin swirling through your head, things you know to be true about your wife. In all the time you've known her, she has been true, faithful, and loyal to you. When you struggled, she lifted you up again. When you wept, she wept with you, and when you despaired, she raised your spirits. Never has someone loved you as much as your wife has, to endure all the idiosyncracies and bad tempers you suffer from. Until today, you had trusted her with your very person. Perhaps she has betrayed you, but she deserves the benefit of the doubt.
So, when you arrive home later that night, rather than point fingers and hurl accusations, you greet her with a kiss and a hug. Later, she explains that she had gone to the mall to get you a Father's day present. While there, she ran into an old college friend of hers whom she hadn't seen in years. They had lunch, caught up on old times. He had gotten married years ago and moved to place not far from where you live. In a few weeks, he hoped that the two families could meet up. Inwardly you sigh, not so much that your wife didn't cheat on you, but that your trust paid off. Imagine what sort of damage the accusations you wanted to blast her with would have done? Instead, even in what seemed like incriminating circumstances, you managed to hold onto your faith and trust in her character.
Trust has the same value when applied to a relationship with God. Of course, some of you may not have established a relationship with God and may know little of his character, yet to make judgements about Him without first getting to know something about Him is akin to prejudice. If you don't know God, but condemn him based on some suffering in your life, you're essentially pre-judging God based on some circumstances or event you don't understand. As in the case of the husband in the story above, at least try to believe that there may be some explanation for God's apparent behavior. In people, there exists a desire to cast blame for events beyond our control and it may seem easy to blame the one who is supposed to be in control of all events, yet don't be so hasty to cast blame. At the very least, ask God why he's allowing the problem you're encountering to occur. He might just answer.
Finally, before I leave, I'd like to return to the man who lost everything in a day. His name, as some of you may have guessed, was Job. Yes, the Biblical Job who endured troubles the likes of which few of us will ever know, yet through all of it, he did not curse or cast blame on God. He harbored anger and a strong desire to plead his case before God that he might be found innocent and set free from the punishment God had inflicted on Him. After weeks of affliction, God Himself appeared to Job with the apparent intention of explaining the cause of Job's suffering.
Yet, in the end, God explained nothing to Job. Rather, he 'answered' by questioning Job. In short, he said 'Who are you to question me? Where were you when I created the world? How can you, who know so very little, question the actions of MYSELF who created everything, including you?' To put it another way, we don't know everything that God does, and therefore cannot expect to know why he permits certain things to happen. To call into question God's existence because of the evil that occurs in the world assumes that because we can't see a reason for something then there can't be a good reason for it to occur. That is pure arrogance and it's what God admonished Job for doing.
After God put Job to question, Job prostrated himself on the ground. He replied 'Surely I spoke of things I did not understand...my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you..I repent in dust and ashes.' Job (42:3-6). Though God did not answer Job's question regarding why he endured this, the very sight of God Himself humbled Job so that he fell to the ground in a flood of repentance. I think that, like Job, the more clearly we see God, the more likely we'll put our trust in God no matter the circumstances he permits us to endure.
What is it about God, though, that elicits such trust? Is it simply His power and might that scares us into humilty. I doubt it. To see God clearly, one need look no further than Jesus Christ. Some of you may have seen the suffering he endured depicted in The Passion of the Christ, but you may not be aware of the life he led prior to his crucifixion. He spent his time, not among the wealthy or rich, but among the outcasts of Jewish society, the taxpayers, prostitutes, leppers, and the crippled. To them he showed compassion, to the point of dining with them (at the expense of suffering the outrage of those in power), touching and healing those afflicted with leprosy, and to washing the feet of his disciples, a group he knew would later betray and abandon him. Listen to his words, hear him cry over a people he longed to save, and see him in action and you see God.
When you can see God more clearly, you be hold more firmly to your trust in Him despite any incriminating evidence to the contrary. Like with the husband who trusted his wife despite a seeming betrayal, your trust will be rewarded. In Him we place our faith and our hope, a hope that shall not fail.