Lessons from the Storm
Well, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve blogged. Over the past year so many things have changed in my life and blogging just took a backseat . . . but then . . . I came across something that caught my attention.
The title of the article or blog found on the website “faithit.com” was/is:
Dear Christians, Stop Saying “Everything Happens for a Reason”
If you would like to read the entire blog, here is the link:
Now “Faithit.com” is not a regular stop for me on the internet, but this blog caught my attention because several of my friends on Facebook were giving it the “Thumbs-up.” In other words, they “liked it” and I gathered . . . agreed with the author. It also caught my attention because I could certainly identify with the first question posed by the author, Christine Suhan.
Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day?
Not only did I find myself wondering how I was going to make it through another day . . . I found myself begging God to take me home so that I would not wake up to face another day. Just 2 ½ years ago, my wife of 23 years informed me that she no longer wanted to be married to me. The details as to why she came to that conclusion were known by all in the area as an anonymous emailer chose to inform church members, area pastors, and community leaders (school principals and business owners). My marriage destroyed, my family falling apart, my church in shock, and my “friends” turning on me as an individual sought to do nothing but ruin me and my church that I planted 9 years earlier was almost more than I could bear. The emotional torment was/is indescribable. Day after day I would cry out to God. Sometimes in tears, I would beg for him to fix all of this and other times I would yell at Him, angry for all that had happened.
So, did all that happen for a reason. The answer is simply . . . yes.
I agree with Suhan that when you are suffering . . . someone telling you “Everything happens for a reason” is received as little more than a platitude. I also agree that when you are in the midst of your pain, “You can’t imagine a reason for what just happened.” But to arrive at the conclusion that Suhan comes to is shortsighted, narrow, and frankly . . . unbiblical.
Suhan stated, “Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience.” She continues, “We think we are owed a pain-free existence” and “Sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is part of the process.”
Finally, Suhan comes to the following conclusions concerning God’s will:
1. “God’s will IS NOT the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path” (emphasis mine). Suhan further clarifies that “God’s will IS NOT an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.” (emphasis mine)
2. “God’s will IS NOT for an innocent child to be brutally murdered, for a teenage girl to be raped, not for chronic pain, illness, disability, or death.” (emphasis mine)
Let’s address her first conclusion.
According to Suhan, God’s will is simply our response to the seemingly random events that occur in our lives. In her words, “God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain.” The problem with this conclusion is that Suhan would be more accurate to describe “God’s will” as, “God’s hope.”
Let me explain. If God’s will is “not an event that happens TO us,” the event of us clinging to him must be solely BY us; therefore, our closeness to God is dependent UPON us. But where is that demonstrated in scripture? Suhan refers to what happened in the Garden of Eden (The Fall – Genesis 3) as being responsible for the “human condition.” Let’s remain there for just a moment. When sin entered the world (which ushered shame, hostility, death, etc . . .), man’s response was not to “draw close to God.” As a matter of fact, man ran and hid from God. It was God who came seeking man. The EVENT, which occurred once the “human experience” began, was God going to man, not man to God. Left up to man . . . we never choose to draw close to God apart from God choosing to draw close to us first.
Her second conclusion is also problematic.
What Suhan has done is that she has made the Lord of lords and the King of kings little more than a reactive God that helps us through tough times if we draw close to him. Pain and suffering is not his will. In a word, this view is not much more than the heretical view of “Deism” (God is the divine clock maker who wound up the “clock” of creation at the beginning but then left it to run on its own).
So, is that it? We are to simply find our own path and God’s will is just walking it with him, but God’s will does not include suffering? Is there really no reason for suffering/pain/tragedy?
Well, perhaps the way to answer those questions is to ask some other questions.
The first question is simply, “When?”
When did Suhan determine there was “often no reason for why tragedy has occurred?” Can you come to that conclusion a week after a tragedy? What about a year? What about 5 years or 10 years? When can one know, “There was no reason?” She stated she searched years for answers. May I suggest, that maybe it wasn’t time for her to know? Maybe she wouldn’t know in this lifetime.
Along with the question, “When?” I can’t help but ask another question.
“Is the existence of a reason incumbent/dependent upon our discovering it?”
For instance, if we didn’t know that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, would that mean that the combination of the two did not exist in the makeup of water?
Rather than my thoughts, does scripture paint a different picture than Suhan describes? Let’s just look at one story . . . Joseph in the OT?
When did Joseph know the reason for his brothers’ betrayal, his enslavement, or his imprisonment? At the time he was in the midst of his pain? I don’t believe so. I would also note that clearly that was not a path he chose. One might say, “It was the path that his brothers chose when they sold him into slavery; therefore, simply a part of the “human experience.” But I don’t believe that to be the correct answer either for a very simple reason. The answer is not even found in the story of Joseph. The answer is found in the story of Abraham.
God’s plan was that Abraham would be the father of a “great nation,” and God told him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (As a side note, Abraham would not have even started that journey/path except God called him to it – Genesis 12). But I think it is vitally important to remember that generations before Joseph would suffer, God had a plan and in that plan he spoke about suffering.
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. (Genesis 15:13)
So, there was a reason for Joseph’s suffering. It was part of the plan. Joseph was enslaved and imprisoned and through Joseph’s suffering, God brought Abraham’s family to Egypt. Joseph even said to his brothers,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:20).
God did not just join Joseph on Joseph’s path and God’s will was not just that Joseph would “draw close to him” as Joseph participated in the “human experience.” God had purpose behind all that happened . . . God brought about all that happened, not just for Joseph’s good, but so “many people should be kept alive.”
I have not even mentioned the suffering of so many more involved in this plan . . . God’s will.
1. The suffering of Abraham and Sarah as they waited for a child.
2. The suffering of Israel (Joseph’s father) who thought his son was dead.
3. The suffering of people as a seven-year famine took its hold on all who endured it.
4. The suffering of the Jews for 400 years while they were enslaved in Egypt.
The question is not only, “When?” Suhan wanted to know, “Why?” That is ultimately what is being dismissed by her. Suhan arrives at, “there is no reason for suffering,” but the problem with Suhan’s conclusion is that it also exhibits arrogance.
I would suggest that you read the book of Job (in particular, start reading Job 38). How could anyone believe that Job’s suffering was not God’s will? God gave Satan permission to bring the suffering. When Suhan states that God’s will does not include suffering, how does one reconcile that with these events in the life of Job? Secondly, how does one reconcile that opinion with Job’s testimony? After all that had happened to Job in chapters 1-2 listen to the dialogue between Job and his wife.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).
And here is the kicker . . . God doesn’t tell Job WHY. Was there a reason? You tell me. The fact that it is in God’s holy scripture should answer that question for you.
Let’s take this a step further. Would anyone suggest that it was not God’s will that Jesus suffer? Would anyone suggest that God’s will was limited to how Jesus “walked the path” of suffering? If you simply think the suffering of Christ was just the “human experience,” unplanned by God, one would have to ask about all the prophetic writings stating the specifics of Christ’s suffering. Kind of sounds like a plan. In other words, God’s will. Just one example:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34)
There was a reason that Christ suffered and died. Every Christian knows that reason.
Likewise, there are reasons we suffer.
Suhan stated in her blog, “God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering.” Suhan has created quite a logical conundrum. If the “human condition” is hard wired for pain . . . who hard wired it? If the answer is not God, then the question is, “Where did that “hard-wiring” come from when Adam and Eve were not yet submerged in the “human experience.”
The problem I have with Suhan’s conclusion is that it, once again, portrays God as a reactionary God who modifies his plan/will because of the choices of man. Simply put, redemption was planned PRIOR to the foundation of the world. As Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones wrote,
“Redemption is not an afterthought. It was not something that God thought of after man fell and because man fell. To say that is to contradict the Scripture. The Bible all along keeps on referring to this as something that was conceived before the world was made. Before man was ever created, this plan of redemption was clearly in the mind of God.” (Great Doctrines of the Bible)
Some might argue, “God simply knew that man would chose sin; therefore, he came up with a plan of redemption.” The problem with that line of logic is that we are limited as chronological creatures (we only think in a series of moments in time) but God is outside time and He sees it all, “the end from the beginning,” and all history is in his presence. So, with that in mind, ultimately all of this was/is/will be His will.
Dr. Wayne Grudem wrote:
We must never think that sin surprised God or challenged or overcame his omnipotence or his providential control over the universe. Therefore, even though we must never say that God himself sinned or he is to be blamed for sin, yet we must also affirm that the God who “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), the God who “does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Daniel 4:35) did ordain that sin would come into the world, even though he does not delight in it and even though he ordained that it would come about through the voluntary choices of moral creatures. (Systematic Theology)
Ultimately, even though I may not be able to point to a conclusive reason for your/my pain, there is a reason/purpose behind that pain. I recently used the illustration while preaching in my church:
When my children were young and it was time for them to sleep alone in their own room, I put them in their bed and turned out the light. How in the world could a loving father do such a cruel thing to them? Why would I put them in such a frightening situation? Why would I cause them such sorrow, anger, and pain? You might think this doesn’t even compare to the pain you have endured. Isn’t it all perspective? In the mind of a toddler, how much worse could you get than a dark and lonely situation? I made them suffer for their growth. The reality was, I had it well under control and even though in their mind they were in a terrible situation, I knew it was for their good.
I find it ironic that this article was on the website, “faithit.com.” The very definition of faith is “the evidence of things NOT SEEN.” We must have faith that God does have a reason/purpose behind our suffering even when we do not see it.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
That one verse tells us that God has a plan. If that isn’t true, Jeremiah 29:11 would be of no comfort and/or encouragement.
Secondly, we must also have faith that although we might discover/see the reason(s) for our suffering, our understanding will be, to say the least, limited.
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. (Habakkuk 1:5)
There is no doubt that there are “Lessons from the Storm.” There are reasons for our suffering. We will not fully understand on this side of eternity, but God does. If there is any lesson to be learned . . . that’s the one.
Thy will be done.