Point of Reference
by Fred Price
My mom died several years ago, enduring two weeks of intense pain and suffering beforehand. It was an extremely difficult time for my family as we stood around her bedside, making decisions for her we were ill-prepared to make and watching her waste away a little each day; which did not cause us to doubt the existence of God so much as to question the timeliness of His answers to some of our prayers.
This scenario is certainly not unique to me and mine, as members of my home church have suffered any number of difficulties as well; serious accidents and fatal diseases, lost jobs and broken homes, etc. Similar experiences (and more, such as continued political unrest and death from war and untold loss of property and life through natural disasters) occur on a global scale, causing us to wonder: Where is God and why would He allow such things to happen? (Especially when they happen to the good guys! As we can understand why people behaving poorly come to a bad end, but why do bad things happen to good people?) I have personally been helped in my understanding of these issues by reading two excellent books by Philip Yancey – “Where is God When it Hurts?” and “Disappointment with God.” Each dealing with concepts that are absolutely crucial to our understanding of life and our continued faith in a loving, interpersonal, all-powerful God.
To begin with, we must realize that our world suffers the consequences of a fallen state; the earth itself groaning in anticipation of release and redemption, as should we in anticipation of Christ’s return. ( Romans 8:18-23) As such, bad things happen not just to bad people. Circumstances beyond our control were set in motion at the fall of man and as a result of his punishment (Gen. 3,6 & 7); biological, astronomical and geological changes taking place that were not originally intended. As a result, our cells break down, mutating into disease or leaving us vulnerable to attack from “outside” means; progressing to sickness and death. In addition, we compound the problem in the choices we make – smoking, drinking and over-indulging our appetites, using drugs, having indiscriminate sex; polluting the air, water and soil – destroying the ecological habitat we call home and hastening our own demise. We can alleviate some of the assaults on our bodies by heeding the principle of 1 Corinthians 6:19,20; but by virtue of our birth into the condition of man, we will all one day die; the mode of our deaths causing us the most concern.
Secondly, God can and does use trials and suffering as discipline or even punishment to gain our attention and correct misbehavior. ( Hebrews 12:5-11) Note that the Hebrew writer says, “…the Lord disciplines those he loves,…” which could include all mankind, but goes on to specifically say, “…he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” – those within the “family.” Loving us enough to do whatever it takes to bring us to an acknowledgment of his will; the only place where true joy and peace of mind can be found. (Our physical comfort or death not being the issue in God’s mind as it is in ours, His over-riding concern being with the condition of our souls. Luke 13:1-5)
This is the reasoning behind Mr. Yancey’s advice for us to stop asking why bad things come our way, instead asking to what they are leading us. Whether our discomfort is a consequence of rebellious sin, a reluctance to acknowledge God’s will or the result of living in an unregenerate world that is gradually spinning out of control; we need to actively seek the good that can come of it, allowing God to manifest himself in the midst of unpleasantness. ( Romans 8:28) For pleasure often emerges against a background of discomfort; insight can be gained through moments of uncertainty; increased faith realized after periods of doubt. There is indeed a good kind of sorrow ( 2 Corinthians 7:10); that which turns us resolutely to God in our confessed need of his provision and forgiveness, developing a deeper dependence on Him in all subsequent matters.
One crucial step in achieving a productive Christian lifestyle is the realization that none of us were placed on earth to fulfill personal desires; pursuing life, liberty and happiness. We are here rather to be changed into the likeness of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 3:18), being re-created through Him and for Him ( 2 Corinthians 5:17), in anticipation of spending eternity with Him. This change may make us uncomfortable, involving as it does the losing of self in response to another’s demands and the removal of things that hinder our development as genuine followers of Christ. (See Mark 8:35; Matthew 5:29,30 & Mark 9:45; Galatians 2:20) In fact, pain – whether physical or emotional – and the unpleasantness of things beyond our control are usually necessary for the resolution of sin and complacency in our lives; serving as a beacon or warning signal that demands attention and a response.
I’m not sure God’s sovereign will dictates every incident of our lives, but in his omnipotence he could shield us from all harm yet sometimes chooses not to. The number of times we have been rescued from harm without our realization is impossible to know; it’s the unpleasantness of the hardships we do suffer through that we grapple with and question. Yet whether we are blessed unaware or blessed through a hardship, he is still there blessing ( Hebrews 13:5); at times choosing to remove all obstacles, sometimes choosing to lead us through the midst of them, at some point in time choosing to bless us by removing us from this world of trouble altogether. In the process He purifies us, strengthening our faith and bringing honor and glory to his name. ( John 9:1-3 & 11:4)
Keep in mind that God isn’t fearful of or limited by our doubts and questions. If you don’t understand – say so. He’s big enough to handle that and compassionate in answering according to our ability to understand – as he sees fit. (See Job) He expects us to pose questions in our search for him, affording him the opportunity to prove his faithfulness. ( Deuteronomy 6:16 – “Do not test the Lord your God” referring to obstinate challenges to his authority; Matthew 4:7 referring to an arbitrary need for miraculous display or bargaining with the Almighty to prove himself. Romans 12:2 and 1 John 4:1 dealing with our resolve to discern the rightness of God’s will as a result of our minds becoming one with His and the absolute necessity of that discernment being grounded in His word and revelation alone.)
Being fearful of expressing need and doubt is just as likely rooted in a lack of confidence in God’s ability to meet our needs and alleviate doubt as being an expression of reverence and respect. God himself challenging us to ask, seek and knock; proving himself faithful as we receive, find and enter through the opened door to intimacy with him. ( Matthew 7:7,8)
Where is God when it hurts? Right alongside you, always looking to bless; in the here-and-now and the hereafter.
"Voice of Inspiration" from
False TheoryRead Article »
Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
Receive the newest devotional each week in your inbox by joining the "Point of Reference" subscription list. Enter your email address below, click "Go!" and we will send you a confirmation email. Follow the instructions in the email to confirm your addition to this list.