He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.
– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)
Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.
It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?
Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.
Still, He did not abandon them.
Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.
Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.
Not at all what they expected.
That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?
These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)
It is also true that,
Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)
Or, as Jesus put it,
In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.
– John 16:33 (MSG)
Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.
But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.
In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.
In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”
Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.
How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].
Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)
Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.
The anguish you feel – He felt it.
Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.
In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.
He will see you safe to shore.