“God, we trusted you. We counted the cost, took a step of faith, and followed your leading. We believed and trusted that you would take care of us as we followed you down this difficult and sacrificial road. Yet here we are, with circumstances that have only worsened. If you knew the pain that lay ahead of that step of faith, why did you still choose to lead us here? How could this be your love for us?
This prayer of confusion came after one of the many head-scratching, faith-rattling moments of my christian walk – moments that have been difficult to reconcile his love and goodness with the circumstances in front of me.
A Firm Foundation
If we’re honest, we’d prefer to talk about the mountain top moments, the moments in the Christian life when our faith is strengthened by seeing God answer a prayer, protect us from harm’s way, or provide for a need in a way that no one else could. Those are sweet experiences of God’s grace, when he gives us glimpses of his personal care for us.
But what about those seasons when God remains silent to prayers? What about that time when you prayed for protection and the very thing you feared and prayed against became a reality? What about that moment when you took a step of faith and followed God’s difficult leading, only to be met with more difficulty and nothing but confusion. Where is God’s love and goodness in those moments? If he wants us to grow in faith and trust, why does he sometimes choose to delay when we plead for relief; why does he sometimes choose to say no, when we know he can say yes; and why does a loving God sometimes allow circumstances that appear to be harsh and unloving?
Yes, sometimes God gives us glimpses into his purposes, but often, he allows his ways to remain a mystery – simply asking us to trust. The main question of faith isn’t “why”, it’s “do we trust him anyway”? Do we believe what he says even when we can’t make sense of it? Can and will we choose to trust his character and promises seen throughout scripture even if we can’t make sense of what’s happening right in front of us?
Those are the questions we must ask, and God’s word is where we will find the answers. No, he may not tell us why he’s allowed our specific situation, but he will show us why we can trust him.
God’s proven faithfulness.
Thankfully, we’re not the first ones to wrestle with perplexing circumstances and the spiritual questions that they provoke, so we have the privilege of gleaning from those who have gone before us.
Countless men and women from the bible, even those who walked closely with the Lord, knew moments of complete spiritual confusion.
Consider the well known story of Joseph in Genesis 37. Joseph received two dreams from the Lord, foreshadowing that one day many would bow down to him – including his family. Imagine how perplexed Joseph must have been when, instead of being exalted, he found himself thrown into a pit, enslaved in Egypt, and just when things started looking up, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Of course, we know the beginning, middle, and end of the story – but Joseph didn’t. Did God go back on his word? No – he just had a far different way of preparing Joseph to be used for his purposes than Joseph ever could have imagined. God was faithful to his word and in his perfect timing, an entire nation (including his family) bowed down and depended on Joseph for their livelihood. But through the unexpected and undesired path of slavery and suffering, Joseph was humbled and taught to honor and trust God in the pit so that he would be made ready to honor, trust, and obey God in the place of authority and leadership that God was preparing him for.
Or, consider Moses, who was chosen and commanded by God to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of God’s people. God commanded him, God promised to equip him, so surely God would grant him success (Exodus 4:10-12). Right?
Nope. Well, at least not at first.
Not only did Pharaoh refuse, he punished the Isrealites by increasing their workload and putting a crushing burden on their backs (Exodus 5:5-23). And what’s even more confusing is that God himself was the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The same God who commanded Moses to demand that Pharoah free his people was the very One who prevented what he had sent Moses to do. Now that is confusing and, honestly, seems cruel at first glance. But again, we know the beginning, middle, and end of that story, and by the end – we marvel at God’s power and perfect plan to not only free the Israelites, but to show his glory and foreshadow the Savior that would one day come to free all people from the bondage of slavery. In the end, God was faithful to what he had promised and he used Moses in profound ways, but Moses had to learn that God’s way of getting there was far above his own understanding. He simply needed to trust and obey.
The truth is, although we often feel alone in our wrestling, there are countless accounts in scripture where God allowed his people to wrestle through moments, days, or even years of confusion, doubt, waiting, pain, and questions. But it always came down to this question of faith – “Do I believe God is who he says he is and if so, will I choose to trust him (his character, Word, love, forgiveness, acceptance, goodness, and faithfulness through Jesus Christ) even when I have no answers?
Although it’s a life-long process of learning to trust, each difficult, perplexing, and painful experience is an opportunity to grow in the school of faith – destroying false beliefs and growing the roots of our faith in the soil of God’s truth, rather than the shallow soil of our own understanding.
The School of Faith
Not only do we have all of scripture to testify to God’s faithfulness (despite the mystery of his ways), Elizabeth Elliot (the wife of Jim Elliot) is a modern example of one of the many godly men and women’s lives that God has used to teach many in the school of faith. In her book, “Made for the Journey,” she writes about devastating circumstances in ministry and life that caused her to struggle with the reality that sometimes the unexplainable happens when she knew God could have stopped it. And if you know her story, you know how qualified she is to write on the topic!
She wrote, “As I look back on that time (when God allowed a year’s worth of bible translation work to be stolen and never found), I think it was Lesson One for me in the school of faith. That is, it was my first experience of having to bow down before that which I could not possibly explain. Usually we need not bow. We can simply ignore the unexplainable because we have other things to occupy our minds. We sweep it under the rug. We evade the questions.
But, faith’s most severe tests come not when we see nothing but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain. If God were God, if He were omnipotent, if He had cared, would this have happened? Is this that I face now the ratification of my calling, the reward of obedience? One turns in disbelief again from the circumstances and looks into the abyss. But in the abyss there is only blackness, no glimmer of light, no answering echo.
But can we come to the point where we pray as Betty Stam (a missionary woman who sacrificed everything and was martyred for her testimony)? “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to thee to be thine forever. Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit, use me as thou wilt, send me where thou wilt, work out thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.’
It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself. Even the Son of God had to learn obedience by the things He suffered…”pg. 138-139, Elizabeth Elliot – Made for the Journey
In other words, we want God’s love to come in the form of comfort and ease. But God shows us his love by giving us himself – which almost always comes through the difficult terrain of suffering, where false comforts fall short and the comfort and nearness of Christ becomes most precious.
Like Job, who suffered in unimaginable ways for reasons he never knew, our most difficult seasons of trial might be the very thing that takes us from “hearing” about God, to “seeing” and “knowing” him to be true to his word, character, and promises. Not because he gives us explanations, but because our questions drive us to know more of who Christ is, what he has done for us, and his presence within us.
Joseph, Moses, and the Apostle Paul knew this to be true (Philippians 3:7-10) Job knew it (Job 23:8-14), the Psalmist’s knew it (Psalm 66:10-12), Elizabeth Elliot knew it, Betty Stam knew it, and you and I can know this to be true as well.
No matter how confusing, pointless, or painful our circumstances may be, and regardless of how difficult it seems to reconcile Christ’s love and mercy for us in the darkest, gut-wrenching, “no silver-lining”, most crushing moments of our lives, we have to remember this:
God crushed his own Son (and his own heart) because he loves us with a love beyond what we can fully comprehend. Jesus experienced the darkest, most gut-wrenching, evil, crushing moments of all of us and the hand of his own loving Father could have stopped it. But he didn’t. From a human perspective, it seems purposeless and perplexing that a sovereign, good, and loving God would allow evil and death to win (even for a moment). But from God’s perspective, he chose to allow a time of darkness, confusion, pain, and hopelessness, because he knew the end of the story. The curse of sin would be broken, death would be defeated, Satan would be crushed, and those who were once dead could now be made alive through him and be called children of God. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Friend, when you feel like God is cruel or uncaring for allowing circumstances that feel painful and pointless in your life – know this: God crushed Jesus so that you and I will not be crushed (by our sin or our circumstances). You may not understand this part of your story and it may cause you to wonder “why” as I often have, but if you are in Christ or if you call out to him for forgiveness and salvation, you can be confident that what you see right now doesn’t tell the whole story. This moment is part of a greater story being written by the same One who gave his life for you.
Christian, as difficult as it may be, it is a privilege to be a student in the school of faith, as we are made ready for our eternal home. And the question we will be faced with time and time again as we walk by faith and not by sight is, “will I trust him, even still?”
May our answer always be, “Yes, he is worthy.”
Together Through The Storms (Hardback, Audio, E-book link to Amazon) helps married couples to navigate the storms of life together. Working through the book of Job, Sarah Walton (author of “Hope when it Hurts”) and her husband Jeff reflect on their own experiences in a marriage that has faced chronic illness, baggage from the past, a child with neurological challenges, and financial difficulties—and show how to cling to Christ and each other. Spanish, Chinese, and Korean translations coming soon…
To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here. You can purchase the audio version here and the Spanish translation can now be purchased at Poiema.co