When things happen we don’t understand, or when bad things happen it is our instinct to ask why. It is our instinct to think that if I do “A” then God will surely do “B”. Or if I had only done “A” better then God would hear me when I pray and this bad thing wouldn’t be happening to me.
We are dealing with unemployment. We sold our house and are moving away and in with family. Let me qualify this by saying it is not the end of the world. No one has a terminal illness. We are healthy. We are even happy most of the time. God is providing, not perhaps the way I would most like Him to, but He is providing. Things aren’t particularly rosy right now, but they aren’t horrible either!
It is our nature to rank our struggles (or anyone’s) by someone else’s just like we tend to do with our sin. Pain is pain. Struggles are struggles. You can’t really rate them and say just because no one died that really isn’t so bad. It doesn’t work that way. The crummy things we deal with are important and life altering to us. They are different for every person. Don’t discount someone’s pain because it doesn’t seem so bad to you. It still hurts.
My instinct in the middle of this time is to say “If I fasted and prayed maybe God would give Randy a job.” (If I do “A” then God will do “B”.) But reality is God loves me and wants His best for me no matter what it is I do. As a Christ follower my behavior doesn’t indicate His. Wrapping my head around that however, is really tough. I want to believe that there is some way I can retain some control over my life. That there is a way I can make God do what I want Him to do. If I tithe, pray, read my Bible, disciple someone, attend life group like I should, invest time in the Word etc then I should have a good life. I should be able to pay my bills and have a modest home and money that I can give to the needy and go on mission trips and pay for church camp for my kids.
But God says it’s not about me. That what I do doesn’t matter simply because He already did everything necessary for my good life. It is simply my definition of what a good life consists of that needs changing. The moment I turned my life over to God and said “You do this. I don’t want my best I want yours.” He took it. Guaranteeing me His best. Nothing I can do changes that, not that I would want to. I really do believe that His best is better than my best.
I have a little different view of Biblical suffering these days. I’ve been learning it for a while now. To begin with I assumed everything we went through that was bad was not biblical suffering. That in order for it to be the kind of suffering God told us as Christians we would experience that it had to be the type of persecution that Paul suffered in the New Testament. That in order for it to be suffering that God promises it had to be attributed to peoples perspective of me as a Christian. Now I understand most suffering to be biblical suffering. How we respond when pressed and beat up by life is what defines us, what comes out of us when we are squeezed is telling. Life squeezes us. Cancer happens. Job loss happens. Poverty happens. Abuse happens. None of them are ideal; none of them are what God wanted in the perfect world He established. But they are a result of the fallen world we live in and as believers what comes out of us when we are squeezed is really important. Any suffering that draws us to God is biblical suffering. Any suffering that allows God to reflect His goodness and divinity in our lives is Biblical suffering. When the Bible says that we will suffer for our faith it isn’t lying. There must be a way for God to reflect himself in our lives good and bad. Don’t only expect the good. It can’t always be good. Sometimes we have to reflect Him when things are bad. The big question should be why aren’t we suffering? Do we count on God’s goodness to bring only things we like? When bad things happen do we revert back to the formula of if I do “A” God will do “B”?
Honestly lots of times Christians don’t help. They say things like “Hang in there it will get better”, and walk away thinking “Geeze just get a job! Stop being so picky, I bet Home Depot is hiring.” Not all people of course, some get it. But mostly people don’t think about it until they see you, which reminds them you are suffering, and they hastily ask how things are going and say they are praying and they walk away and immediately forget that you are going through anything. They always seem surprised that you are still going through that thing you are dealing with. They rally in the beginning of trouble but slowly disappear as time goes by because it’s hard to walk through suffering with others. Sometimes it reminds us that we aren’t suffering at the moment and it’s like avoiding the teacher’s eye when they ask a question in class. If I ignore suffering in the lives of those around me, it won’t happen to me.
How should we respond? I’m not sure I can answer that. I really don’t want people camped in my living room to show how much they think about us or our situation. I don’t expect them to just send me money or try and fix things. But I love the example of Job’s friends in the beginning. They simply sat with him in silence the first seven days. They were there. If Job had wanted to talk I’m sure they would have responded. Their presence wasn’t a fix it. It was just love. We have friends who love us. We have friends who walk silently beside us responding when they see the need or feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I can’t tell you how valuable that is for me. I know my friends can’t fix things, I don’t expect them to. I know they can’t stop living their lives just because we are struggling, I wouldn’t want them to. But they are actively present, that means more than I can say. It makes me cry just thinking about it. How we respond when others suffer is equally as telling about us. How we respond when our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering can reflect God to those around us.