Going through a hard time recently, a friend asked, “Why is this happening to me?” Again she asked, “Is God trying to tell me something?”
Two plus two still equals four, and if that changed somehow we would be thrown off balance. We were created to seek answers, to search for understanding, to relish even ground. So when adversity or illness comes into our lives, we automatically try to explain what is happening to us, to somehow codify the situation.
Throughout the book of Job, he and his friends “wonder out loud” about the cause of Job’s sufferings. Once a landowner with health, wealth, and a large family, Job loses it all—family, possessions, homes—and the need for explanation kicks in, bringing in its wake faulty explanations of God’s working in the lives of humanity.
In cultures throughout history, the need for understanding has caused shifts in our theology, or knowledge of God. Who God is and how God acts has evolved in line with occurrences in nature. Earthquakes, famine, floods, crises beyond our comprehension demand an answer, an explanation that will help us avoid such suffering in the future.
Society changing itself to please its gods is nothing new. Look at ancient societies and tribes. When the volcano explodes the first time, the people assume they did something wrong. To avoid the horrific experience next time, they invent explanations and ways to please the god of the volcano, also known as superstition. We know today that volcanoes happen as a normal course of nature, as do storms and other disasters. However, even today our faith becomes entangled with that need to understand, often distorting the biblical evidence of who God is and how God works in the lives of God’s people.
“Why is this happening to me?” she asked. And I had to respond that I did not know. You see, while God does use our circumstances to lead and guide us, not everything is a “punishment” to cause course corrections in our lives. Jesus explained, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Several years ago now, I was on a long-needed vacation at my aunt’s house in northern Pennsylvania. I spent my days reading my Bible, several books, and just finding restoration for my spirit. One day, however, as I rode my aunt’s bicycle down the highway to find a pleasant spot to sit and meditate, my front wheel stuck in a drainage cover, throwing me over on my chin and breaking my jaw.
I’ll admit that I couldn’t understand why God would have allowed this to happen. After some soul-searching, and Scripture reading, however, I made peace with the matter and sought God for whatever wisdom I could glean from the situation and whatever glory I could bring to God.
A few weeks later I came across a group of very earnest Christians at their house church. One by one they came up with reasons “the devil” was able to break my jaw. Their first explanation was that I must have had some kind of sin in my life. Only that would explain such an accident. When I explained that I was on a God-enforced retreat/vacation, it was time to think deeper. Their next explanation was that I was not thinking about God and praying as I rode my bicycle, and finally it was determined that if I had been praying in the Spirit as I rode, Satan would not have been able to touch me.
When our beliefs about a loving, concerned, and powerful God come up against circumstances in our lives, and the powers in this world, we look for answers and explanations. How could God allow this? The death of a child, a disfiguring accident, a prolonged illness, all of these things, and many more, test the mettle of our faith. We try to explain, to interpret, to make sense of our circumstances, but some things just don’t make sense, and may never make sense until we see God face to face in heaven.
Seeking to interpret crises in our lives is a good thing. Many cures for diseases have come about because someone felt the need to understand what was happening. If you get lung cancer, quitting smoking is probably a good bet. Develop diabetes? Losing weight will make a great difference in your circumstances. Crises in our lives can be instructive, and God can use them to lead and guide us. The problem occurs when we try to codify God’s actions according to our understanding. As I said earlier, Jesus proclaimed that God sends the rain on everyone regardless of spiritual status.
What is the “take-home” of this article? In my mind there are three things I try to remember in the midst of crisis.
1. God sent His Son Jesus to redeem and reconcile this world to himself. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19,20).
2. God uses everything in my life to bring me closer to the image of his dear Son. This doesn’t mean God causes those circumstances, but that even things occurring naturally become a part of God’s plan for us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Not just the pleasant circumstances but those that test our faith as well.
3. Finally, Paul testifies that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God. (Romans 8:38,39). Crises will occur no matter how often we pray. Children will fall, and accidents will happen, but in everything we have the assurance of God’s protecting hand.
I’m sure for some of you this sounds like “negative confession,” and I suppose in some ways it could be, but I prefer to think of it as positive.
I am positive that God loves me and has redeemed me.
I am positive that God will keep me from harm.
I am positive that because of Christ’s sacrifice for me, nothing can separate me from the love of God.
And finally, even when circumstances beyond my control threaten my stability, I am positive that God will hold me in the midst of the storm, keeping my spirit and strengthening me in spite of my circumstances.
Continue to seek answers and make changes to your life based on God’s high standards, but remember this: God’s love and care for you are not based on your goodness, but on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. When circumstances come, perhaps God is using them to draw you closer to His side and to conform you even more into the image of his dear Son. Enjoy the journey!
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church