by Brian G. Bettes
Many people I am currently praying for are facing severe trials right now. One friend just went in for surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from his liver. That same man will have to go in again in a few months to have more cancer removed from his colon. A cousin of mine is in stage four of lymphoma cancer. Both suffer not only the physical pain of the disease that is trying to kill them, but also the fear of not knowing what will happen with the only life they have been given. Additionally, they wrestle with what it will mean for the loved ones who are left behind if the cancer takes them.
Another friend just lost his wife of many years to cancer a couple of days ago; yet another lost his wife to cancer earlier last year. Both are suffering severe grief, sorrow, loss, and depression as they face the rest of their lives without their long lost loves. Another person has struggled mightily with fear, worry, anger, feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, and at times depression as he has had to try to support his family for over a year without employment. Others have suffered severe, life threatening accidents, while their families deal with the emotional trauma of helplessly watching their loved one’s life hang in the balances.
There is not enough space here for me to cover all of the pain, suffering, mental, physical, and emotional agony, and fear that friends, family, and people I know are facing today. What is clear to me is, many, many, many people on this earth are suffering severe trials on a daily basis.
For those of us who are Christians, these times of severe trial tend to bring us face-to-face with certain deeply held convictions, and at times may even raise questions about those convictions. As we quietly sit alone with our private thoughts in the most difficult moments of our trial, questions about God and His level of involvement in those times when we feel raw and vulnerable may come to the surface. Unvarnished, these thoughts can take an ugly turn at times. Our thoughts, if we are honest, can become pretty dark. I dare say, if we are living the life of a true Christian, we have all been there at one time or another.
David, the king of ancient Israel, by God’s testimony was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). Yet even he, in some of the darkest hours of his life, questioned God’s level of involvement in his trials.
In Psalm 88:13-14 he said: “But to You I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before You. Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?”
In Psalm 77:4, 7-9 he said: “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak…. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?”
Have we ever felt this way as the crucible of sore trial heated up? I would venture to say that you are either not human, or maybe an extraordinary human, if you haven’t. As I said, these types of trials tend to bring us face-to-face with our deepest convictions in an up close and personal way. Yet interestingly, if we turn to God in these moments as David did, as we reach down into the deepest part of our soul in our search for answers, we often come to see and understand God and His purpose with greater depth than ever before.
Before we go further, let’s clear up a couple of myths.
First, God never promised that, because we are His children, and we are striving to follow Him, life is going to be without trials. No, quite the opposite in fact. He is clear in His word that we will indeed suffer trials, and that those trials are suited to fulfill His purpose (1 Peter 4:12-13). Jesus himself said that we would suffer tribulation (Gr.: Thlipsis, meaning anguish, burden, trouble) in this world (John 16:33). Paul repeated this truth when he said, “We must through many tribulations [same Greek word as above] enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He shows some of the valuable benefits that come out of trials: perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4).
The apostle James said that we are to count it a joyful thing when we encounter trials because they produce spirit maturity within us (James 1:2-4). Also, the writer of the book of Hebrews explains that, if we endure chastening from our Heavenly Father, it is for our profit and produces the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” within us (Hebrews 12:9-11).
Second, it is hard to remember in the depths of despair, but God promises that he is always there, and He is always with us in our times of testing. He promises that He never leaves us or forsakes us (Hebrews13:5). God is very merciful and loves us like the Father that He is. He knows that we are weak and remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14). In times of trial He is “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). The Psalmist also wrote often of God’s lovingkindness for those who put their trust in Him (Psalm 17:7; 36:7, 10; 143:8).
As we approach the Passover, our adversary is active as usual. Like with Job, he is always looking for ways to destroy us in an effort to make us turn away from God (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). Though God does allow trials to come upon us, sometimes deep and grievous trials as with Job, He is intimately and lovingly involved because those trials produce within us His Divine Nature. Building His Nature in us eventually leads to us becoming His Spirit-born children (James 1:12).
Job’s wife was deeply hurt, as any woman would be who just lost all of her children. But she lost sight or what was important (Job 2:9). Yet Job knew that there must be a bigger picture here. Note his response to her. He said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity” (Job 2:10)?
When we are suffering, hurting, and agonizing deeply in trial, we too must see a bigger picture. It is important that we realize that what we are enduring at the moment is for our development to become the very sons of God, as Jesus is (1 John 3:2-3). We must realize also that our Father loves us and deeply cares for us in our trial. We can hopefully see the bigger picture, turn to Him for comfort, and, as Job did, accept from His hand the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).