It’s been a challenging week and 2013 is already marking itself out as having the potential to be a difficult year. Not for just us, but for a whole swathe of people that we know. It’s inevitable then, that many search for methods to help them cope. Those who live firmly in the world of reason, choosing not to believe in the existence of a God or in any other form of spirituality, rely on their own internal resources or other people to help them through difficult times. To be honest, I’m guessing. I don’t know what they do. I’ve never had a sit down conversation with an Atheist and asked them ‘how the heck do you cope with [insert difficulty]?’
For me, and for many others of different faiths, we turn to the guidance of our God (or gods), to our holy books, our wise teachers, or our spiritual disciplines. We read again those passages that inspire and provide encouragement for us to press on. Prayer too helps us to come before God, admit what’s happened and, if we’re able to get sufficiently quiet and wait on Him, to hear direction about what we might do. To those of faith and none, the next phase is the same. We need perspective and time to assess a situation. We need to collect information and receive guidance, because if we all know one thing, it’s the folly of wading in and reacting to something before we’ve really had a chance to consider it. The knee-jerk reaction is usually the one that ends up kneeing ourselves in the face.
Having a faith does not exempt you from the difficulties of life. In the Bible, the book of James says when troubles come your way, not if troubles come your way. Troubles are not optional extras in the lives of Christians, they are part and parcel of everyday life. But over time, our faith and trust in God, the example of Jesus and the help of the Spirit enable us to press on through those troubles and out the other side. But we will not remain unchanged. Many Christians speak of their difficult times as being the times when they have seen the most growth in their spiritual life.
One of the toughest verses in the Bible for me is Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God…” Whatever happens, we are asked to believe that it will be for our good, it will be the best thing for us. As C.S. Lewis went on to note: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
Sometimes, what happens in our lives leaves us reeling. Not just for days as it has been for me this week, but for months, years even. Great tragedies, the loss of those we love, in seemingly senseless, random acts that we’re supposed to understand, are for our good. How can we square this misery with a supposedly loving God who wants us to trust Him?
I’m no theologian, but I wonder if that verse isn’t missing a word of explanation. I look at it as being for our spiritual good. No, these really are horrible nasty things we’re going through and let’s not beat around the bush here, the death of someone you love is right up there on the list of things that hurt, BIG TIME.
Back to James chapter 1 again. He encourages us to remain close to God, knowing that these trials will be building endurance in ourselves. Bad things are happening, but we are not a tiny rowboat being tossed on the great sea of life. We are still the tiny rowboat, yes, but we’re firmly tied up against God. Whatever happens we will get through this because, just like the tightrope walker looks ahead and not down; we fix our eyes on Jesus, not looking at the trouble beneath us and somehow (and to be honest that the inexplicable God bit), somehow, one day we realise we are across and safely on the other side. If we’re wise we remember that the next time the difficulties come, if we keep our eyes on Jesus again, that he’ll get us over that tightrope walk too. “Put your trust in God and lean not on your own understanding,” it says Proverbs 3: 5. That’s faith. You believed that God could get you through, he’s demonstrated that He could get you through and so your faith increases. You believed, you trusted and now you can back that up with evidence from your life.
But we know it’s not easy. No responsible person ever seeks to tell people about Jesus, using some sop about Christianity making all your troubles vanish. They don’t –fact. In some cases your very decision for Jesus can mean that your life will be in danger. We may bleat on about times getting a bit tough for British Christians and we may (laughably) bandy the term ‘persecution’ around, but we don’t know the meaning of the word. Not only is North Korea one of the world’s poorest nations, it is the most dangerous place to be if you decide to become a Christian and remains at the top of Open Doors’ Watch List of nations that persecute Christians.
Sometimes the very difficulties we face are the things that place us before God. We admit we can’t cope, we admit we need help and we cry out; desperate for someone, anyone, even God to help us. And somehow, miraculously, gracefully even, He does.
The thing is, sometimes it’s not in the ways we thought God might help us…
And that’s a post for another day.