A pastor-friend of mine once experienced a colossal succession of disappointments. His favor with his followers faltered, his once fruitful ministry began to collapse, and many of his former friends became his biggest opponents. Then everything went downhill like a toboggan on ice.
My friend was well known. If I told you his name, you’d probably recognize it. And his meteoric fall from favor was not due to any moral scandal on his part. Yet rejection and controversy—like a massive mound of circumstantial evidence against him—attacked from every side:
- He began with a big splash and became famous in a few short months;
- His fame drew detractors, and major church leaders spoke against him;
- His followers, who used to think he walked on water, began to drift away;
- His treasurer embezzled funds;
- Over time, his ministry crashed and burned.
And, of course, he asked God, “Why?”
Look at Job’s Life
Something inside us instinctively imagines that the ebb and flow of our lives reflect God’s favor. We believe the blessings and blows are the barometers through which we gauge His love. The sun shines when we’ve taken our prayer times, and storms threaten when we fail to tithe.
Of course these simple formulas ignore what God actually says. God praises Job: “There is none like him in all the earth.” Then tragedies immediately befell Job: the theft of his working animals, the incineration of his sheep, the murder of his servants, and the death of his children.
Job cries out, “Why?”
We all do, even when the trials of our lives are mild; but much more so in the great heartbreaks of life: liver cancer, a spouse who divorces us, or a child born with autism.
We cry, “Why?” because we think these disasters reveal God’s punishment of hidden sin (or obvious sin). But either way, retribution! Job keeps asking God, “Why, God, did you allow this to happen?” And Job’s friends keep telling him that all his miseries must surely be his own fault.
God never answers Job’s question. God never breathes a hint of an echo of a shadow of an answer. He does something else instead. God simply reveals himself.
It’s Ingrained in Us
When the disciples see a man born blind, they ask if the blindness is punishment for his sin or his parents. (Whenever we suffer misfortune, we think it’s punishment.) Jesus explains to the disciples that it’s neither. It is so that God’s power can be displayed through the blind man.
We dislike that answer. We want God’s power to be shown through his blessings.
But the revelation should relieve us. Circumstances in our lives are ordained by God so that his life shines through us. We try to wriggle out of them, fix them, or blame someone. When our kids disobey or our company downsizes us, we look for tips and techniques to improve our conditions. We cry, “Why?” and then fight adversities like a cornered wolverine.
We are battling God. God uses difficulties to invite us to greater intimacy with him. To see him.
And It Has Always Been This Way
We picture the disasters of our lives as circumstantial evidence to accuse us. God says these circumstances are evidence he is turning us into burning bushes. He allows them that we may share in the sufferings of Christ. And so let him live in us, with his life shining through ours.
My pastor-friend was a great, genuine, one-of-a-kind guy. Repeatedly, God used his words, deeds, and his life to say, “There has never been one like him in all the earth.”
Then they crucified him.
P.S. And now we can see the real heart of God.