It’s hard to imagine a world without anguish, misery, trials and persecution. It’s hard to drag oneself out of bed every morning ready to face the potential catastrophes and calamities of the day, knowing for certain that they will arise. It is wearisome. It is difficult. Indeed, this is the world as mankind has known it for thousands of years now. It is a depraved and fallen world under the curse of sin. We encounter daily pains of every variety — from the sting of carelessly nicking ourselves with a razor while shaving in the shower to receiving the heartbreaking news that a loved one had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Yet, at the same time, we’re often utterly shocked and surprised when suffering enters our lives. When “bad things” manifest themselves, we are instantly startled, stunned and caught off guard. “Wait! Why is this happening? What’s going on here? This is not the proper order of things! Chaos has interrupted the norm!” We knew we were living in a screwed up world, right? We knew something awful or tragic was bound to happen sooner or later. Yet, somehow, even when we’ve endured hardships in the past, we still manage to find ourselves surprised and flabbergasted by the next round of trials.
It seems that God could fix all of this by at least revealing to us a roadmap of our future suffering. He could reduce our panic and dread to vaporous clouds of joy and replace our fears and anxieties with assurance and foresight quite easily. He could appear in the flesh to every individual human on the planet with a stunning and revelatory announcement: “Hi, I’m God. You’re about to be going through some rough patches over the next few days (weeks, months, years) so I just wanted to give you a heads up and fill you in on what to expect and tell you how to best weather the storm.” I suspect this might at least put a few minds and hearts at ease.
So, why doesn’t God give us clear, visible, auditory notifications in regards to our impending suffering? Why doesn’t He create some sort of smartphone app that would inform us of these things? After all, we live in a culture that loves to be notified. We check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram every five minutes in the desperate hope that someone has liked or commented on our latest selfie. We check our text messages even when we know there will not be a new one. Why does God tell us to simply “trust” in Him? (Proverbs 3:5-6) Why is He seemingly content to kick back in Heaven as we navigate our way through this life without the slightest clue as to what could be lurking just around the corner?
A genuine Christ-follower will probably ponder these questions and answer that Jesus did, in fact, warn us that we would have “trouble” (New International Version) and “tribulation” (King James version) in this world. (John 16:33) And this is a correct response. Of course, the opposing argument is that words like “trouble” and “tribulation” are not specific enough to give us any detailed picture of what to anticipate. We don’t just want to know that we will have trouble. We want to know what kind of trouble we will have and when it will happen. Another Christian might say that our “roadmap” is the Word of God because it “is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” in a dark, uncertain and unpredictable world. (Psalm 119:105) But these explanations and cliché catchphrases only go so far. Even in Christian circles, they are seen as empty, stale, vague, and overused. And so the original question still lingers: Why won’t God part the clouds and speak directly and personally in a loud, booming voice to every Christ-follower on the earth, warning them of their specific future afflictions? Surely that’s not too much to ask of a loving and all-powerful Savior.
Well, I think that one reason, perhaps, He abstains from doing so — as much as He may even want to — is because He is keenly, deeply and intimately aware of how much closer we draw to Him in our times of intense suffering. And it is that closeness — that desperate reliance and dependence on Him — which He so zealously longs for us to have. Many of us are far less likely to spend quality time in the arms of the Father when circumstances are going swimmingly. We may still attend church. We may still read our Bibles and pray. But it is in the midst of extreme suffering that our love for God — and even the very essence of our faith — is put to the test. (James 1:2-4) It is when we find ourselves on our hands and knees, beat down by life, at the end of our rope, and exhausted from the weight of our misery that we discover not only how rich and unfathomable and inexplicably “wonderful” (Job 42:3) is His love for us, but how much we love and need Him as well. The bonds of our relationship with Him are strengthened and deepened all the more.
Consider a husband and wife who have been married for several decades. They might say that they’ve “always been in love,” but this is nonsense. They may truly be in love now. But, they weren’t in love when they first met or when they first started dating. How could they have been? At those earliest stages, they wouldn’t have even known one another’s favorite foods. Moreover, it isn’t until a husband and wife encounter their first hardship or season of trials — which are sure to come — that their marriage will ultimately be tested. Will their love weather the approaching storm? Or will it throw in the towel and crumble under the weight of suffering? If indeed they have spent endless hours growing, learning and maturing together as a couple, then they certainly stand a better chance. The strongest of marriages are built on a love that is not merely limited to physical attraction or frivolous pursuits, but a love that is, instead, grounded in commitment in the midst of — and because of — the suffering and trials that have been endured.
I think that our relationship with God works in a similar way, though multiplied astronomically. If God were to just warn us of every future hardship — or eradicate suffering from our lives altogether — many of us would never come to experience the all-consuming and overwhelming love that is mutually shared between Creator and creation. (Not to mention the fact that our sin nature would cause us to take Him for granted more than we already do.) And this would probably result in us only saying that we love Him, rather than actually being in love with Him. To be in love with someone means, in part, that you have an intimate relationship with them, deep knowledge of them, and shared experiences with them — experiences such as moments of intense suffering.
Jesus suffered. So have you. And if you haven’t, you will. Jesus loved and was rejected. (Isaiah 53:3-5) My guess is that you’ve probably experienced that as well. I’ve done my best to write this entire piece without resorting to the cliché phrase “Love hurts,” but at some level, it’s true. The ups and downs of the beautiful journey of love can often be quite painful. But, the beauty and wonder of our relationship with God is that the “hurt” we endure in this world is really just one of the most perfect of avenues through which we can — and should — fall even more in love with Him and subsequently experience His love for us. We just have to be willing to embrace the relationship and take the plunge.