One of the most difficult questions asked by believers and non-believers both is, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Or the same question in one of its many variations: “Why does He allow pain and tragedy in our lives?” “Why do young and or innocent people die?” “Why does He allow divorce? separation? illness? accidents? poverty? hunger? malnutrition? child abuse? spousal abuse? Why? Why? Why?” I must admit, I am right there with them, asking the same questions. I’m not a Biblical Theologian but with a little help from my pastor and a few other sources, maybe I can help with this question, maybe.
I remember sitting in a Youth Group meeting the Monday evening after September 11, 2001. There were at least 10 teenagers there, including 2 of my own. We were all sitting there, no one was in the mood for the silly games and playful antics that so often filled the first half of our meetings. Most of us, the teens especially, were still numb and in shock from the happenings of a few days before. Our leader, Debbi, made the decision we should just all sit and the leaders, myself included, would answer any questions the teens had to the best of our ability. The problem was, when the teens asked why God had allowed this tragedy to happen, none of us could sufficiently answer the question. It has been a question that has haunted me ever since.
Last month the pastor of our church started a series in James. He has entitled it, “Wise Up” calling the Book of James the Book of Proverbs of the New Testament. If I remember correctly, James is one of the first books of the New Testament I read straight through after my divorce. I read it straight through because of James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. So when this new series was announced I was very excited. I love the book of James and consider James 1:2-4 to be my “life verse.” Is that sad? A verse about trials and hardships as my life verse. Oh boy.
Another verse I love is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is familiar to a lot of people, even quite a few non-Christians: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Both these verses speak volumes to my heart. But they speak even more when you read them in context, not just as isolated verses. If you read them in context you understand more of what the Lord is trying to tell us here. So let’s step back to Jeremiah 29:11 but this time I am going to quote through verse 14: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Doesn’t reading this verse in context give it more flavor, more dimension? This was a message God sent to His people after being taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. He was telling them that there would be an end to their exile, in 70 years. He was telling them to disregard the false prophets telling them this exile would be short. He was telling them to build homes and families and to seek peace and prosperity in the land to which they had been exiled. God had a plan and a purpose for a 70 year exile. He wanted His people to know that it would be 70 years before they went home but He would watch over them and make them thrive in the meantime. As the Babylonians came and took the people of Judah into captivity many people asked why. Those who resisted, those who fought against the Babylonians are the ones who refused to listen to Jeremiah when he explained.
Where am I going with this? What does Jeremiah have to do with James? Well, six weeks ago our pastor explained it this way, “Whenever a trial comes into your life it always brings you the potential for something good.” (italics mine) He also said, “That something good is the opportunity for our faith to grow up.” Read James 1:2-4 in context: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass way like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James promises us that if we practice joy through our trials, if we hold steadfast to our faith and look to the future outcome that we will be blessed with the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. Our Christian faith will blossom and mature. We may never completely understand why we are going through the trials of our lives, for God’s ways are higher than ours. But the trials in our lives will always bring us the potential for something good. We just need to trust God and hold fast to His promises.
I have another little note here. Trails are not messes. Trails are not something we create with our messy thinking and poor decisions. Trials are things that are out of our control. If we crash the car because we were speeding, that’s a mess. If a drunk driver crashes into us as we are driving down the street, that’s a trial (for us, not the drunk). If you lose your home because of bad financial decisions, that’s a mess. If a tornado comes and rips your home off its foundations, that’s a trial. If we make a mess in our life we need to confess it and ask for forgiveness. If we encounter a trial we need to face it with joy, no matter how hard that is. God never said it would be easy, just possible with Him at your side. Here’s a tip: practice giving thanks when faced with a trial. The word gratitude is derived from the word grace and a person who practices gratitude is filled with grace. It will be difficult but I will attempt to face any future trials in my life with grace.
Wishing you joy and peace in your life.