Ding. A text lit up my phone as I sat in a bookstore curled up with a devotional book. “Another seizure,” it read. I sighed, heart heavy. I knew what it meant. My friend was rushing her baby to the ER for the countless time. Another trauma for her. Another burden too heavy for her to bear. My heart ached, knowing from personal experience what she was likely facing for the day.
I quickly put my book back on the shelf. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but notice the bookstore shelves lined with popular American pastors touting themes of health, wealth and prosperity. Numerous books, all promoting the notion that God stands ready to give you a life free of hardships or pain. Like salt in a wound, their message irritated me deeply.
Later that same day came the news of a friend’s divorce. And news of another friend’s loss of job. And for another, a crippling diagnosis.
Sometimes life can be so heavy. There are hurting, struggling people everywhere. Ironically, my own sufferings have shown me the sufferings of others. It’s easy to recognize suffering in the lives of others when you’ve felt its sting too.
Everywhere you turn, Christians are eager to tell you that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We sing songs, write books and blogs and Facebook posts all centering around His wonderful plan for our lives. We buy things with Jeremiah 29:11 plastered on them and build a theology based on a god who only has wonderful things in store for our lives. And we slap on happy faces and pretend that all is good.
But what happens when you look around and His plan looks nothing like you ever imagined? What happens when it’s darker and scarier and more painful than you ever thought He’d allow? What happens when you cry out for Him to take a burden away and He doesn’t. What happens then?
Perhaps it’s in that darkness that one can easily see the dysfunction of a theology centered around God only offering good (insert “easy”) things. It’s in that darkness that you’re reminded of your dependence on Him and your inability to do anything to control the current situation. And perhaps that’s exactly where your faith learns the character of the true God.
Rest assured that in Christ, the disappointments and heartache in your life are indeed working good things for your soul. But they are eternal things. Things with weight. Things that matter. Things that fulfill your purpose on this earth- to bring glory to God.
We’ve been sold this lie of American Christianity for so long that we hardly know what it’s like to long for eternity. Instead, we long for present perfection. A friend recently put it this way when she said, “In America, we idolize normal.” We want things to be status quo and when they aren’t, we are often faced with a personal theological crisis.
Let me say with certainty that God does indeed love His people. And He certainly does have wonderful things planned for them. But when we take into account the whole of God’s Word, not just one line, we are able to see a more precise picture of a God who does not spare his loved ones pain, but rather grants us grace to endure and run the race. He sovereignly uses those trials to mold and shape us into exactly who He has intended us to be.
I love the honesty in older hymns. They seem to appropriately anticipate our earthly sufferings and yet promote future glory (heaven) in a way that doesn’t appear as much in our modern worship music. One of my favorite lines comes from a hymn entitled “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” by the 18th century poet and hymn writer, William Cowper, whose own life was marked with extreme hardship and severe mental illness. The line reads:
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.”
What a picture of the Lord’s glorious plan in our lives. The trials we are dreading will give way to showers of mercy. In the other lines of the hymn, Cowper reminds us that while we might look around and scan the sufferings of the world in vain, “God is his own interpreter” and He will one day make His plan known to us.
And so in remembering that the God of the Bible did not spare even His own Son from suffering and pain, be encouraged to know that all of this pain, your pain, is not in vain. And while our own wonderful plan for our lives might not come to fruition, we can rest assured that no matter the heartache and trials, His wonderful plan for our life is always coming true.