Try as I might, I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. I’d always spent some time praying for the persecuted church, and would often be encouraged reading stories of courageous believers in other countries, standing for Christ.
Now, however, all I could think of was the words of the seeker I had been witnessing to. Steve had said, “If your God is so great, why does He let His followers suffer so awfully in other countries? How can I trust a God who lets terrible things happen to people who love Him?”
The next day, as I read a magazine article about the persecuted church, I found myself asking God “why.” Why do You let this happen? I don’t think any of us can honestly look at the absolutely horrific persecution suffered by many of our brothers and sisters around the world, and really understand why God allows something so awful to occur.
Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you…. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18, 20). Just as evil people of the 1st-century world hated and persecuted Jesus for seemingly no good reason, so too does this happen to God’s children all around the world. There may be no clear-cut, logical answer to the question, “Why, Lord?” but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work, behind the scenes and in the lives of those going through the hardships we are struggling to comprehend.
Here in the West, Christian persecution may be something we only read about in faraway lands for now, but we still have our own challenges and burdens to bear. We may find ourselves asking why for different issues. Why did God allow that family’s baby to die only a few hours after birth? Why did God allow that sister in Christ to be raped and become pregnant?
As we stand on the outside of horrible situations, we don’t see the long-term outcomes God is working out, and we don’t see the outpouring of His love, His grace, and His peace in the lives of His people that He’s walking through these situations. Not everyone who was offended when our sister bore a child after a rape, stuck around long enough to walk around the corner, and catch that sweet little girl dancing around singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
God doesn’t just use pleasant things, but all things, for His good (Romans 8:28). We just can’t always recognize the good while looking at tragedy.
This year has been a year of financial hardship for so many people, and it has caused me to relive some memories of a few years ago, when we suffered a pay cut by nearly two-thirds of our normal income. Because I had walked this road before, I was trying to offer some encouragement to others in the thick of dealing with pay-cuts and lay-offs.
My encouragement wasn’t of the “don’t worry; things will get better” variety, as our own income hasn’t recovered since that day eight years ago. Nor was I offering my own variation on “10 easy steps to prosperity.” Instead, I was trying to encourage my friends and sisters in Christ that God can work in our lives even through the unpleasantness of a large pay-cut.
As I tried to encourage Michelle, whose family was dealing with job lay-offs and downsizing, she confessed something to me. Michelle admitted,
I could never understand why God did that to your family, allowing such a drastic pay-cut. I was actually pretty mad at God over that one issue for a while, and had a real struggle with trusting Him with my finances when I saw what happened to you guys.
I feel ashamed for telling you this, but we actually stopped tithing for a while, because I looked at what happened to your family and thought, what’s the point? You and Martin were always so generous and ready to help to others, and it seemed so unfair. I kept asking God why, and complaining to Him about how unjust I thought that whole situation was.
I didn’t know what to say in response to this enlightening confession, because she had never let on until now. We had unsaved family members, who already thought we were crazy for tithing and giving, now mocking us and our God when all of this happened, which made me cry out all the more to God. I never realized that this situation could have also been a stumbling block for some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Perhaps the reason why hard circumstances in a Christian’s life are such a difficult thing for us to reconcile in our minds is because, deep down, we trust in formulas more than we trust in the Lord. We like to break real-life situations down into easy-to-manage equations.
When we look at someone who has been faithful and obedient in all of the right areas, but gets what we believe to be “the wrong answer” on the other side of the equation, it rattles our trust, because we are only looking at immediate, tangible outcomes. We are trusting in our own interpretation of these formulas for success. There’s a certain apparent inequity when hard times or tragic situations happen to people who have been living faithful, godly lives.
As a result, even our obedience to the God of Heaven may become pragmatic. We tithe, but only because we want God to pour out a financial blessing on us, not because He’s the God of Heaven who owns it all anyway. When we aren’t blessed according to our expectations, we stop, reasoning that tithing didn’t work. Many wives submit to their husbands only because we want God to change him, and when he doesn’t turn into Prince Charming within our time-frame, we may be tempted to reason, “Why bother? That submission stuff apparently didn’t work.” Many of us may serve God faithfully, but only because we expect a reward for our faithfulness. We want to have a safe and secure life, with no bumps in the road we are walking down.
In our case, we applied what we’ve always been taught about the so-called formula for financial success. We tithed off of the first fruits of each paycheck. We sought to obey the various Bible principles of money management. We gave to those in need. We supported missions. However, we still found ourselves with a tremendous pay-cut. Why God? Where’s that blessing we were promised so many times in Your Word?
What no one else saw, at least not at first, was the marvelous way in which God used these very unpleasant circumstances to grow everyone in our family to be more like Him. Perhaps only my family and I truly know the hidden blessings that came by seeing God teach us to gather the manna He sent to us one day at a time, when we could no longer trust in our weekly paycheck. When we were not in such desperate need, we didn’t notice the little blessings and small provisions God sent along, as much as we did when paying the mortgage depended on it.
As they have begun struggling in the same area, Michelle and her family have started to see God as their provider much more clearly through their reduced income, as we have.
God gives us the grace to deal with our situations and the circumstances He sends into our lives. We don’t always have the grace to deal with each and every burden being borne by those we cross paths with. God hasn’t yet called me to suffer physical persecution like my brothers and sisters in Christ in other lands. God hasn’t asked me to carry other loads that others have been called to carry, and God hasn’t called others to carry the same burdens He’s asked me to carry as I walk with Him.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27). The world’s idea of peace is to have the absence of trouble or turmoil in our lives. But God’s peace is not like that.
Until I experienced the turmoil of hard times in my own life, I really didn’t fully know the kind of peace God gives to us as believers. I’m able to honestly say that I’m thankful for the hard times, because those hard times have allowed me to experience God’s peace much more deeply than I ever had before.
Copyright 2010 Kimberly Eddy. All rights reserved.