Please understand that it is not my intention to seem harsh or offensive by the conclusions of this article. I genuinely struggle with these concepts myself, so I am writing to myself just as much as I write to others.
Current cultures of luxury and excess have rebranded Christianity to be a worldly pursuit of security and an expectation of safety. The test we administer to decide whether we have God’s favor is whether or not we seem protected from the world’s Godlessness. Argue all you want with me on that, but one of the main reasons people reject the invitation to believe in God is because of all the pain and suffering around us. They don’t feel well cared-for, therefore God can’t exist.
There are enough scriptures slewn throughout the Bible to uphold a loose theory that God will protect us, but we cannot read too carefully if we want to maintain that perspective. In between those fluffy verses of prosperity and comfort are verses that threaten everything we hold dear.
We tend to skip over where Jesus demands that anyone looking to follow Him must willingly pick up and embrace the most horrific and feared tool of torture the world had yet seen, so that we can get to the part where Jesus talks about receiving anything we ask for in His name. We skip over Jesus’ promise that the world will hate us simply because we know Him so that we can get to the part where He calls us friends, or where He shows gracious mercy to an adulteress and a criminal.
But even then, as tightly as we cling to those feel-good verses, terrible things still happen to nice people, even people with faith; and prosperity still finds the wicked. Cancer, stillborns, rape, earthquakes, and countless other heartbreaking possibilities still plague us with seemingly no rhyme or reason.
At times, brokenness is not nearly as difficult to accept in this world as God’s will is. We immediately tell ourselves that God’s will would never involve us being hurt, mistreated, or possibly even killed. If He’s a good and loving God, then He wouldn’t allow such things.
But clearly He does.
It may not be His active will for us to be victimized by Godlessness. I can really only hope that much of our hardships are the result of God’s passive will, where He doesn’t cause the trauma directly but rather only allows Satan to terrorize us. I say “hope” because when it comes down it, no one knows for sure who is responsible for what. It’s part of the mystery and will remain so.
Just like God may not always provide blessings, it’s naive to think Satan is only out to make our lives miserable. Satan surely enjoys just as much success in keeping us apart from God by giving us blessings. How else can we explain idolatry?
You know that pleasant and encouraging verse in Jeremiah about God having a plan for each of us– to prosper us and never harm us? Yeah… that one was just as well-known by the hundreds of thousands of Christians who were slaughtered by Cesar Nero during the first century as it is today. As those believers were being fed to lions inside the sporting arenas of Rome, many were likely reciting Deuteronomy, reminding themselves that God would never leave them nor forsake them. So needless to say, there seems to have always been a massive disconnect between our idea of a good plan and God’s.
It’s a tough idea to accept, but if God reigns supreme, then He must be the One who allows Satan to have temporary dominion over the world He created. That means the most horrendous atrocities we endure may be initiated by Satan, but they are ultimately foreknown and allowed by God. He would not truly reign supreme if He didn’t. He could step in to prevent them, but He doesn’t always do so.
This gives zero comfort to those who mourn. I understand that. I’ve been there myself. It’s easy to be offended by the thought that God allowed my dad to get cancer and die. The woman who was impregnated from a violent rape would surely burn with rage to think that God was okay with her experiencing such pain.
But our offense to our own misfortunes reveal the bigger issue in our hearts that desperately needs to be addressed.
What should our ultimate goal be? To be comfortable and pain free? Or to testify to God’s glory?
When we get offended that God doesn’t keep us from being hurt, what we communicate is the expectation that God’s ultimate purpose should be to make us happy and keep us safe.
His ultimate goal is to be glorified through His creation. The proof? His number one commandment for us is to love Him. His second commandment is to love others, but as Jesus explains, this second commandment “is like the first,” meaning that our loving of others is actually an illustration of our love for God. We love Him first, and we love Him second (through loving others).
It’s about God. Comfort and happiness exist, but they are not God’s ultimate goal for us. Does He desire for us to be wealthy? Some of us, sure. But He also desires others to be poor. Does He want us to be successful? Of course. But it’s all for His sake… not our own happiness. I think we would all be a bit disappointed by God’s definition of worldly success. And we have each already been disappointed by His definition of goodness. Because it’s by His definition that He is good… not ours, which lacks eternal perspective.
God loves us, absolutely. But I would argue that He loves us as an example of His second commandment to us: He loves us as a way of showing love for Himself.
Harsh– yes, I know. It’s somewhat depressing and rudely degrading to think about the God we so heavily rely on essentially being a narcissist. But then again, He is GOD. To not be okay with that characteristic of God is to say He is not worthy of Himself.
Call me crazy, but I don’t picture God having a lack of self-esteem.
I think Western Christianity has relisted “prosperity of mankind” dangerously high on God’s priority list. We’ve promoted ourselves to be only slightly less important than our Creator, when in reality, we could not be any less worthy to be remotely affiliated with His name.
But this is ironically where beauty returns to the picture. We are unworthy to be mentioned in the same breath with Him, but He chose to put His Spirit in us and live inside us.
God’s purpose is not to cater to our needs, but He still chooses to at times. For His own sake, maybe, but the fact remains.
The same God who created the universe gives us access to speak to Him. And that’s the same God who sacrificed His Son so that we could be purified and brought into His paradise kingdom as a vessel of neverending worship of Him. For me, that perspective leads to an entirely new level of worship, fear, and awe… even when terrible things happen.
Job reached a point when he worshiped God despite his trials. He stopped asking why he was hurting, and what he had done to deserve the pain. He invited God to come in closer than ever before. And just like He has for me, God turned the terrible heartbreaks of Job’s life into amazing blessings, even by our worldly standards.