There are certain times when the “Hallmark card” encouragements just don’t seem to cut it anymore. However well-intended they may be, Keep your head up! and Everything will be okay! and You’ve got this! can only go so far once we reach a certain level of heartbrokenness or pain.
When the cancer comes back, this time with a much worse prognosis, it’s easy to fall apart and question absolutely everything. Doesn’t God know that it took everything you had to beat it the first time? Sure it ended up strengthening your faith, but a second time? Really? If He allowed you to beat it already, why would He allow it to come back?
Or maybe you acknowledged that your marriage was in the ditch. You refocused your life and priorities on God and, by His grace, seemed to narrowly escape disaster. But now you’re heading to divorce court anyway. What are you supposed to think? What happened to God always being there for you? Didn’t the growth you found through the first crisis mean anything?
The testimony was already made– and it was a dang good one, too! You made it through the misery, the pain and emotion, and you came out on the other side– barely standing, but standing nonetheless, and ready to move onto happier pastures with veteran battle-strength. You had more hope than you ever had before, and it felt great.
But what room is there for hope when the disease comes back; when the very thing your testimony claimed victory over returns and gets the best of you this time?
It’s in these moments when even someone praying for you doesn’t seem to be much help. The problem doesn’t just vanish when you ask for God’s intervention. It often still takes way more time than you feel like you can endure. You feel like you’re in a ruthless boxing match taking uppercuts to the jaw with no idea when the bell will finally ring to end the round. And the prospect of a new round after that is so exhausting that all you want to do is throw in the towel and quit.
We often gain a whole new understanding of confusion, powerlessness, and hopelessness from these situations. We add a bunch of new adjectives to our description of God– some of them might include an explicative or two. And that’s assuming we’re not so shell-shocked and betrayed that we refuse to turn to Him again altogether.
God had His chance. You did what He asked you to do, but it wasn’t enough. Even if He is real, He failed and you can no longer trust Him to take care of you.
This is about when I would raise my hand and cautiously ask the lynchmob in your heart two questions:
- What are you expecting from God?
- What is the purpose of your life?
Jesus was killed by the religious elitists because He didn’t match their expectations of what He should have lived like, loved like, and taught like. He didn’t care about the things they wanted Him to care about. Instead of affirming and commending the accuracy of their own measuring sticks, He threatened their structure and their hierarchy. He told them their expectations were backwards– that it had very little to do with their own worldly success and everything to do with God being God and us… not. Prosperity is not only fleeting, but also a false testimony to God’s favor. It inevitably leads to the feeling that God somehow owes us something, whether it’s safety, comfort, security, or worst of all, a pain-free life.
For that group of religiously elite Pharisees and lawyers, the purpose of their lives had become this life rather than acknowledgment of God’s power and holiness. It was all about getting their own plans and pleasures affirmed and fulfilled. But Jesus lost their trust when He said that being wealthy and “needs-free” actually put them at a disadvantage when it comes to truly knowing God.
We are not so different, you know. Instead of our expectations and purpose being determined by what God was already willing to do so that we could find our way back to Him, we measure how much safety we have while living in a place dominated by corruption, selfishness, and obliviousness. We shove the proof of His profound love aside in order to focus on the unfortunate side effects of a broken, sinful world, which is ironically exactly what that profound love He showed for us is in the process of correcting. We throw tantrums and cry foul when we get muddy sometimes, forgetting that the world itself is made up of soil and water.
By the way, I’m talking to myself here as well. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve asked God why this place absolutely sucks sometimes, and why life is so violent and harsh.
But I’m reminded of this: Jesus not only promised us salvation, but also that He would restore this ridiculously backwards and twisted planet to what it was intended to be from the beginning. And I’m encouraged to see that this process has already started with Jesus’ resurrection. Besides, everything Jesus taught made the life we’re in seem like nothing but a metaphorical ticket booth line where we secure entry to the actual show.
We have a really hard time recognizing our vulnerability to a world that is easily interrupted by rude obnoxiousness, but also that the purpose of our life is not measured by this world. Where we stand or rank in the line doesn’t determine who gets a ticket. It’s understandable that we would struggle with that concept, since it’s all we see. But in those moments when hope in anything seems stupid, it’s important to remind ourselves that, while we may only see this world, it was never meant to be the show we’re waiting to see. Our hearts clearly have some feeling and knowledge of something higher. And it’s that world which our hope is meant for.
In the meantime, in our waiting, we have the opportunity to make the most of often-difficult and heartbreaking situations. We can do our best to follow Jesus’ teachings by loving God and others, and letting our entire lives be influenced by where that love takes us. But bad things are still going to happen. Depending on where you work or how closely you pay attention to the news, we are exposed to terrible things all the time, directly and indirectly. We have our own minor and major victories, but those don’t make us any less susceptible to minor and major tragedies.
More importantly, neither the tragedies nor the victories change anything about what God has already done for us, and what our future ultimately looks like. It doesn’t change His ability to take even the worst situations and bring inexplicable beauty from it (over time), which should still inspire us to pray and include Him in our pain. Even with our confusion and anger, nothing can change His love for us because it’s already been measured and proven through the gruesome price that He sent Jesus to pay– all so that He could be reconnected with us.
Things are very clearly not always what they were meant to be in this world. But the point is that the process to correct it has already begun. And no matter how we might hurt in the meantime, our future is still worthy of hope and celebration.