The Great Barrier Reef stretches some 1,800 miles from New Guinea to Australia. Tour guides regularly take visitors to view the reef. On one tour, the guide was asked an interesting question by a traveler. “I notice that they lagoon side of the reef looks pale and lifeless, while the ocean side is vibrant and colorful,” the traveler observed. “Why is this?”
The guide gave his educated answer, “The coral around the lagoon side is in still water, with no challenge for its survival. It dies early. The coral on the ocean side is constantly being tested by wind, waves, storms and surges of power. It has to fight for survival every day of its life. As it is challenged and tested, it changes and adapts. It grows healthy. It grows strong. And it reproduces.”
Then he added this telling note: “That’s the way it is with every living organism.”
“Consider if 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. (James 1:2-4)
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12 So death is at work in us, but life in you…16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 17-18)
Life is messy. It’s difficult and taxing seemingly more than it is wonderful and stress-free, wouldn’t you agree? At least that’s been my experience thus far. Granted, I haven’t had many terribly tragic events arise like some have, but I do know what it is to struggle in various ways.
Most of us who have lived long enough have witnessed or experienced firsthand tribulations that bring about suffering, whether spiritual, physical, mental or any combination of the three. There are those who cannot find employment, and are hard-pressed to feed their families. Some have to bury their young children. Others must toil through life-threatening diseases, and sometimes lose the ensuing battle.
Bottom line – life brings about hurt in some form or fashion, with varying severity. And most times, it doesn’t make sense.
Questions like “Why would God allow something so devastating to happen?” naturally enter in and can lead us down a winding path of bitterness. When these types of questions go unanswered (and many times they will) our faith in God grows weak because we cannot wrap our finite minds around the outcome we’ve grown so hostile toward.
This is the sad truth of the matter. We doubt what we cannot define, rather than genuinely trust that God is in control and that He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28-30). So often we fail to find anything “good” that offends our well-being and prosperity. After all, a good God would only give me that which I, in my fleeting passions, deem beneficial to my existence, right??? (In case you miss the sarcasm or don’t do well with rhetorical questions, the answer is, emphatically, NO!)
So what are we to do? Well, for starters, recognize that they are inevitable. Jesus stated in John 16:33 that “in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Or as the writer of Hebrews encourages, “run the race with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). To be succinct, buckle up (because hard times ARE coming) and keep your eyes on Jesus (because He will give you strength to keep going). We live in a fallen world that is prone to disastrous affairs; but take heart, God is a victorious Warrior who wants to impart His strength to us so that we may be prepared for battle.
After you settle into this reality, remember to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). This follows suit with the previous reference in Hebrews, as it encourages steadfast endurance. Difficulties in life can be a drag on our psyches, leading us to shut down rather than press on. How can one endure under the most trying circumstances? Fix your gaze on God and His eternal Kingdom. When we look past the here-and-now and see our current situations in the light of eternity, the bigness of the moment tends to fade a bit. That doesn’t mean we can’t hurt or emote our frustrations, but it does mean we are given the strength to rebound and turn our sadness to glorious joy, for we know that God is sovereign and over all things.
The world wants to deal us wounding blows and demoralize us with pain and suffering, but we who cling to the Lord can leverage these things for His glory and our good by the overcoming power of Christ in us. Reference the passage above. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). If we press into God and walk with Him, He will prepare us for the struggle and give us a strengthened trust in Him through the process. With every agonizing blow the world hurls at us, God is with us. He may not remove the pain, but His grace will sustain you through it.
I have seen some overwhelming tragedies befall families – the kind that leaves any and all within proximity speechless – and was able to witness the power of Jesus Christ on display as they endured the hardship. The situation didn’t get easier, but God, in their weakness, showed Himself stronger than any force the world might wield.
The same thing can happen for you. We all have our heartaches and pains. Many of us, right this instant, are dealing with real problems that have a tendency of deflating our will to keep going. Do not be dismayed, for there is a God in the heavens who loves and cares for you more deeply than you could ever imagine, who wishes to reveal Himself to you in a life-changing way. Trust Him in times of struggle and doubt, and He will give you unexplainable peace in the fiercest of storms.
We may never find the clarity we seek as we pose questions to God about our current sufferings. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe the best thing for us is not to be so entranced with the “why” of our crises, but rather be more concerned with giving God glory in the wreckage. I believe if we approach our pain with this mindset, we will find our faith in God stronger and will be more willing to trust that much more.
Suffering happens. Turn it for good.