When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in the Old Testament account, they put his life in danger and brought incredible pain into their father Jacob’s life. In the years that followed Joseph was slandered, imprisoned and abandoned, but God preserved him as a part of a bigger plan. Later, after Joseph was reunited with his brothers, their father Jacob died. His brothers were afraid Joseph would repay them for their evil so they fabricated a will from their father pleading for forgiveness. Joseph put their minds at ease with this response: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV) Yes, God’s reasons trump the Prince’s purposes every time. (Yesterday’s post)
But God’s preeminence over circumstances only poses a familiar dilemma. If His power is absolute, then why doesn’t He strategically position our trials so we have time to recover from one to the next? Would it be too much to ask Him to set age limits on suffering, so our children have time to enjoy life before they are struck down by disease or some thoughtless act of violence? In the interest of timing, perhaps the young single mother could be spared until her children are raised, or the husband until he has lovingly nursed his wife of fifty-five years through the despicable valley of Alzheimer’s.
I realize, were we to have our way each time we cried, “Why now?” we would do away with trials altogether. Before long, ordinary events such as dental work, car repairs, power outages and even the door-to-door salesman who interrupts our family meal would be eliminated.
“Great!” you say. “Would it really matter in the whole scheme of things if these unwelcome quests disappeared?” Perhaps it would not. But how would we know? And what kind of people would we be if God shielded us from the uncertainties of life. Could we endure the greater struggles if we escaped the lesser?
Such a proposition would also bring us to a theological dead-end since the abolition of all trials would require human perfection. Since the Bible tells us all have sinned, and inasmuch as many of our sins bring pain into the lives of others, trials are inevitable. Our only possible deferment would be for God to set limits. He could merely allow just enough suffering in our lives to satisfy His design of mankind’s free will, but only permit it at a time of our choosing.
One might say, “But He does set limits! He will only allow me to suffer what He thinks I can endure.” Really? And where does God make such a promise? He does tell us He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). But this doesn’t mean we will be spared pain in the process. It also doesn’t exclude the possibility we might die as a result of our convictions.
The only Biblical limit on suffering we are given is that God will give us everything we need to resist sin. This is true even if our faithfulness takes us down a path of immeasurable pain. Therefore, since it is not within our power to control the actions of others, and since we have no guarantee of God’s timing, we have no choice but to trust Him with circumstances as they unfold in our lives.
I personally assume some events are His doing, and others have been permitted. I am also convinced He can bring good out of the evil others do, including my own sin. It is possible my circumstances will overwhelm me, and even with God’s power working in me I might break under the pressure. Yet, God will not abandon me in my hour of need, and even if His comfort comes in the form of attending angels as I breathe my last, He will give me everything required.
I tremble when I think on such things, but I don’t lose heart. The Lord I live for is the same One I suffer with, and the One in whose presence I live now and forever. I have no definitive answer for the questions of “Why me?” and “Why now?” but God’s wisdom and faithfulness sustain me.
How do you handle bad timing in your life? Do you have a tendency to compare your circumstances to those of others?
Dear God, help me survive the hard times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.