And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.
Think about that word for a moment.
I’ve read these verses seemingly innumerable times over the years. I’ve quoted them to friends and family members during times of hardship. I’ve called them to mind during confusing times in my own life. You could say that my theology is hugely influenced by these two texts. And for good reason, I think. These two passages make the claim that everything that happens in the life of a Christ-follower is meaningful. It’s all doing something. Piper’s explanation of this truth, found in the song “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane, comes to my mind here. Even this morning, I found myself explaining this beautiful truth to my students in Sunday School as we studied Psalm 91. The theme is clear all throughout Scripture: even when man cannot see what God is up to, God is still at work for his glory and for the good of man. This is hugely comforting.
But I don’t really believe it. Or, at least I don’t believe it as much as I thought I did.
I’m currently walking through one of the greatest trials of my personal life thus far. Without going into detail, and without throwing a pity party, suffice it to say that the confusion and hurt I’m wrestling with has literally driven me to tears. Anyone who knows me understands how big of a statement that is. I’m broken. I shift back and forth from feelings of deep sorrow and loss to feelings of bitterness and anger to feelings of confusion and fear. At times I feel like I’m completely past it only to have it reemerge with new waves of emotion. It’s not easy, and I’m not ok.
Yet in the midst of this time, I see God at work. Granted, I still don’t understand all that I see. I still find myself desiring, on some level, for things to be different. But nevertheless, I see God working. I recognize him growing me, challenging my idolatry and lethargy, stretching me beyond what is comfortable, calling me forward to higher joy, deeper love, and more intimate relationship with himself. I feel him purging me of all that is not truly me, the me that he designed me to be. I feel him molding me more into the image of his Son. I perceive that there truly is a purpose to this trial. Indeed, as James continues,
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.
This is where the discovery hit me: my confusion and fear and anger stem from a lack of faith in God’s sovereign design in my life. Though I know that God is in control and that everything I face is allowed by his perfect will, I also recognize how little I truly believed that until it was put to the test. I remember reading C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed in which he recounts his thoughts after the death of his wife. I remember reading about his observation of his faith being tested. He recognized that while God was indeed testing him, it was not for God’s sake, but for his own. Lewis had to be shown how delicate his faith actually was, and the severe trial did just that. The imagery of his “temple” being a mere “house of cards” was poignant, yet it was just theory to me until I felt the truth of it in my own life. My faith in God is weak. My heart is not as true as I believed it to be. My Christianity is not praiseworthy in terms of my own merit. Truly, I’m finding that my only boast is Christ.
And this is the beauty of the trial. This is a cause for joy in the depths of pain. This God, who knows my weakness and who knows my ignorant pride and who knows my lack of faith still loves me. This holy, sovereign Lord does indeed work all things together for good. He leads me to find joy in all things. Though I see my lack more clearly now than before, I also see his sufficiency that meets me in my weakness and that sanctifies my fickle heart.
I recognize that my situation is small in comparison to those of others I know. I don’t claim to know the deepest pain or loss. Again, I am weak. Even small woes are enough to shake me up. But thanks be to God that my Foundation remain unshaken. My hope remains sure even when I doubt it. My sanctification is constant even when I fight it. He is good. He is enough. Have faith.
“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”