One of the godliest men I know is scheduled to have open heart surgery on Wednesday. This current situation follows a number of other medical issues including eye problems, cancer, diabetes, and some mystery symptoms that remained undiagnosed for years. He’s followed the LORD faithfully for decades, serving his church and his family well. He could have been bitter, angry, or hardened at the fact that, in spite of his faithfulness, he hasn’t had much relief from difficulties. But he wasn’t. I talked with him yesterday, and he was full of joy, peace, and concern for others. Something changed how he viewed his circumstances.
It’s tempting to view such situations with confusion. When we enter a season of difficulty, we often respond with questions: What did I do wrong to get here? What can I do to fix this? Where is God? I think these responses are normal, and I’m not convinced they’re bad questions to ask. If our situation is the result of our sin, asking the first question begins the process of repentance. If God wants us to act in a situation, the second question can help us to discern the opportunities he’s given us. If we’re doubting God’s concern for us, the third question can begin our intentional remembering of truth.
The difficulty, however, is that these questions, specifically the first two, don’t always have easy answers. It could be that our situation isn’t due to any sin we’ve committed. It could be that there’s nothing we can do to fix it. And while we may know that God is in fact present with us even in the valley of the shadow of death, we may not feel him near us. Further, we may be tempted to consider our track record of faithfulness and wonder why God would repay our obedience with hardship. In such moments, doubts and fears can quickly arise, leading to bitterness or anger or distrust where faith should be.
Such seasons underscore an uncomfortable truth: we are never owed relief from troubles. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t give peace or rest or strength to us in this life. He absolutely does that. Yet God’s love is often shown by his grace in the midst of trials as well as in his deliverance from trials. In other words, while God often does keep us from difficulty, he also often sustains us through difficulties and uses them for good. Job bears witness to this truth, standing against any notion that good behavior warrants an untroubled life. No matter how strong our faith, how firm our convictions, how steadfast our endurance, troubles still come. Jesus himself promised them (John 16:33). In fact, the lives of God’s people may be especially filled with trouble, as Jesus’s own earthly life seems to suggest.
We do not warrant relief based on our behavior or faith. We can’t earn blessings from the LORD. But this is arguably a better state of affairs than the alternative. When trials come in the lives of God’s people, they reveal our foundations, showing our hope to be grounded in something more sure than our circumstances. Our weaknesses reveal God’s strength, our inabilities his sufficiency. He makes even our tragedies testimonies of mercy and grace, using what would undo us to grow us. Further, while we may not be owed temporary relief from troubles, we are freely given eternal relief because of Jesus, and we possess a peace that surpasses understanding in the midst of the hardships we face (Philippians 4:7). Because of Christ, we can face any situation with confidence, and this eternal reality transforms how we view these momentary difficulties and trials.
We need not face troubles with despair or hopelessness, be they heart surgery or loneliness or confusion or loss or stress. Instead, we can face them with joy, in hope that God is at work in us. And he is with us in every circumstance. He himself is our relief.