I’ve been a believer for virtually my entire life. And, in that span of time, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of exceedingly wonderful and heartbreaking-ly horrible experiences. It easy to reflect on the good times. It’s not so easy to dig deep and wrestle with the difficult times.
In addition to experiencing my own share of difficulties, I’ve witnessed others going through them too: inability to get pregnant, loss of a friendship, devastating diagnosis, rebellious teenagers, sick parents, and more. These situations all bring their own challenges. They all have their own set of emotions. And in the midst of these emotions, I have asked and have heard others ask variations of the same three questions.
They are the wrong questions:
1. Does this mean God doesn’t love me?
We imagine God to be a fickle, fair-weather, flavor-of-the-day deity. We think, when things are going well, that it must be because he loves us. Then, when things go bad, we begin to imagine that he’s changed his mind or maybe he was just mistaken about us in the first place.
2. Is that because of something I’ve done?
We can be tempted to view God as a cop who is waiting to catch us doing something bad so he can slap us with a ticket and a big penalty. When difficult times strike, one of our first reflexes is to review our behavior to see if something we did prompted God’s punishment.
3. If I’ll just ___ more, it’ll all go away?
We approach God like we believe he’s a genie. If we simply pray enough, read our Bibles enough, fast enough, do enough good deeds, then we won’t face difficulties. Or, if we are in difficult times, those good deeds might just be enough to tip the scales of divine favor back into our advantage.
Here are three better questions to ask during difficult times:
1. Am I going through this situation precisely because God loves me?
The Bible teaches us that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that nothing can separate us from his love for us (Romans 8: 35-39). God does allow us to go through difficulties as a form of discipline. He can do so precisely because he is a loving Father who knows and wants what is best for us (Hebrews 12:7-11). Whatever the situation might be, God loves us. He’s not going to take away his love. And, he can use what we’re facing to help us grow, reaffirming his love over and over.
2. How is God’s glory going to be shown through this?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of an encounter between Jesus and a man who was born blind. Skeptics, in an attempt to trap Jesus, asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2). They had bought into the theory that hardship—in this case, blindness—is the direct result of sin. I love Jesus’ answer because he obliterates that perspective. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned … but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” (John 9:3). The struggles we face are precisely the situations in which God’s glory shines most brightly.
3. How can I be more surrendered to and trusting of God?
Difficulties can crush us. They have the tendency to strip away all we cling to: our security, our reputation, our health, our sense of self. And, there’s no amount of spiritual or moral striving we can do that will merit God’s goodness and intervention. God is good because it is his nature. He intervenes in his creation because he loves us. The key isn’t in striving but in surrender. Not in self promotion but in humility. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). And, we cease our striving and learn to surrender and trust, we find out that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).
If you’re in the eye of the storm, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, be sure to ask the right questions.