You may remember that in “The Potters right to transform the clay” I talked about three foundational truths about God; namely that He is completely Sovereign (He always wills what is best for us), He is infinitely wise (He always knows what is best for us), and He is perfect in love (He has the power to bring it about). The premise was that the implications of experiencing suffering would hit us on one or more of these things. At such times we begin to question whether God really is in Control, whether He knows what He is doing and whether He is really working for our good.
For me it has tended to be the latter which has been of particular struggle. I find myself rarely doubting that God is in control or wondering whether He knows what He is doing; after all does God not say “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ and “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). For the most part my previous post posed the question of whether God has the right to do what He pleases with our lives just as the potter has the right to refashion and remould the clay. Our family has been through a tough time but when I look back over the past year in particular I can see God’s goodness in abundance. The way that He has enabled Debbie to recover, return home and find her feet again has been quite remarkable. The fact that He enabled the rest of us (me especially) to manage in her absence and work through the sense of loss caused by her absence has been equally remarkable. Yet a poignant question remains; if these things hadn’t worked out this way would I still say that God is good?
In Isaiah 40:10-11 we see God’s Sovereignty and God’s goodness weaved together. “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” On the one hand God is described as the Sovereign Lord who comes in power and rules with a mighty arm. On the other hand He tends His flock like a shepherd fathering the lambs in his arms and carried them close to his heart. God’s Sovereignty and God’s goodness are both part of His character, indeed if you compare what Jesus says about the sparrows in the gospels (Matt 10:29-31 & Luke 12:6-7) you will see that Jesus says something very similar in each case. There is a distinct emphasis in Matthew on God’s Sovereignty (not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care) and in Luke on God’s love (not one of them is forgotten). Some might ask whether it is possible to have it both ways, i.e. can God be both Sovereign and yet be a God of love? Good question indeed but it seems that these passages take both truths as a given.
Many will be familiar with the poem, “Footprints in the sand” (by Mary Stevenson). In the poem Mary dreams a dream about walking along the beach with her Lord. Scenes flashed across the sky from her life and for each scene she saw two sets of footprints in the sand, hers and the Lord’s. She noticed that at many of the lowest and saddest times of her life there were only one set of footprints. She was troubled by this so she asked the Lord about this; “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.” In response the Lord whispered “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
How often have we looked upon a situation or circumstance and felt that God has abandoned us, rejected us, withdrawn from us and failed to live up to His promises? How often have we been in a place where we have questioned God’s love and His goodness in our lives? When we are questioning these foundational truths it is very hard to trust Him. One of the things I like about the footprints in the sand poem is that it reveals a completely different way of looking at things. There was another reality, a truer reality than the one that seemed initially evident. We do not have the full picture and many of our assumptions about what is ‘good’ do not necessarily take in that fuller perspective. God has not promised us a trouble-free life and we need to grasp the fact that He will go to great lengths to bring about good in our lives (plural) and to bring glory to Himself. So could it be that even in our darkest hour when it feels like there is only one set of footprints in the sand that in actual fact He is right there carrying us?
We find it all too easy to fall into the trap of evaluating our understanding of the Bible through the eyes of our experience but surely this is backwards thinking. Our foundation should surely be that which we know to be true of God as He is revealed to us through the Bible. There are plenty of examples of people throughout the Bible who testify to God’s goodness, faithfulness, presence, love, mercy and grace. What’s more those people are not sitting back like kings in their castles; no these are people who knew the reality of suffering first hand. These were people who experienced the reality of loss, disappointment, years of waiting, ill-health, suffering for their faith and much more. How incredible is that such people trusted God in spite of these things. Take a read of Hebrews 11 and see how the faith of these heroes of the faith grew amidst adversity.
We will almost certainly struggle to believe that God loves us during the difficult times and I can certainly testify to that. The challenge however is to engage with that struggle without allowing it to overwhelm us. We must start with what we know to be true. So if God has promised to ‘never leave us or forsake us’ (Deuteronomy 31:6) and He has faithfully done so through the generations, then we can count on the fact that He will do the same for us. It may not feel like this is the case, in fact it might feel like the opposite is true. Could it not be however that there is another perspective, another explanation, a more compassionate view? The air we breathe, the lives we live, are gifts of God. It is only because of His mercy that we DON’T get what we DO deserve and only because of His grace that we DO get what we DON’T deserve. God is not alien to our sufferings for He is the ‘Suffering God’ who stepped into our world, experienced our pain, our loss, our disappointment and ultimately bore our sin in His body on the cross. He is able to sympathise with our weaknesses, He has been tempted in every way and so we are encouraged to “ …approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
God loves you and He loves me. In fact the Bible says that God doesn’t just love us but that He is love (I John 4:8). John in his letter goes on in the next verse to say that “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).” We do not deserve God’s love and we have no claim upon it. We need to go back to the cross. I find the words of Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God most helpful on this; “If God loved me enough to give His Son to die for me when I was His enemy, surely He loves me enough to care for me now that I am His child. Having loved me to the ultimate extent at the cross, He cannot possibly fail to love me in my times of adversity.”
Jesus said “Know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). I implore you to allow your perspective to be shaped by the truth. God loves us more than we could ever comprehend and He is always working for our good. It won’t always feel like it but it is true none-the-less. Will you trust Him today?