I haven’t read it yet, but I suspect I’ll find much to cheer in fellow blogger InsanityBytes’s post “God Can Even Make The Bad Things Fun.” I saw that title as I was rushing from my email in-box to WordPress to write my own post, this after reading a client’s Tweet, in which she said the planning part of novel writing is “both exciting and a bit torturous.”
Then there is the friend whose family member has made some bad choices and is undoubtedly destined to reap difficult consequences.
Of course I’ve got my own set of difficult things—mostly still learning what it means to love my neighbor. I’ve been frustrated of late (some might call it angry) about some things that have been happening in a place I love. I’ve wanted to confront, to meet with those in positions to make changes, to send emails.
I’ve prayed, and that’s when the anger seems to well up inside me. But I’m also memorizing a passage of Scripture—I Corinthians 13, also known as the Love Chapter. So I start to recite, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love …” That’s when the Holy Spirit grabs me by the throat and says, Do you see yourself in My mirror? I can barely choke out the next part, “. . . I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Believe me, the rest of the chapter is no easier.
But it’s a hard thing for me to love in this circumstance. I want to love nice people who are doing the right things with the right motives. Is it really necessary to love the pompous, the intractable, the selfish?
So for me, loving my neighbor is hard.
It’s hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, walk across the street, and talk to my real-life neighbors who I don’t know and have only recently had any contact with. Loving my neighbors also takes time and money, and that’s hard when work eats up so much time and yet the need to earn a living requires work.
But the thing about hard things is this: they force me to acknowledge my weaknesses, my need for God and His strength. They force me to depend on Him and not on my own understanding, my own skill, my own power, ability, or control over my circumstances.
Sometimes hard things are consequences of the sinful things I’ve done. But the thing about those hard things is that God uses them to bring me back to Himself. The Bible says the same about the judgments God brought on the nations. Time and time He said He judged the nations so that “they will know that I am the LORD.”
Ezekiel was one who said this with some frequency. Here’s one example:
“Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.” (Ez. 6:10
I could quote a dozen verses that are similar, but Ezekiel also prophesied about nations other than Judah. Take what he said to Moab for instance:
Thus I will execute judgments on Moab, and they will know that I am the LORD (Ex. 25:11
God’s purpose and God’s care for the nations are clear.
The thing about the hard things is also equally clear: God uses them to accomplish what He wants.
One more thing that’s important about the hard things: they are never out of God’s control. They don’t catch Him by surprise, they don’t foil His previous plans, they don’t slip in without His notice.
You might even say God does His best work with the hard things. Think about the cross of Christ, the ultimate hard thing. And what did God accomplish through that one hard thing? Simply the redemption of all who believe.
There are examples in Scripture of people who experienced God’s best as a result of enduring hard things. Think, Joseph and Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his friends, Stephen and Lazarus. Think also of examples of believers who lived after Bible times—martyrs of the faith down through the centuries, and others living closer to home, like the Christians in South Carolina who forgave the racist shooter who killed their brothers and sisters in the faith.
Peter said in his first letter, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” After you have suffered. After the hard things. Maybe because of the hard things.
Suffering isn’t the end. Consequences for sin aren’t the end. God’s purposes are greater, His plans bigger. He wants us to know that He is LORD, and to know Him is the highest, greatest good we could ever hope for.