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Three important lessons from wrestling with God
Desire, ask, believe, receive.
--Stella Terrill Mann
I know many Christians who rarely talk about their faith. They prefer to serve God as living examples and are the folks who dig right in and help those around them with immense generosity. If you asked them, they’d tell you they feel greatly loved by God and want to pass that love on in tangible ways. They believe that “lifestyle evangelism,” based on a long-term approach to relationship building, is the best way to share their faith. And while living the Christian life can be terribly complex, the equation to lifestyle evangelism is wonderfully simple: Live your faith. Walk the talk.
Even those of us who are willing to discuss our experiences with faith will readily admit that much of life is difficult to manage and understand. It is invigorating to talk about God’s love and sacrifice, but stressful when an issue is introduced where there is no easy answer and circumstances seem horribly unfair. It is for these reasons that we frequently avoid personal evangelism.
I experienced one of those moments this week when a young friend and I stopped to remember a mutual friend of ours who is suffering from a life-threatening disease. Just as I feared, he posed the vary question I’m struggling with:
Why has God allowed disease to alter the life of our friend?
Ouch. It makes even the strong at heart and long in faith go running for the hills. I’m sure I took on that “deer in the headlights” look until I realized it was time to tell the story of my friend Rich, who left behind a wife, 4 youngsters, a loving extended family, and a host of friends and patients. Rich was a talented family practice physician who loved his patients beyond the front door of his office. He told everyone who would listen that God loved then with a depth that extends into eternity, as evidenced through Christ. He was also a man who profoundly suffered nearly 2 years from the effects of a brain tumor before passing on.
I wrestled with God during that time, struggling with Rich’s suffering and what seemed like a completely senseless situation. I read and prayed. I talked with Christian friends I admire. Through these inquiries God taught me three things.
First, God answers us when we are ready and able to listen. This means we will not be given stock answers; that would be disrespectful. Likewise, if what we need to learn is beyond what we can emotionally or spiritually manage at the moment, God will provide us with faith-strengthening experiences until the time is right.
Second, we must never assume that bad situations or personal suffering are forms of divine punishment. We may suffer and it may not be our fault.
Third, we must accept the fact that discomfort, questions, and doubt are a part of everyday life. Yet, we fight it, don’t we! We attempt to remove the worry and the pain. We self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, gambling and sex. We lose ourselves in TV or online. We run from relationships when things get tough. But challenge is a realistic part of every day. That is why God draws near.
Facing tough questions is a sign of growth. And God needs no defenders or pat answer providers. He does ask that we extend our hearts and routines to care for those around us. He does ask that we sacrifice at moments to help others.
It seems God allows our hearts to cry out in anguish so we will draw close to Him, experience His unique love, and set a new course for eternity. Such testing is difficult, but the gift is a closer bond with God and a deeper, more significant life—- now and forever.