Pastoral Perspectives

Through What Lens

Why is it that trials can draw us closer to God or they can drive us away from God?

Many of us know sister Joanne who came down with lupus when she was only 19, a condition where her immune system, instead of protecting her, attacked her own body, and in her case, her kidneys. Eventually both her kidneys failed and up to this present day, she must undergo dialysis.

It wasn’t an easy journey at all. She had to contend with many medical complications, resulting in hospitalisation, needles and pain, both physical and emotional. She had her fair share of brushes with death.

Just when things seemed to be more stable, Joanne discovered she had CANCER! “Oh man!” someone would exclaim with a facepalm. It had been one ordeal after another. “How is it that God can allow such terrible things to happen to his beloved child?” “Is God going to give her a break?”

But Joanne remained steadfast to the Lord. She might have wondered why God didn’t answer her prayers, but she never doubted his existence. She might have lamented over God’s silence, but she never questioned his love.

In fact, she has written a book entitled “I have Lupus, I have grace” to testify of God’s faithfulness in her life – how he provided for her through every trial and comforted her in the darkest moments through his living Word and sure promises.

Most recently, her story was shared through an interview and a video production at an evangelistic outreach. (If you would like to watch it, let me know.)

I know of another person who complained that he was plagued by one health issue after another. He felt that God was unrelenting in putting him through such difficult trials. He hardly had time to recover from one illness before he was hit with another. It was as if God’s hand was so heavy upon him that he could hardly breathe.

Although God had resolved many of his health issues, he still could not bring himself to come back to church for worship.  Perhaps he was disappointed with God, maybe even angry with him, that things had turned out the way they did.

Why is it that one took her trials so well that she could use them to glorify God while the other took them so badly so that they become a stumbling block to his faith?

I think it boils down to this, “Am I looking at my circumstances through the lens of who God is, or am I looking at God through the lens of my present circumstances?”

If we believe that God is overall sovereign, overall powerful and overall good, then if certain unfortunate things happen to us, we should neither attribute it to bad luck nor think that God is too weak to intervene. 

We may not be able to fully wrap our heads around what God is doing but can we trust that his thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways are higher than our ways? He is an unfathomable God, so we only know him to the extent that he has revealed himself to us through his Word.

With things which we cannot understand, we should be humble enough not to raise our fists against God but to remember that God remains faithful, good and full of compassion. 

Do we have the confidence to say, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? Surely if God loves us so much to the extent of saving us at the cost of his Son, why would he then allow us to be destroyed by the bad things that have befallen us?

Even when he is silent, even when he does not live up to our expectations, even when he does not deliver us from our sticky situations, can we still trust him to be doing his mysterious work behind the scenes for our good and for the good of those around us?

If so, we are looking at our circumstances through the lens of who God is.

However, if we are looking at God through the lens of our circumstances, we will conclude that God is merely a figment of our imagination and that’s why he cannot deliver us from our plight.

Even if he does exist, he either doesn’t have the power to come to our rescue much as he’d like to, or maybe he is not that loving after all, so although he has the power to save us, he just doesn’t care.

It doesn’t help when we are at the same time disappointed and hurt by the people in church who have been insensitive towards our sufferings in the things they say or through the way they treat us, tantamount to hanging a millstone around our necks, knowingly or unknowingly, so that we are drowned in the sea of our sorrows.

Such disillusionment and despair can cause us to lose our faith and fall away from God. I guess Job’s wife belongs to this category of sufferers because she told Job to curse God and die! God was not worth worshipping anymore since things no longer made sense to her.

Which approach is more tenable? What lens should we be putting on?

I find that those who take the second approach are just digging a deeper hole for themselves to sink further into. Often, they have no hope at all. It is not like when they push God away, they are also able to push their troubles away. Their troubles persist and they have no one to take their burdens to.

The bible tells us the purpose of our sufferings, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:3-6)

Sufferings are part of what we will experience when we live in this fallen world. However, God is both loving and powerful, and he is able to work in and through our sufferings to bring about his good purposes in our lives.

If we ever doubt this, we just need to go back to the cross.

Jesus’ crucifixion was due to the sinful decisions and actions of various people – religious leaders, Judas, Pilate, Roman soldiers, etc. God did not intervene to stop his death even though everything done against him was so unjustified. Instead, he allowed it to happen and then on the third day raised Jesus from the dead so as to bring about something beautiful – the means of salvation for the world.

My friends,  I really hope that the next time you face a very challenging situation or perhaps you are in the midst of one right now, you will remember to look at your circumstances through the lens of who God is and what he has already done for you rather than look at God through the lens of your circumstances.