There seems to be a persistent narrative within the church that everything is supposed to be fine and dandy after you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Is it true? I have heard so many stories of people surprised by how difficult life still is after they became a Christian.
The funny thing is Jesus never said that life becomes easier. He actually warned us of the difficulties that lie ahead because of knowing Jesus. That’s why he promised us the Comforter.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” [Jesus, in John 14:16]
Which begs the question — why would Jesus send us an Advocate or Comforter if we were to always be comfortable?
Jesus never promises an easy life. Jesus does promise a life that will have meaning, significance, power and purpose.
That means trials will come.
Our lives don’t gain power, purpose or significance by the avoidance of trials or by always seeking the easy way out or pursuing the life that provides the most comfort. No, our lives will have power because of the trials we’ve walked through and overcome.
There is precedent for this: Jacob being one. Jacob’s story is recorded in the book of Genesis. Most of the obstacles Jacob faced were due to his own choices. Yet God never abandoned him. Circumstances led Jacob to go back home where he would have to confront his older brother, Esau, who once threatened to kill Jacob (that’s because Jacob stole Esau’s birthright blessing). Jacob was absolutely terrified to face his past. On the eve of his reunion with Esau, Jacob lingered behind as his family got a head start. And the Bible tells us a man appeared and they wrestled until daybreak (totally normal). The man asked Jacob to let go and Jacob refused to let go until this man gave Jacob a blessing. The man then told Jacob that his name will no longer be “Jacob” but “Israel,” which means “struggled with God and with men and won” (Genesis 32:28). Struggling (and overcoming struggle) is embedded in the ethos of God’s people.
No one escapes life scot-free of loss; of troubles; of struggles; of pain. Perhaps this is where you find yourself this season. Maybe you’re finding yourself in the middle of the wilderness with no idea where to go and a growing sense of abandonment, hopelessness and helplessness.
Would it help to know that you’re not the only one to experience the vastness, the dryness or the loneliness of the wilderness? Many of the heroes and heroines of the Bible have experienced the wilderness--even Jesus.
Right after Jesus was baptized, Mark tells us that the Spirit forced Jesus into the wilderness. That’s right, “forced” (which I find comforting). Jesus didn’t schedule a trip into the wilderness. He didn’t purposefully go seeking out to be in the wilderness. It was forced upon him like it’s often forced upon us.
Who chooses to go into the wilderness? Who willingly volunteers to experience pain, loss, terror, tragedy, suffering, danger, etc.?
Yet, we can’t escape the barrenness of the wilderness. It forces its way onto us.
Like when we’re in the waiting room of a hospital offering prayers we have no way of knowing will be answered;
Like when receiving terrible news from the doctor;
Like when told that after a lifetime of service, we’re being let go;
Like when a relationship we’ve given everything to just... ends;
Like when our children consistently and constantly make the worst decisions;
Like when we have to parent our parents;
We rarely choose those options; they’re forced on us.
And then we begin to wonder where God is in all this. Does God cause these horrible things to happen to us? Does God want us to suffer?
There are Christians who teach that suffering is the only way — in the ‘if-you-ain’t-suffering-you-ain’t-doing-it-right’ type of way. They teach that God gives us pain and suffering for some greater cause only God can see because God won’t give you more than you can handle.
Maybe that does help you frame your pain. Maybe knowing that everything happens for a reason actually helps you through the healing process.
I, personally, have a hard time wrapping my mind around that line of thinking.
I am reminded of Romans 8:28: We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God.
I’ve never read that as “God causes the suffering in our lives but that God can redeem even the darkest of moments; that God can bring life into the most barren and unfruitful seasons of our lives.” Because, as King David writes: Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? (Psalm 139:7).
As cold, dark, lonely, dangerous and terrifying as the wilderness can be — God is there, too. God has not abandoned you in your moments of despair. Neither has God forgotten you. Even if God’s silence is deafening — it does not mean you’re forgotten and/or abandoned. God is with you, even though you feel like you’re hiking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
God is with you.
It’s worth noting that Mark tells us Jesus “was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him” while in the wilderness. There were dangerous things that could have harmed Jesus, yet there were also angels who took care of him. Wild animals may abound in your wilderness right now.
But so do angels.
We’re rarely left alone. We’re surrounded by a cloud of God’s witnesses and angels abound as well.
You’re not alone. God’s not the only one who walks with you.
May you remember that:
nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. [Romans 8:38-39]
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.
[Posted October 18, 2019]