I was raised in church by Christian parents. I grew up with a strong sense of God’s goodness and love. In addition to the numerous Bible stories, I also heard personal stories of friends and family testifying to God’s goodness… to His love for us… to his caring concern for our well being… and of Christ’s sacrificial love through which we may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
From early childhood, my faith in God’s loving goodness has been as natural as my faith in water being wet and sunlight being warm.
Yet, during the summer of 2000, I reached a point of faith crisis during which I questioned whether God really loved me.
I have learned my question is not unique. Many believers reach a point of questioning whether God really loves them, or whether God is really good, or whether God truly exists.
For me, the faith crises occurred as an abusive marriage spiraled toward divorce, following many years of praying and believing God would somehow heal that relationship. The crush of failure… coupled with the sorrow of relational loss… the pain of ongoing emotional abuse… the firm (though incorrect) belief that divorce was never the best choice… and the apparent lack of response to years of fervent prayers spoken from a heart of deep conviction and faith… led to this dark place of concluding God must not really love me.
For me, the faith crisis was short-lived. The Holy Spirit ministered to me, enabling me to cling to what truths I could latch onto as He continued to recall numerous scriptures to my mind, as well as personal evidence of God’s loving faithfulness. Over the next few months and years, God gave me a fresh understanding of what it means to rest in Him and trust His grace… as well as fresh insight on the biblical account of God’s interaction with mankind.
Although my story is personal to me, I want to try to share some of what I have learned in the hope it may help someone else with similar questions. This is a difficult topic for me to write about. Although it is rooted in the Biblical account, it has been fleshed out through deeply personal experience. Even as I try to explain, I am deeply aware my current position has less to do with knowing answers than it does with trusting God with my lack of understanding.
I know enough of the pain and sorrow of this world to understand nothing I say here can ever be enough. My word and my testimony will never be sufficient for explaining why someone else has had to endure the pain and sorrow they have born. Any scripture I quote is likely to come across as trite and hollow compared to the experiential devastation of one who has seen evil prosper to the very personal detriment of themselves and their loved ones, as they have clung tenaciously to the hope that God would surely sweep in and somehow rescue them.
Knowing that… I ask you to bear with me as I try to piece this together, prayerfully hoping God will somehow use my words as a catalyst in renewing your hope in Him.
You Are Not Alone
Although this may seem obvious, it bears repeating. That point of faith crisis feels incredibly lonely and isolated. Yet, it is quite common. In fact, I have come to view it as an almost crucial step of maturing in Christ. As the Holy Spirit guides us through, we learn to let go of our many assumptions about God, allowing Him to lead us closer to His heart… into deeper relationship with Himself.
The Biblical record is filled with stories of people clinging tenaciously to faith in God in the midst of evil circumstances. Most of the stories work out in such a way we are able to clearly see God’s hand from the beginning. However, it is important to recognize, in the middle of the crisis, they could not see the hope-filled ending.
I remember, during some of those dark years of an abusive marriage and subsequent divorce, several friends encouraged me to read the Psalms. However, they advised me to stick with the encouraging psalms and avoid the ones with a darker bent, where the psalmist pled with God for answers as to why evil is allowed to flourish. They especially advised me to avoid reading the book of Job, because it is just too depressing.
I found, however, that reading Job and similar stories of incredible suffering for no obvious reason and with no end in sight were exactly what I needed. I needed to feel their suffering… to know others have experienced similar circumstances… to acknowledge with Job, David, Solomon, Naomi and the many other biblical characters that even when life makes absolutely no sense to me, God is still in control and He still loves me.
Job suffered devastating sudden loss, yet continued to trust God’s goodness. Although Job’s friends implored him to search his heart and repent of whatever sin had led to such devastation, God rebuked the friends and confirmed Job as righteous before Him. Job was in right relationship with God, God loved Job, and God was in control. Yet Job suffered horrible losses.
Even more puzzling, the biblical record tells us God, Himself, brought Job to the attention of Satan, removed His protection from around Job, and invited Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life. Job was left to wonder why.
For the moment, I don’t want to explore the why of Job’s suffering… we will get to that later. For now, just soak up and absorb Job’s confusion, pain, sorrow and grief… while continuing to cling to faith in God’s goodness.
You are not alone!
Job is just one of many. Look at the story of Joseph. How his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery. Even as a slave, Joseph continued to serve and trust God. Yet, his integrity landed him in prison, falsely accused of attempted rape.
Consider Joseph sitting in prison wondering why he was there. His faithfulness to his father, Jacob, was rewarded by slavery. His faithfulness to his master, Potiphar, was rewarded by prison. His service to fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s steward and cook, had been fruitless.
Joseph was eventually freed from prison and placed in authority over all Egypt. Yet while languishing in prison, Joseph did not know that.
Consider Jacob, Joseph’s father. There were the many years of competing with his brother Esau for his father’s favor. There were the years of serving his Uncle Laban and being tricked into marrying the wrong girl. There was the deep sorrow of his beloved wife, Rachel, dying in childbirth. Yet all the sorrows of his dysfunctional family and marital losses paled in comparison to the loss of his beloved son, Joseph.
Jacob eventually learned Joseph was still alive and reunited with him. Yet, we must remember Jacob’s many years of grieving Joseph’s death, certain he would never again see Joseph in this life.
We could go on and on. In fact, I recommend spending time doing exactly that. It is important. We need to understand at a deep emotional level that we are not alone in our pain, sorrow, horror, grief, and unanswered questions.
You are not alone!
This is the first of a multi-part series on the topic of “When Evil Prospers.” Please join my next post as we discuss what it means to live as God’s image bearers in a broken world.