“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:31
Within the past week I have witnessed or become aware of terrible suffering in the lives of Christian men and women that would seem to call into question the truth of this verse from the hand of the “weeping prophet, Jeremiah. And that is just this week; it does not take into account a life time of accumulating numerous life stories which do not appear to correlate with this promise, if indeed it is universal in its application to all believers. This is the favorite and/or life verse of many who claim the Bible as their authority in faith and in life. But once an encouragement to your faith in the past, when seemingly inexplicable suffering falls on you or on those you love, how do you reconcile this declaration of the Lord with those horribly painful and wrenching realities? In fact, the problem of reconciling promises such as this with the evident pain and suffering in the world is the primary stumbling block of those who doubt and will not believe because of it; or, those who having once professed faith have become angry with God in the midst of suffering and loss from which they or theirs were not protected.
Though this promise was declared to God’s people Israel at a specific time in their history, it is not inconsistent with numerous promises throughout the Bible for the people of God in all generations; like the promise in Hebrews 13: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Or, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Still, how do we reconcile such promises with suffering that is certainly not what we would rationally consider “prospering, and which can hardly be construed as anything other than grievous “harm to ourselves or those we love. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit saw fit to include the story of the suffering of Job in the Bible to aid our understanding of “what God is about in these things that provoke the cry from deep within: WHY GOD, WHY? Still, Job saw his answer, a doubled restoration, and the renewal of prosperity in this life! Many others die with no real clarity of God’s purposes in the suffering that accompanied them to the grave. Of course, it is those of us who remain who wonder why; not those who have passed over into eternity. Their eyes are now clear and they see as they have never seen before.
Our problems, questions, and consternation with God’s providence and plans arise primarily from myopic vision in two areas: (1) We fail to see beyond this world to what lies “over Jordan and consequently view this world in that light (or rather, darkness); and (2) we fail to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, to understand what God is about in our lives now. The London Times once asked various writers for essays on the topic “What’s Wrong with the World? G.K. Chesterton’s contribution was perhaps the shortest essay in history.
G. K. Chesterton
Our questions and struggles with God’s providential turns and agonizing surprises in our lives and in the lives of those we love, needs to seek solution in examining our own shortsightedness, not questioning God’s faithfulness. Such is actually our default vision: shortsightedness! We fall back into it at seemingly every bump in the road. We are so conformed to this world we interpret everything in it without the lenses of eternity. And furthermore, our vision is blurry looking at suffering and pain until we focus it the only way possible: fixing our eyes on Jesus. Suffering can neither be grasped nor overcome without intently studying the Savior. Apart from these two corrective measures to our shortsightedness, the promise in Jeremiah makes no sense. Properly understood, we can’t do without it.
“Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken; Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet I am not forsaken; My Father’s care is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all
(4th verse of Samuel Rodigast’s hymn, “Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, 1675)
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