The funeral service for my friend had just ended, and I was standing with his family, waiting for the casket to be loaded in the hearse. I noticed my friend’s daughter seemed to be struggling emotionally. Funerals are difficult enough, but funerals for a father can be especially hard. I eased over beside her, leaned in, and whispered, “Are you OK?” Her response hit me like a baseball bat.
She raised her eyes to me- eyes filled with anger and hurt. Then she said, with raised voice, “No, preacher, I’m not OK. I’m angry. How could God let this happen? I thought you said God was good. Is this what God calls good?”
If you’ve walked in this woman’s shoes, you can understand her pain and anger. But as I’ve had time to process her response, I’ve realized that although losing someone is never easy, not everyone reacts to loss in such strong terms. Life has a never ending variety of challenges that we face, and the way we react to them is a function of how we interpret them.
How do you interpret the challenges that life throws at you? Asked another way: how do you explain why you face challenges, and what is the purpose (if there really is one) of the challenges you face?
Assuming that you are a person of faith, how you answer these questions will depend on who you perceive God to be and what His motives are. Take my friend’s daughter for example. She interpreted her father’s death as evidence that God is not good, and that God probably doesn’t care. God’s reputation as being good depended on whether or not her life flowed smoothly.
The time to evaluate our perspective of life’s challenges is not in the midst of a crisis, but in the lulls in between. Let me offer you a couple of suggestions that can help provide a balanced interpretation of the difficult circumstances in life.
First, it is a mistake to come to a conclusion about God’s character by judging it against your life’s circumstances. God is good, and His goodness is independent of what goes on our lives or in the world. He’s good all the time, and He’s good because His character is good. He wants nothing but the best for us, and if you have a relationship with Him, then you can be assured that He intervenes frequently in your life as an agent of good. Unfortunately, we live in a corrupted world and among people with corrupted natures, which explains why a lot of bad things happen. When you suffer loss, or when life throws you a curve, don’t interpret this as evidence of God’s disinterest or an indication that He doesn’t care.
Second, this insight comes from my wife. We were discussing this topic at the breakfast table last week, and she made a very astute observation. She said that when we experience challenges in life, we are being given the opportunity to learn two valuable pieces of information. Challenges teach us something about God, and they teach us something about ourselves.
As usual, I think she’s right. If we allow them, difficult circumstance can end up as valuable learning experiences. Through trials, we learn that God is more than competent to lead us when we don’t know what to do. We learn that God’s promises can be trusted. Trials can also reveal important weaknesses in ourselves- lack of patience, lack of faith, and lack of submission.
I lost touch with my friend’s daughter after his death, and I have no idea whether or not she worked through her anger and disappointment with God. But I have never forgotten the lessons that her reaction taught me. Don’t judge God’s character by whether or not my life is peaceful or chaotic. And don’t miss the lessons that can be learned through a crisis.