(…continued) Many stories in the Bible teach us that problems are a necessary part of the agenda, and, in the long run, the problems do everyone a lot of good. Let’s begin with the one fellow that was allowed to escape part #2 (at first, anyway), the Prodigal Son. He had the promise of one day inheriting great wealth from his father, but first there would be a problem. He had to go to work for his father on the family farm. Some time in the future, in accordance with how things usually work, when his father died, this son would inherit his share of this estate. This would be the provision. But this son (like all of us who wish we had no problems) wanted to eliminate the problem and get right to the provision. “Father,” he asked, “Could I get my share of the inheritance now?” He wanted the inheritance before the father’s death, without the work and without any problems in the meantime. “Yes,” was the father’s surprising reply, and he gave this son half of his wealth. And what happened? This son hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t struggled enough, hadn’t faced enough problems to know anything yet, and he wasted everything he had on foolish living. In no time at all, the provision was gone, and then came the problem. The problem part of the agenda cannot be avoided. The son’s life was ruined, he was starving, and he had only one option. His only hope was to return to the father where he was forgiven; and, although the story does not say it, I am sure, he was put to work. Getting the provision before the problems led to trouble for this son.
Most other Bible stories follow the proper agenda. God had a great promise in mind for Moses– he would be the agent of deliverance for the Hebrews. Moses took things into his own hands and began by killing two cruel Egyptians in anger. God then apparantly decided Moses was not ready, but needed some problems first. So God then sent Moses far from the luxuries of the palace, out into the desert for forty years of exile in hardscrabble wilderness living. By the problems endured in that suffering, Moses matured and was made ready for leadership. Then God sent him back to deliver the people from their bondage.
Joseph was chosen by God as a teenager to be a leader, and God revealed his plans to Joseph in dreams. But Joseph wasn’t ready. The dreams gave him a big head, he felt superior to his older brothers, and he was a constant annoyance to them. That was no way for a leader to act, so God sent him some big problems. Joseph was sold into slavery, spent several years in servitude, and then several years in prison. But God had not forgotten him. God was using the problems to train him. When the time was right, God raised Joseph up to become a great leader in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In that position, with what he had learned, he was able to save that entire part of the world from famine. But he was first made ready for that great task by the problems God made him endure.
The great King David first received the promise to be king as a teenager, but it was years before the provision; years before he finally wore the crown. And the intervening years were filled with suffering and danger. But it was those problems that deepened David’s soul, preparing him to be a great king.
Saul, the king before David, was allowed to skip step two. Saul received the promise and the provision all at once, going from being a farmer to being a king on the same day. Saul failed miserably. It looks like we do need problems on the agenda. It seems this three part agenda God has for us is a necessary one. It seems to be best when we go from promise to problems and then to provision.
If we want to think deeper about this we can ask if God sends or merely allows the problems. There is some disagreement among theologians on this, but it seem clear to me from the Bible that he does both. But seldom in the Bible and never in our lives today, does God tell people what he is doing—when he is causing the problems, when he is merely allowing them to come as a result of bad choices or bad luck, and what God hopes to accomplish when He does have a hand in all this. He did not tell Joseph or David in their long periods of trouble what he was doing or how he was preparing them. In fact, we know more of the story of God’s hand in their story now than they did then. And I have no idea what direct hand God is playing by bringing affliction into my life for my own good, or what troubles I must face because of my own sinful or stupid decisions.
What we are told in the Bible is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). That being the case, there are a few things we can keep in mind. (continued…)
Romans 8:28 — We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Hebrews 5:8b — He learned obedience from what he suffered.
Romans 5:3b-4 — We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Thy will be done.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:10b