(…continued) 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 should keep in mind.
First of all, knowing what God’s three-part agenda is for us, we need not be surprised by the troubles. We should expect them. Trouble in our life is not a sign that God does not care or does not see. On the contrary, it means that God sees much more than we do and cares in ways we cannot begin to imagine.
Second, a good meeting goes by the agenda and stays on schedule. When we apply this illustration to our faith, we need to keep in mind that with God’s scheduling there is an eternity to work things out for our good. We might be stuck in step two (the problem stage) for our entire life. Some people seem to never get out of trouble. But even if so, God’s program is not limited to our eighty years on planet earth. God’s schedule stretches into all eternity. If eternity is too much for you to imagine, just think about a 10,000 year program. Imagine a mere eighty years of problems here, and after that on to the promised provision for 9,920 years. We need to remember this broader perspective on God’s longer agenda.
We are on a long range program with God. In the Bible, God thinks nothing of taking thirty years to prepare David or forty years to train Moses– and these are the giants of the faith in God’s story. Who are we in comparison? Why should we think ourselves able to get by without long years of trouble and testing? In an incredible little verse in the book of Hebrews (5:8) we are told that even Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Suffering is a hard school, but it seems to be a necessary one.
We are in God’s care, He is wiser than we are, and this is how He has chosen to deal with us. We might, in the midst of our pain, object to how God has arranged life in this world. But if we were in the same position as God, I suspect we might do the same thing. There are, in fact, people who are in our care at different times in our lives, and we must hope that we will be wise in how we take care of them. I am thinking primarily of parents and children, so I will close with a story (similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son) to illustrate how this works in a way we might better understand.
Janos was a Hungarian immigrant who came to this country as refugee after World War II. He arrived without a penny in his pocket. But Janos worked hard, started a small business which grew rapidly, and by age 50 he was a millionaire. Then, he finally had time to think about getting married, and found a wife much younger than himself. Within a year a son was born to them, and that made Janos happy and hopeful for the future. He would make sure his son had a better life than he did, and so he raised him with every privilege.
Then tragedy came into the life of Janos. First, his young wife was killed in a car accident. Later that same year Janos learned he had cancer and only few months to live. His son had just turned eighteen years old and was about to inherit a very large amount of money.
Janos did not know what to do. His son was a good boy, but still just a kid. He knew nothing of life. Janos had given him a good and comfortable life, but Janos could see that his son was not yet mature enough to handle that kind of wealth.
In his last days, therefore, Janos had a talk with his son. He told him that all his businesses would be sold and all the money put into a trust. Upon Janos’s death, the son would receive a small provision to help him get started in life– if he used it wisely. But then the boy would get not one more penny until he was 25 years old. Janos said, “I had hoped that your mother and I would have been here to teach and guide you, but we cannot. But you do need to be taught; so now, life itself must be your teacher. That would not happen if you get everything given to you now. I have tried to teach you as much as I was able, but now you will have to work and figure out for yourself how to live, just as I did. I hope that by age 25 you will be wiser and ready to receive the money. Do your best, my son; be wise and work hard.”
This was a huge disappointment for the son, but the father soon died and there was nothing that could be done about it. The son had enough money to sit around and do nothing for a while, and that is what he did. He was not wise and not careful with the money as his father advised. Soon it was all gone, and he was on his own. He was as poor and desperate as his father was 50 years earlier, and he had to get used to an entirely different lifestyle. He was forced to work like he never did before; not at easy office jobs like in his father’s business, but in hard physical jobs that paid minimum wage. And he was forced to live in a small apartment in a dangerous part of the city.
Many times the boy was angry with his father. Life could have been so much easier. None of these problems were necessary, he thought. There was enough money to do everything he wanted to do and not go through any of this suffering. His father had the resources to have made it all so much better. The boy often wondered why his father made him suffer.
I am going to stop there. I made this story up and I could have ended it any way I wanted. You can imagine in your own mind how it might end, as well as you can imagine what the boy would have done if he had inherited all the money at age eighteen. He wasted the little bit he did have, he probably would have wasted it all if he had it, and completely ruined his life in the process. But now, he will at least have an opportunity to learn about life from the problems he will face in the next seven years on his own. Life itself might well be the effective teacher his father had hoped, and make the boy more ready to receive the wealth at age 25. Even an 18 year old who has been a good boy has much more to learn, and facing problems would be one of the most effective teachers.
Still, the boy wondered why his father made him suffer. We wonder why God allows us to suffer. The father had a larger perspective and more wisdom than the son. God has a larger perspective and more wisdom than we do.
Keep in mind, then God’s agenda for your life—great and wonderful promises, then problems galore, and then the provision—the fulfillment of all that is promised. Take hope in the promises, expect and endure and learn from the problems, and look forward to the provision.