Recent events have challenged so many of us to almost have to re-evaluate what we believe and think about God and how He works.
Most of us have heard, all of our believing lives, that God protects us, has a plan for us, has a future for us, wants us to serve Him, dedicate ourselves to Him and, by so doing, we will prosper, have abundant life and be blessed in so many ways.
We believe all that, because we know that God is good, faithful, loves us as a father loves his children and wants only the very best for us, so how do we react when a loving and faithful shepherd is struck down with terminal brain cancer, seemingly leaving his work unfinished or when a devoted, steadfast and godly servant suddenly dies of a rare flesh-eating disease while on a ministry trip or when a young family, just starting out in life, is wiped out in one moment as the result of a tragic car accident? All believers, all serving the Lord and all counting on God’s mercy, love and protection to surround them. How do we even try to wrap our head around these things and make sense of them?
More and more I’ve come to understand that while faith is, indeed, a walk with the Lord, it is more an issue of being willing to take that walk to the end – no matter where it leads. I say that based on the many accounts in scripture which attest to that. We can look at the life of Job who lost everything and still was not willing to curse God. He, too, was ready to be taken but with his faith very much intact. You can look at the life of Abraham who was willing to go the distance with God even to the unthinkable act of thetaking of his only son. Just moments before nearly sacrificing him, He says, “The Lord will provide the sacrifice” – fully trusting that God would faithfully take him through this, even at the expense of losing the promised son, for whom he’d waited, if it had to come to that.
Or we can look at the life of Daniel and his friends – all of whom said, we will go to the death if we must, but we will not bow down and worship anyone other than God. Esther, too, was willing to perish, trusting that God would come through for her people in the face of annihilation.
In all these examples, and countless others, the one common denominator was that all of them were willing to sacrifice their lives and leave this earth but unwilling to forsake their faith or even change their opinion of what they believed about God, what He does and who He is.
It would seem that keeping one’s faith intact is a crucial element in our walk with the Lord. Yes, Job did question God, but he never abandoned him or turned away from his beliefs. He, instead, listened and learned what God was trying to say even through what must’ve seemed like an endless and excruciating test he was forced to endure.
All of these individuals came to a precipice of life and death moments, and it surely could have changed their opinion of who God was and how He operated, yet none of them did.
God was clearly in control of all of the above circumstances, and faith would tell us that He is still in control today, even when we can’t see it or understand it – in fact, even when it seems unfair. The scriptures are filled with such accounts which beg the question – where was God during those times. What could be more unfair than Joseph being in prison for virtually trying to live righteously? Why was Yochanon HaMatbil (John the Immerser) beheaded when he, too, lived such an upright life? Why was Tamar raped so cruelly and maybe, most shockingly, why did Yiftach’s daughter have to be sacrificed and killed for nothing she did personally? The unspeakable anguish of her going off with her companions to mourn her inability to ever know the love of a husband and children, breaks our hearts and screams out to what is clearly a great injustice but one for which the bible never offers explanation.
These are the perplexing questions which remain unsolved and without reason – even when attempting to wrap them in the most spiritual of answers, but they, nonetheless, remain an integral part of the scriptures which are the very basis of our faith.
So it would seem that the only way to get through personal tragedy is to maintain an unwavering stand – maybe not in the initial stage of shock, but certainly at some point where there is a reckoning in the soul and a knowledge that God is faithful, righteous and unchanging. He is the alpha and omega, the sovereign Lord and the Master of the Universe. Part of that reckoning must be that we are incapable of knowing what He knows, seeing what He sees and putting together the pieces of a giant puzzle designed by Him, one which only He has the wisdom and the capacity to connect.
In many cases, a new faith foundation must be built in order to come to a place where you accept that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than your own. There must be a recognition that short of the Creator of heaven and earth, there is no one else upon which to rely, meaning that the alternative is believing in nothing and having no hope. No one knows this better than I.
Having gone through the tragedy of losing a spouse just weeks before the wedding of our only child and a month and a half before immigrating to Israel was, for me, both catastrophic and unfair. Why then? And why just before such promising and exciting events for which I’d waited my whole life? There is no question, in retrospect, that the shock of it all, the lack of a cohesive support system, and the move to a new country, all on my own, resulted in the loss of my own faith and the inability to continue to trust in a just and merciful God. That faith crisis extended for over a year where I questioned everything and, for a while, felt as if life might be more equitable placed into my own hands.
Yet, God, in His mercy, felt my pain and confusion and lifted me out of a direction which would have surely taken me to a dead end. It was during those next few years that I had to try to come to terms with the incomprehensible. It wasn’t easy, because we are so infinitely limited in our human ability to grasp eternal truths and concepts. For me, it came down to understanding that I had arrived at a place in my life where I may never fully comprehend or even get an answer to all the whys. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the fact that God was blessing me each day in little ways, showing me that He was there through it all. Those evidences began to challenge me to consider that God was faithful and worth relying upon and deferring to Him. Part of that also meant acknowledging that my need to understand why God would allow this tragedy was trying to put myself on the same level as Him, as I struggled to make sense of matters which only He could grasp.
Coming to a place of accepting my limited understanding and trust that God knew even if I didn’t, was critical to keeping my faith intact. It literally meant that I had to choose to function as the “creation” and not the Creator. Ultimately, it caused me to have to know my place and God’s. Once I was able to make that leap, I was then able to appreciate and enjoy the new life, framework and faith that God had helped me to recreate in order to come out the other side of my tragedy with my trust in Him still intact.
Running the race and finishing with honor only can come when we accept that we may never know or understand, but that it, nonetheless, changes nothing in our belief and trust of who God is.
Wavering in one’s faith literally means that you are no longer sure if God is good, faithful or unfailing. It is a breach which puts you at odds with the Almighty, and so the definition of a true believer is one who has come through the fire- even amidst the questioning, struggle, anger, doubt and all the rest – but still knowing that God is there, caring, working all things out as He deems. It is knowing that we can totally rely upon the only One who loved us enough to die for us and who has promised us an eternal home with Him.
What happens before that and between the day to day matters, some of which are painful and filled with untold grief and sadness, is the building up of our trust and reliance upon an unchanging God who is worthy of our complete belief in Him, because He has earned that place. He is the giver and taker of life but, more importantly, He is always and forever the Righteous Judge!