Summary: The beliefs we must commit ourselves to when facing suffering are: 1. God is good, even when life is bad. 2. God can redeem the evil that comes into our lives. 3. We must do the right thing, even when it does not seem to pay off.
Those of you who have seen the classic movie Fiddler on the Roof remember the scene where Tevye, the main character, is walking on a dusty road, pulling both a milk cart and a lame horse. He says: “Ah, dear God, was that necessary? Did you have to make him lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me — you bless me with five daughters and a life of poverty. That’s all right, but what have you got against my horse?” He continues: “Really, sometimes I think when things are too quiet up there, you say to yourself, ‘Let’s see what kind of mischief can I play on my friend Tevye.’” In another scene, Tevye seems to take special offense because the righteous seem to suffer as much as anyone else — some even suffer more than those who could care less about God. During one particularly bad day, he mutters: “I know, I know, we are the chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose somebody else?”
Tevye discovered what we have all learned at one time or another: Life is hard, and much of the time it is difficult to understand and confusing. Evil seems to flourish and triumph, and good seems to get run over. We, like the prophet Jeremiah, raise the complaint: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
How do we trust God when it seems like life is crushing us? If we are going to survive those times, there are some foundational truths to which we must commit ourselves. The first belief we must continue to commit ourselves to when facing suffering is this: God is good, even when life is bad. Habakkuk was a prophet during of the darkest days of Judah. King Josiah’s glorious reign and religious reform had ended. There was a moral decline in the nation. Babylon was rising to power and was an eminent threat to Judah. Like Jeremiah, Habakkuk complained: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Habakkuk is honest and transparent about his feelings toward God and how he is feeling about the evil and inequity in the world. He was confused. How can a righteous God seemingly overlook evil? How can a good God allow such evil to happen? How can a loving God allow his people to suffer? He questioned and he brooded, but when he came to the end of all his quarreling with God, he ultimately said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
At some point you have to come to the place where you stop demanding that you understand what God is doing and why. After airing your complaints and asking God to act, you ultimately have to trust God, even though you don’t understand and nothing make sense to you. You have to say with Habakkuk, “Even if everything continues to go wrong, I am going to trust you. Even if the basic needs of my life are not being met, I place my trust in you.” What is the alternative? Anger and despair. You can be bitter at God and angry at life, or in your hurt and confusion make a conscious decision to trust God, even though it doesn’t make sense right now.
Jill Briscoe tells the story of her lifelong friend Ann who married a Belfast policeman. She writes, “The first seven young men killed in those troubles long ago were brother Christians of Ann’s husband. I met one of their widows on this trip, and I wanted to say to her, ‘Well, where was God? Was he standing in the comer with his hands in his pockets? Why didn’t he look after his own?’” But rather than being bitter, she said, “What a blessing that it was our boys who were killed. They knew the Lord. Just imagine if it had been young policemen who didn’t know Christ.”