Summary: When a Christian meets unbearable ordeals, how does he move on with his faith in God still intact? How do we reconcile God’s goodness and mercy with life’s atrocities to believers like us?

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A teenager drowned in the sea during a Church youth camp. A large group of believers who gathered for a pastors’ convention were all killed in a hotel fire accident. A faithful and talented evangelist acquired acute diabetes and had to have both his legs amputated. A dedicated pastor came home to find his daughters raped and left for dead.

One hundred thirty five years ago, a man named Horatio Spafford wrote an unforgettable song that defied any trace of his anguish over a great tragedy that befell his family. Horatio was a successful lawyer, businessman and prominent Presbyterian elder. He lost his only son shortly before the great Chicago fire in 1871 which took heavy toll on his business, and not long after, his four daughters died in a ship collision in Europe. It was when he sailed to the site where his daughters drowned that he was inspired to pen the words that became the lyrics of one of our most beloved hymns:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows, like sea-billows, roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,


It is well, it is well with my soul!

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul!

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Spafford’s story continues to be a notable source of strength and comfort to many Christians who have experienced pain, loss and suffering in their lives. Until my mother died (she was brutally killed by a robber) two years ago, I was unable to fully grasp the extent of the fusion of horrid agony and unabated hope behind Horatio’s words in that song. My mother’s death brought unfathomable sorrow to my family, and even though I was already a Christian at the time, I found myself unable to hold back the doubt and confusion about God. In that instance, it seemed as if the foundation of my trust in Him that took years and years to build was on the verge of collapse. My mother had just begun to seriously live her faith shortly before she died and for her to have had a death so violent at such a crucial time in her life was not an easy thing to accept.

There is nothing unnatural nor condemnable about Christians, specially those who have tasted despair, to feel a certain degree of apprehension with regards to the future. Pain is real and inescapable. It happens to everyone, including devout believers. The Scriptures abound in passages that encourage us to preserve our hope in God amid life’s relentless cruelty. Yet when tragedies strike, especially inexplicable and seemingly meaningless ones, only a few of us truly find the strength to trust in God.

When a Christian meets unbearable ordeals, how does he move on with his faith in God still intact? How do we reconcile God’s goodness and mercy with life’s atrocities to believers like us? How do we forget our dismal past and move forward with fresh hope?

When the reality of pain in life sets in, we need to understand four things: (1) God’s sovereignty is absolute regardless of our circumstances; (2) God’s plan and wisdom are flawless and seamlessly accomplished, but it doesn’t mean that any one of us (i.e., individually) is the center of that plan; (3) God is perpetually faithful and merciful; and (4) God favors those who trust Him.

The picture of God as one who is sovereign, faithful and merciful is found not only in a book called the Bible. In one way or another, at innumerable points in our life which few of us really bother to count, the Lord has demonstrated these qualities for us. Unlike many of the Old Testament Israelites who personally witnessed (and greatly benefited from) God’s magnificent miracles and wonders but whose faith swiftly faltered after encountering daunting trials in the wilderness, we need to always be mindful of how God had lavished His benevolence on us so we can remain consistently thankful to Him and steadily expectant of His providence.

Trouble arises when we become presumptuous by thinking that God’s plans revolve specifically around us. We are all part of God’s grand plan of building His kingdom in the sense that He desires redemption for each of us and wants us to witness to other people, but to presuppose that carrying out of every detail in that plan must conform to our individual ideals and enhance our personal circumstances is taking it too far. In the process of executing such plan, God allows the occurrence of certain events that we may not understand but, nevertheless, fall under the scope of His perfect will.

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