"God is not concerned about our plans; He does not say --- Do you want to go through this bereavement; this upset? He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, nobler men and women; or they are making us more captious and fault-finding, more insistent upon our own way. The things that happen either make us fiends, or they make us saints; it depends entirely upon the relationship we are in to God."
Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest (May 22nd)
"You don't look 49," he said.
"And you don't look 70," I said. I added "we must be living right," a quip that I know isn't entirely or even mostly true.
" I don't think living right has anything to do with it. My wife lived right all her life, did good to everyone, helped everyone, and we just found out she has cervical cancer. That's not much of a reward for living right, is it?"
Of course not, and of course such aphorisms, while having a semblance of truth, aren't really very useful, aren't even very true. There is utility in living right. Perhaps we're less likely to contract lung cancer if we don't smoke or have a heart attack if we eat well and exercise or escape divorce and its repercussions if we avoid infidelity --- and yet the most fit sometimes have heart attacks, children die young, and generous and kind old ladies get cervical cancer. We all know that.
I don't want trial and suffering to come to me or mine or even friends. Who would? And yet the older I get the less I pray against such things as I pray about what happens to me and mine while enduring such things. For after all, didn't James say to "[c]ount it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness," (Ja. 1:2)? Am I becoming "sweeter, better, nobler" as a man? I hope so.
Visit the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and you can see the result of lives lived unto God or without Him. One person has suffered much, and yet is sweet in spirit, full of grace, living in gratitude, counting it all joy. Another has suffered much less, perhaps, yet is embittered and angry, arguing about petty grievances, fixated on some regret or some perceived wrong. The difference is the relationship to God. When we have that right, then what's happening is an inward transformation even despite (or because of) an outside trial. Otherwise, I waste away, eaten up by the sins of resentment and anger that trial produces apart from God.
Today I heard that CCM musician Steven Curtis Chapman's five-year old child was killed in their driveway in a tragic accident, run over by his teenage child. Can you imagine the weight of this suffering? And yet I don't doubt that this family will not become embittered but will be strengthened in faith, in the end. Lots of bad things happen. God uses them in our lives for good, ultimately. That's what's happening to us. I hope I can remember that and live from that truth when (and not if) I face my next trial.
[As an odd addendum to this, I should add that my cat has chosen Oswald Chamber's classic devotional for me to read the last two days. She has pulled it off the bookshelf twice, leaving it there for me to find. Perhaps, despite the nature of her race, she is a pious cat. Or is it just a fascination with the tasseled page-marker that playfully dangles from the book?]
[The image reproduced above is of a painting by my friend, Carol Bomer, entitled "Weep for the Wiping of Grace." You can read more about the painting and Carol's other work here.]