Since I last confessed (to reading The Shack), I would like to stay with the theme of mea culpa and admit one of my peccadilloes (far too much Latin for one sentence!). I confess to not liking the “When, not if” construct. What do I mean? Well, to put it bluntly, I don’t like it when (there’s that word again) I go through trials. Instead, I would prefer “if” I go through them. You see, the conditional “if” keeps things in the hypothetical and away from my neatly constructed, significantly comfortable, easily managed, relatively pain-free lifestyle.
A few weeks ago my wife was in a terrible car accident (she was not hurt except for some pains to her neck for which she’s seeing a chiro). It caused more than $16,000 damage to our car. While sitting still at her red light waiting for it to turn green, two other cars collided and slammed into our car head on (the two other drivers were not injured, to our knowledge). Naturally, we were both quite upset at the extent of damage to our essentially new (and paid for) car! But, the real rub for me comes when my wife, throughout this incident, has repeatedly claimed that this is a “trial” and that “God knows what he’s doing.” ARGH! Our car is almost totaled by others driving negligently, you’re victimized and without blame, and you’re telling me that “God knows what he’s doing!? Have you lost your (earthly) mind?”
After seething for several weeks, I finally have come to my theological senses and believe my wife is right (“surprise”). God DOES know what he’s doing! To my shame, I am the one who knows that God knows what he’s doing (good grief…I’ve been to seminary for crying out loud, and should know these things!). Yet, despite my “knowing”, my behavior has faithfully shown me that it’s a far distance from knowing truth to resting in it.
Clearly Scripture tells us that God permits trials. After all, James says what our response to trials should be: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever [there’s that word again!] you face trials of many kinds.” He does not say “if” you face trials (the Greek is unambiguous). James employs the “when, not if” construct and states frankly that we will encounter trials (Paul says the same to Timothy; see 2 Timothy 3:12). As a friend and neighbor recently put it in an e-mail regarding his wife’s ongoing struggle with cancer “be prepared with the mind and attitude of Christ because you are either in a time of trial and suffering, coming out of one, or just going into one.” Wise council indeed.
I can’t help but recall the wise guidance of another:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world…No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul…. Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make our own life less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp. 95-96)
If my response to the “When, not if” construct does not produce endurance, then I simply will not mature in my faith and learn to trust in God’s control (this is precisely what James says trials are intended for; to produce endurance unto maturity, James 1:3). Instead of viewing trials as God’s means of growth (like my wife faithfully does), I will likely try to fix all the pain that results, fail in most cases, end up getting angry beyond repair, and require therapy and/or medication. Hum….seems like the “When, not if” construct isn’t so bad after all!
And so, here’s what I’ve (hopefully) learned.
- Get used to the “When, not if” construct. Trials are a fact of life this side of kingdom consummation.
- Trials have a purpose; they’re not merely random acts of evil or pain.
- Know that God knows what he’s doing.
- In your knowing, practice resting in God’s wise control over all details.
- Train yourself to have a divine perspective on life’s difficulties (memorize Psalm 73).
- Learn from others who have been tested and are growing in endurance.
- Listen to your wife.