Life as it Is, vs. Life as it "Should Be"

Dr. James Dobson

What are we to believe when we discover "life as it is" turns out to be very different than "life as it is supposed to be"? We often stumble toward one of several conclusions, all of which are potentially damaging to our faith: (1) God is dead, irrelevant, bored, or uninvolved in the affairs of man; (2) God is angry at me for some sin I've committed; (3) God is whimsical, untrustworthy, unfair or sinister; or (4) God ignored me because I didn't pray enough or display enough faith.

All four of these alternatives serve to isolate that individual from God at precisely the moment when his spiritual need is the greatest. I believe it is a ploy of Satan to undermine the faith of the vulnerable. And it begins with a theological distortion that promises a stress-free life and a God who always does what He is told. (Note: Some unpleasant experiences in life do result from sinful behavior.)

Those who would give glib answers to the awesome question of human suffering have probably not spent much time thinking about it. They certainly have not labored, as I have, in a major children's medical center. There, little kids go through terrifying experiences every day of the week. Some are born in pain and know nothing else. Some have mothers who are cocaine or heroin addicts and come into the world in desperate need of a "fix." For days, the perinatal ward echoes with their pitiful crying. Older children are brought in who have been humiliated, battered and burned by their abusing parents.

Others are like the little brown-eyed girl I remember so vividly in the oncology unit of Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. She was a four-year-old charmer whose parents had thought she was normal and healthy. But the previous day, her mother noticed a protrusion on her side when she was bathing the child. It turned out to be a large malignant tumor. She had only a few months to live. I left her room with a lump in my throat and a longing to go home and hug my healthy boy and girl.

Perhaps you have noticed that life seems blatantly unfair. It pampers some of us and devastates others.

Perhaps this is the most disturbing question posed to the thoughtful Christian. How can we explain such an apparent injustice? How can an infinitely loving and just God permit some people to experience lifelong tragedy while others seem to enjoy every good and perfect gift? And what can we conclude when the unfortunate individual is a child? Well, I know the answer offered by theologians—that sickness and death came into the world as a result of sin, and we are all under sentence of death. It comes to some sooner than others. I understand and accept that explanation, even though it leaves us with a troubled spirit.

Admittedly, this explanation of suffering is not very satisfying as we look into the face of a child in pain. It is, however, the best we can do. I've indicated that we can explore the mind of God only so far, and then, inevitably, we run out of brain power. His thoughts are not only unknown to us—they are largely unknowable. He has never made Himself accountable to man, nor will He ever. He will not be cross-examined or interrogated. 
Nowhere in the Bible does God speak defensively or seek our approval on His actions. He simply says, "Trust me." In His lengthy interchange with Job, not once did Jehovah apologize or attempt to explain the hardship that befell His servant. 

Still, we are told specifically that God is loving, kind, merciful, long-suffering, gracious, fatherly, patient, etc. So what are we going to do with the discomfort of unanswered questions? It all comes down to the choices posed by Dr. Jim Conway. Either we continue to believe in God's goodness and postpone our questions until we see Him face to face—or we will descend into bitterness and anger for the suffering around us. There are no other alternatives. Inevitably, you see, we circle back to the necessity of faith.

Well, let me end with this: You'll remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reported in the third chapter of Daniel. They incurred the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to fall down and worship the idol he had set up. He made it clear that if they again refused to obey his command, they would be thrown into a "burning fiery furnace." Their response to that murderous threat is one of the most inspiring passages in Scripture:

The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)

What courage these men showed in the very face of death! What conviction! What faith! "God can save us," they said, "but if not, we'll serve Him anyway." That is the biblical prescription in its simplest terms. He can heal the disease that grips my body—but if not, my faith will survive. He can correct my child's handicap, or save my bankrupt business, or bring my son home safely from the war. But if not, I will continue trusting in Him. That's what Job meant when he said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (13:15, NKJV). It is what Paul meant when he said, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5, NKJV). In verse 8 Paul describes that mind-set: "He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross." That utter abandonment to the sovereign will of the Lord is what He wants of His people, even when circumstances seem to swirl out of control. He can rescue—but if not...!

To the reader out there who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or the parent whose child is in danger, or the recently widowed woman who faces life alone—let me offer a final word of encouragement. Remember when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the blazing furnace and saw four men instead of three, and the fourth looked like the "Son of God"? It is comforting to note that only Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego came out of the fire. That other Man, whom we believe to have been the Christ, remained there to comfort and protect you and me when we go through our fiery trials.

He will never let you down—but He won't let you off, either!

From Dr. Dobson's book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.


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