To those who have struggled to understand God's providence—I bring hope to you today! No, I can't provide tidy little solutions to all of life's annoying inconsistencies. That will not occur until we see the Lord face to face. But His heart is especially tender toward the downtrodden and the defeated. He knows your name and He has seen every tear you have shed. He was there on each occasion when life took a wrong turn. And what appears to be divine disinterest or cruelty is a misunderstanding at best and a satanic lie at worst.
How do I know this to be true? Because the Scriptures emphatically tell us so. For starters, David wrote, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Isn't that a beautiful verse? How encouraging to know that the very presence of the King—the Creator of all heaven and earth—hovers near to those who are wounded and discouraged. If you could fully comprehend how deeply you are loved, you would never feel alone again. David returned to that thought in Psalm 103:11: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him."
Another favorite passage of mine is Romans 8:26, in which we're told that the Holy Spirit actually prays for you and me with such passion that human language is inadequate to describe it. That verse says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." What comfort we should draw from that understanding! He is calling your name to the Father today, pleading your case and describing your need. How wrong it is, therefore, to place the blame for your troubles on the best Friend mankind ever had! Regardless of other conclusions you draw, please believe this: He is not the source of your pain!
If you were sitting before me at this moment, you might be inclined to ask, "Then how do you explain the tragedies and hardships that have come into my life? Why did God do this to me?" My reply is not profound. But I know it is right! God usually does not choose to answer those questions in this life! He will not parade His plans and purposes for our approval. We must never forget that He is God. As such He wants us to believe and trust in Him despite the things we don't understand. It's that straightforward.
Jehovah never did answer Job's intelligent inquiries, and He will not respond to all of yours. Every person who ever lived, I submit, has had to deal with seeming contradictions and enigmas. You will not be the exception. If that explanation is unsatisfactory and you can't accept it, then you are destined to go through life with a weak, ineffectual faith—or no faith at all. You'll just have to construct your castles on some other foundation. That will be your greatest challenge, however—because there is no other foundation. It is written, "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
My strongest advice is that each of us acknowledge before the crisis occurs, if possible, that our trust in Him must be independent of our understanding. There's nothing wrong with trying to understand, but we must not lean on our ability to comprehend! Sooner or later our intellect will pose questions we cannot possibly answer. At that point, we would be wise to remember His words, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). And our reply should be, "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
When you think about it, there is comfort in that approach to life's trials and tribulations. We are relieved from the responsibility of trying to figure them out. We haven't been given enough information to decipher the code. It is enough to acknowledge that God makes sense even when He doesn't make sense. Does this approach seem a bit simplistic, like an explanation we would give a child? Yes, and for good reason. Jesus put it like this, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Luke 18:17).
But what do we say to the person who just can't grasp that truth? What advice is available for that individual who is bitter and deeply angry at God for some perceived misdeed? How can he or she circumvent the betrayal barrier and begin a new relationship with the Lord?
There is only one cure for the cancer of bitterness. That is to forgive the perceived offender once and for all, with God's help. As strange as it seems, I am suggesting that some of us need to forgive God for those heartaches that are charged to His account. You've carried resentment against Him for years. Now it's time to let go of it. Please don't misunderstand me at this point. God is in the business of forgiving us, and it almost sounds blasphemous to suggest that the relationship could be reversed. He has done no wrong and does not need our approbation. But the source of bitterness must be admitted before it can be cleansed. There is no better way to get rid of it than to absolve the Lord of whatever we have harbored, and then ask His forgiveness for our lack of faith. It's called reconciliation, and it is the only way you will ever be entirely free.
The late Corrie ten Boom would have understood the advice I've given today. She and her family were sent by the Nazis to an extermination camp at Ravensbruck, Germany, during the latter years of World War II. They suffered horrible cruelty and deprivation at the hands of S.S. guards and, ultimately, only Corrie survived. After the war, she became a celebrated author and spoke often on the love of God and His intervention in her life. But inside, she was still bitter at the Nazis for what they had done to herself and her family.
Two years after the war, Corrie was speaking in Munich, Germany, on the subject of God's forgiveness. After the service, she saw a man making his way toward her. This is what she would later write about that encounter:
And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
The place was Ravensbruck and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out.
"A fine message, Fraülein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear from your lips as well. Fraülein,"—again the hand came out—"will you forgive me?"
And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperatures of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother," I cried. "With all my heart."
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely, as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5,
"...because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."1
Corrie's words have great relevance for us at this point. Bitterness of all varieties, including that which is seemingly "justified," will destroy a person spiritually and emotionally. It is a sickness of the soul. Corrie forgave an S.S. guard who shared responsibility for the deaths of her family members; surely, we can forgive the King of the universe who sent his only Son to die as an atonement for our sins.
Before we close, there is a particular person whom I want to address directly. I am especially concerned about that individual among my readers who is facing a terminal illness at this time. You've learned more than you ever wanted to know about chemotherapy, radiation, MRI's, liver biopsies, angioplasties, CAT scans, or abdominal surgery. Any one of these procedures (and a thousand others) is enough to demoralize the most secure among us. Perhaps you are not angry at God in the way I have described, but you are hurt, confused, and demoralized. You've wondered, with proper respect, why God would let this happen to you. I believe I have a word from the Lord that may be helpful to you. I certainly hope so.
It is so important to understand that God's value system is entirely different from our own—and His is correct. In human eyes, death is viewed as the ultimate defeat—the final tragedy.
1 Corrie ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1976), pp. 53-55.
From Dr. Dobson's book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.