Why is Life Hard?

The overarching reason is always to know and depend on God more than you already do. This applies to people who don’t think ‘God’ exists as well as to those who are devoted to God. Whether a child of God or not, our need should drive us to seek God.

A more specific reason is that the pain and unsettling is used by God to change for the better the conduct and character of those who are his children. (Quoth James MacDonald as perceptive distinction, “Everyone is not God’s child, no matter what you hear on Oprah.”)

I’m writing this, once again, in accordance with the purpose behind this blog, which is to figure things out by putting it into words. Hopefully it doesn’t just help me. My small group at church has chosen to do When Life is Hard by James MacDonald. Initially, I resented doing a ‘book study,’ which seems somehow inferior to a ‘Bible study,’ but thus far this book has been showing itself solid, as each of the two chapters we’ve read are anchored in a significant passage from the Bible that relates to trials. It has already clarified my understanding of one passage in an I-can’t-believe-I’ve-been-so-blind sort of way. (James 1 on wisdom, btw.) I suppose that in a sense, this is a book review, but also a book summary, analysis and reflection. If you get a chance, read this book! The latter half may disappoint (I haven’t finished it yet), but I can tell you the first two chapters are great. Even if you are not currently in a trial, it doesn’t hurt to prepare your perspective because trials will come.

First ideas under consideration (backdrop of Hebrews 12:5-11)

It could be that a trial results from your sin, and the consequences are your correction. It may also be that the trial results from no fault of your own, but God still wills it to improve your character and let you display good conduct in it. That is one point MacDonald makes. Someone in my small group pointed out further that, even if your trials do not directly result from your own sinful actions, it still exposes your sin! So true. Furthermore, in considering trials as “discipline,” we also see that there is discipline for correction as well as discipline for training. Reactive discipline for correction keeps one in line, whereas proactive discipline keeps one in shape. You’re never in a place where you don’t need discipline, however good you are doing, because becoming ‘unfit’ in character and conduct is not an acceptable alternative.

MacDonald gave three principles to keep in mind as related to Hebrews 12:11, presented concurrently here:

  1. The pain is momentary (For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later)
  2. The profit is immense (it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness)
  3. The promise is conditional (to those who have been trained by it.)

Second batch of ideas under consideration (backdrop of James 1:2-8)

We like to ask why things happen. MacDonald deftly categorizes 4 types of why and defines 3 that God doesn’t answer and 1 which he loves answering. God doesn’t answer

  • The EXISTENTIAL WHY (Why do bad things happen to good people?)
  • The ULTIMATUM WHY (Why is this happening to me?!??!?!! Tell me why!!!)
  • The OBSERVATION WHY (Why is this not happening to him/her?)

God loves to answer The PERSONAL WHY of ‘Why did you allow this to happen – what do you want to teach me, do in me, and do through me?’

One stipulation: this fourth why cannot be asked with doubt, but with reckless abandon and willingness to learn and be changed as one who trusts the giver of wisdom to be wise about all that needs to be changed, whether you like it or not. I mentioned an “aha” moment about James earlier, and this is it. For some inexplicable reason, I had never before read James 1:5-8 as specific to trials, even though before it and after it James is talking about trials and perseverance in trials. Going against all logic, I extracted this “wisdom” section from the idea of trials to just mean a general need to be ‘wise.’ Read James.

Meanwhile, “don’t bail!” (I didn’t sign up for this.) “Don’t fold under the pressure!” (Take me Lord, just crush me and let me be with you forever.) Those are two temptations MacDonald mentions are common, along with complaining and/or lashing out. Anyways, I think Charles Spurgeon has a morning or evening devotion about this very cowardice of not wanting to remain under trials. We want to run away from our problems to the safety of death and eternal life with God. This is stupid. We actually need to stand firm and remain under to let God change us at the deepest level. “We think the answer is a new environment when the real answer is a new me.” Random examples I’ll throw out there:

Young adult angst: I want an adventure. I want to make something of my life. I need to go abroad and do something really meaningful.
Relational issues: I just can’t get good relationships going with my family / co-workers / spouse. I’m not ‘going there’ with mom or dad / I need a new job / I want a divorce.

We want to run away. Or we want to withdraw and let circumstances or other people change or pass over. We are like distracted, hyper puppies (“Stay…”) or like hermit turtles (I’m in my shell). It’s so hard to just stay and work yourself out. But how can we refuse God’s wisdom to change us with painful thoroughness yet seek God at the same time? And we ask why we keep having to work on the same things.

How to see ‘god’ as ‘God’

[Because I have numerous other essays I need to write, I shall blog instead. (Contradiction intended.) Being able to write continuously and develop an idea about something else may help writing in general? Right now I am stuck, stuck, stuck like a pig in the mud.]

Job. He is the “suffering” guy in the Bible. The one who was a good man, but on whom suffering was poured. He rescued the poor and made the widow’s heart sing; was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and father to the needy; he took up the case of the stranger, and broke the fangs of the wicked, snatching victims from their teeth. (Job 29:11-17) Job was righteous in his own eyes. (32:1) A contemporary Job might be a leftist humanitarian volunteer doctor working in a third world country.

But Elihu, the youngest among Job and the three other friends who came to console and talk to him, becomes angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He hears Job say “I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt,” (33:9) “I am innocent, but God denies me justice,” (34:5) and replies: “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man.” (33:12) Ultimately, Job, in his ‘goodness’ and ‘righteousness’, had become too comfortable in it. He lost his perspective of the awesomeness that is God. He was proud when he needed humility. “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.” (37:14)

Job in his mind had begun to belittle the surpassing goodness and righteousness of God, that is beyond his imagination. God asks: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8) If God had punishes the fully righteous, then God would not be righteous. In the same way, we ask why God allows suffering in the world – it may not be our own. Would we discredit his justice? Can we condemn God in order to justify people? On a side note, are we forgetting the existence of Satan, of evil?

This is Job’s reply. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3-6) Job in this penultimate chapter displays Biblical wisdom: the fear of the Lord. Although he had earlier stated it himself, having heard that “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding,” (28:28) he was full of himself (to use a colloquial wording) and not full of the Spirit (literally). He had forgotten the evil still in himself. “It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” (32:8)

In the end, it boils down, yet again, to God-is-Holy-and-we-are-sinful. We strive towards (hunger and thirst for) righteousness, but must realise that we cannot attain that quality in and of ourselves. We are to be filled (and this is where Jesus comes in). I wish I had a better way to end this patchwork of the book of Job, but I am growing tired.

[NOTE: add from beginning of Job]