Encounter: Spend some time meditating on Paul’s letter to Christ followers in Romans 8:18-25 in The Passion Translation and the New International Version. Underline words and phrases that speak to you about God’s will that may be a mystery to us.
Paradox: two statements that seem on the surface to be contradictory but are in fact, on a deeper level, simultaneously true.
“It’s a paradox!” The woman at the table next to ours blurted out loud enough for us to hear. What two things she was talking about is still unclear, but the phrase itself reminded me of one of the deepest pits we can fall into as human beings when we experience or are witnesses of suffering and evil in our world.
This week we could see the agony of so many as we saw their faces and their stories were told over and over on the latest news videos. They served as unwanted reminders of such a paradox as we question God’s will when things here on earth are the worst. How can God be both in control and yet allow human freedom, and how does human freedom affect God’s sovereignty?
We are clear on God’s revealed will; “seek first the kingdom of God, love God with everything we have, love our neighbors, live godly lives, cultivate character and integrity, pursue wisdom and live according to biblical truth. There’s no mystery there, we just need to do it.
But after this past week’s events, images that will most likely never leave most of our minds, we ask where is God when evil takes control and people are running for their lives in Afghanistan, an earthquake causes thousands to die in Haiti, two teenage daughters are taken from their family by a drunk driver, and a baby is kidnapped and murdered. Where is God’s will when the unthinkable happens? Where is God in all this suffering? People have asked this question for centuries and it is one of the greatest tests of the Christian life.
There is much to be said about embracing the mystery of God in a fallen world while we wait to see Him working redemption through our suffering, but it all begins with understanding the story is not over yet. God is not only writing our stories, but we are all part of a much larger story that God has written himself into. We do not suffer alone after the Great Fall but because of the cross we can trust that one day God will restore all things to the glory that was always supposed to be our story. Where there is no pain, no sorrow, no tears, no bad news.
Jerry Sittser writes, “The story is never done, not until God is done telling it. And he will not be done until his redemptive purpose is accomplished. Sinfulness, and tragedies and suffering and everything else never have the final word. God has the final word. The cross is irrefutable proof that God’s hidden will, mysterious and unfathomable at times, is real and redemptive. God is sovereign. He is in control. He rules over time and history. Even our suffering serves his greater purpose, and that purpose has our ultimate benefit in mind.”
Life is difficult for everyone at some point along this path. God is revealing what we need to know of his will today to prepare us to trust Him for the story He is continuing to write. We only see a chapter or two, God knows the story from beginning to end. Our invitation? But hope means that we must trust and wait for what is still unseen. For why would we need to hope for something we already have? So, because our hope is set on what is yet to be seen, we patiently keep on waiting for its fulfillment. (Romans 8:24 TPT).
All will be well, maybe not today but God is working mysteriously to redeem and restore the world to what He always intended it to be. All will be well, because we know the Author of the story.
Waiting with you,
Reflect: No experience is harder to accept as God’s will than suffering. In what sense is suffering not God’s will?
Encourage: As stated in the previous chapter, the resolution to this paradox (suffering and God’s sovereignty) lies in the story of redemption, as revealed in the Bible. Why is story itself so helpful in gaining perspective on life? What should we do when we simply cannot understand the story of our own lives?
Gather: In your small group discuss how it is possible to keep trusting God in our suffering. Share when you have trusted God in your own times of suffering and when you did not. What were the outcomes.