Unfortunately, that is how our minds work.
Why is it so easy for us to think fearfully and negatively? A Christian would say that it all goes back to our fallen, sinful nature. By nature, we tend to focus on the bad instead of the good. Being cheerful and optimistic is not usually our first response.
I know when I was young and I brought my report card home, even if I got mostly A’s and B’s, I would still focus on the C. I would beat myself up about it, or put the blame on the teacher or some circumstance that caused me to fail.
But I have lived long enough to know that things do not always go the way I would like them to. Disappointments, sorrows, troubles and unexpected tragedies happen to all of us and make us fearful. And what sometimes happens is that when troubles strike, we tend to think that if God was really with us, these bad things would not happen.
The next step then that people often make is saying, “Maybe God doesn’t exist.” They go on to reason, “After all, if God says that He loves me, why would He let me suffer?” This is especially hard to understand when we pray, and we pray earnestly, and the answer from God that we seek does not come.
Obviously, there is mystery in all of this. We can understand a great deal about God through his revealed Word, the Bible. And thank goodness for that!
But we can’t understand everything about God. After all, God is God, and we’re not! God tells us this important truth in Isaiah 55:8-9, where he says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. … As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
When you think of that, it quickly becomes clear that our natural responses of complaining, whining and bitterness aren’t of much help to us. In fact, they usually make things worse.
Recently, someone I know disappointed me greatly. I was upset and angry and ready to really get in his face and let him have it. Don’t worry — I didn’t do it. And it was thanks, really, to a friend. This friend helped me get a better perspective on this incident. She said, “John, rather than flying off the handle and later regretting it, why not ask yourself, ‘What is God trying to teach me through this?’” Bringing the Lord into this, and trying to see what God wanted me to learn, really made all the difference for me that day.
Something that we often forget is that God has a plan. God has things in mind for us — and sometimes they are vastly different from what we might initially think. I still may not agree with the person who disappointed me, but seeking God’s deeper purpose made it possible for me maintain a friendship and to go on in faith.
There is an old gospel hymn that I thought of in the middle of writing today’s column. It goes like this: “Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me. Place in my hands that wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.”
“Place in my hand that wonderful key …” What, pray tell, is that “wonderful key?” I think it is faith. Faith means bringing God into the situation and trying to see what God’s perspective is.
Let me stress this: Faith is not the instinctive response we humans usually have. We are so self-oriented that our way of thinking is, “I can handle this. I’ll take care of it all by myself.” But many times we find we are in “way over our heads.” Faith means taking God at His word, and His word to us in situations like this is, “Do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Don’t try to go it alone. Equipped with that “wonderful key” of faith, you may be pleasantly surprised with how things turn out when we let God into our lives. Faith enables you to say, “It’s not exactly what I would choose to have happen, but God must have something in this for me to gain from and to grow as a person.”
Even a secular saying like “every cloud has a silver lining” attests to that truth. But the Bible says it even better when it says, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28)
— The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.