A while ago I shared a great article by Ray Ortlund about how God will use time and trials to accomplish His purpose for you. Ray writes,
Only men with scars can preach a Savior with scars to sinners with scars. So, in addition to the many insights and skills God will impart to you, he also will wound you. A.W. Tozer wisely said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
At some point in your life, God will injure you so extremely that the self-reliance you aren’t even aware of, the self-reliance you’ve been navigating so consistently by that it feels natural and innocent, will collapse under the loss and anguish.
A commenter wrote in response, “God uses trials to help us become like Him. I don’t believe that He purposely wounds us. No loving father would do that.”
I understand this person’s objection. At first glance, “hurt,” “wound,” and “injure” seem contradictory to the truths God is our loving, good, tender, and caring Heavenly Father. But the problem is that we often define “love” and “good” in superficial and trivial ways, setting us up to question God’s heart and purposes in hard times. Yet notice how our spiritual forebears saw His love:
The LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. (Psalm 32:10)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. (Psalm 51:1)
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. (Lamentations 3:32)
Our problem is not that we make too much of divine love, but too little. God does not love us on our preferred terms, but on His own. We think to “love” means to “do no harm,” when it really means “to be willing to do short-term harm for a redemptive purpose.” A physician who re-breaks an arm in order for it to heal properly harms his patient in order to heal him. C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed,
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless…. What do people mean when they say “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good”? Have they never even been to a dentist?
If cancer or paralysis or a car accident prompts us to draw on God’s strength to become more conformed to Christ, then regardless of the human, demonic, or natural forces involved, God will be glorified in it. A friend whose husband died wrote,
One thing that I’ve become convinced of is that God has different definitions for words than I do. For example, He does work all things for my eternal good and His eternal glory. But his definition of good is different than mine. My “good” would never include cancer and young widowhood. My “good” would include healing and dying together in our sleep when we are in our nineties. But cancer was good because of what God did that He couldn’t do any other way. Cancer was, in fact, necessary to make Bob and me look more like Jesus. So in love, God allowed what was best for us…in light of eternity.
We cannot see the end God has in mind. If we could, we would likely see that the hardships God allows prevent even more debilitating hardships—the by-products of the diminished character that results from a life of ease.
Samuel Rutherford wrote these profound words in the seventeenth century:
If God had told me some time ago that he was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that he should begin by crippling me in arm or limb, and removing me from all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing his purpose. And yet, how is his wisdom manifest even in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a closed room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps; and then throw open the shutters to let in the light of heaven.
I’ll close with a story I share in my book If God Is Good about Mary, who did not know Christ and was dying of cancer. One day she seemed perfectly healthy, the next she found herself in unending chemotherapy. She asked my wife why, if a loving God existed, He had let her life fall apart.
Nanci shared with Mary an analogy of a three-year-old boy who swallows poison. The father calls poison control, and they say, “You have to get him to the hospital. And whatever you do, don’t let him fall asleep. If he falls asleep, he’ll die.”
It’s a cold winter night. His father rushes the boy to the car, sits beside him in the front seat, and rolls all the windows down. The boy’s head starts to drop. His father slaps him in the face. The boy cries. His head starts to nod again. The father slaps him again and again, all the way to the hospital.
Can the child understand why his father is slapping his face? Of course not. He’s only three years old. His father, through tears, says, “I love you, son.” But if this is love, the boy doesn’t want any more of it.
Even though the child cannot understand, the father is acting in his son’s best interests. The father is doing good. What the child considers cruelty is actually kindness. Is it possible that God shows His love for us in the midst of human suffering and, like that three-year-old, we sometimes don’t understand?
(By the way, Nanci’s story touched Mary. During her illness, she came to faith in Christ. A short time later she died. We look forward to seeing her in Heaven and hearing her tell of God’s bountiful love, including how He used her illness to draw her to Him.)