Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 1)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The first time I really, honestly questioned God’s existence was when I was 18 and facing a rough spot in life, a trial. My trial was mostly internal and invisible. At the time, I wished I had been crippled or had cancer or something, anything that someone else might be able to see from the outside. I hated the fact that people could look at me and think, “She has it pretty good!”

I went through a long trial, and I was a Christian, so I prayed. I prayed things like, “God, I know you’re there, so please help me,” and like, “God, I’m not asking you to change my circumstance. Just help me through it. Please. I need you.”

But I felt nothing as I prayed. And I felt nothing after I prayed. And I saw no sign of any supernatural help from God.

I thought I wasn’t believing hard enough or wasn’t living perfectly enough, so I put more effort into doing the right things and praying the right way and believing harder because that’s what was supposed to help. Eventually, though, I crossed a line and allowed myself to consider something else.

My rationality became: If God exists, I believe He has to be the God of the Bible. I believe He is everything the Bible says He is. Therefore, God must be holy, just, omniscient, omnipotent, merciful, and loving – all these things I’ve always believed Him to be. I don’t doubt that He is those things. But a loving God wouldn’t do this to me. If God exists and loves me, He would be helping me, not ignoring me. I’ve been pleading for a year, and nothing has happened. There’s no chance that God is simply not those things; therefore I have to conclude that maybe God doesn’t exist at all.

After I figured that out, I started calling myself agnostic. I stopped going to church. Stopped praying. Let down my guard and my standards. Went about my life as best as I could without God. (For a time.)

Loving

I grew up hearing that I should love my neighbor as I love myself, and, later, that I couldn’t truly love someone else unless I loved myself. These ideas threw me off kilter for a long time. Especially as I grew into teenage-hood and my depression hit me harder, I could not understand this concept because, frankly, I didn’t feel like I loved myself. In fact, sometimes, or maybe most of the time, I hated myself! But I loved others… didn’t I?

Agape?

Agape is a Greek word used frequently in the New Testament for “love.” It is a sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the love with which the Father loves us and with which we are to love Him in return. It is also the type of love we are to have for each other. And, in my opinion, it is a very misunderstood concept.

In the New Testament, there are three main Greek words which are all translated to our word love. One is a passionate, sexual, romantic love (eros). Another is a brotherly love; it describes the kind of feeling we have in a friendship with someone we really like (phileo). The last is the deepest kind of love, but it is not based on feelings but rather on doing good towards someone (agape).

I’ll say it again: agape is based on actions rather than feelings. This is why I, as a simple English-speaker, misunderstood it. Love usually means a feeling, not an action. And despite growing up with “Luv is a Verb” by DC Talk, I did not really grasp the concept of applying this action-based love to myself and others.

Love Thyself, Love Thy Neighbor

Depression aside (because I know sometimes in that pit it is hard to even take care of oneself), I think it’s fair to say that most people have this “agape love” toward themselves. We do good to ourselves. We give ourselves good things – food, things, shelter. We take care of our bodies and minds. We do what we can to relieve pain and keep out of harm’s way. We generally treat ourselves pretty well! This is what I believe is meant by loving others as we love ourselves.

As Christians, we’re called to treat everyone with this kind of unconditional love. We are to take care of each other, look after each other, love on each other. Not necessarily because we feel affectionate! Even when I think that I hate myself or hate a part of myself, I still tend to treat myself well. And even if we don’t like everyone that we come in contact with, we’re to do the same – treat them well. They are made in God’s image and loved by Him, and we are to do good to them, not harm.

Spousal Love

I questioned myself before I got married. I wasn’t sure whether I would really be capable of loving my husband after being told for so long that I could not love someone else unless I loved myself first. And did I really love myself? Sometimes I sure didn’t feel very pleased with who I was or how I behaved or looked. I think it would be more accurate to say that you can’t act lovingly towards your spouse if you don’t know how to act lovingly toward yourself. If you abuse yourself, you’re likely to abuse your spouse. But understanding unconditional love, or agape, means understanding how to be kind and loving in spite of what you may or may not feel.

And, of course, it’s often easy in marriage to treat your spouse with agape, since there’s usually eros and phileo to motivate you.

I hope I’ve explained my thoughts well enough to be understood!

Wednesday in the Word

I did not post last Wednesday as I felt I needed another week with my verses. Probably I needed the extra time because instead of choosing two verses I chose one verse and one longer passage. I’ve enjoyed committing these verses to memory, though.

sunset july 19“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:1 (ESV)

This verse has been used generously in the book Thin Within, which I just finished going through. I’ll have to write a post about TW later. For now I’ll just comment on how wonderful it is that this verse has come “alive” to me. I knew that I was not condemned for my sins, Jesus paid the price, yadda yadda. But the verse had no personal meaning to me until TW brought it alive, and now I’ve memorized it along with its reference so I’ll always have it close to me! No condemnation. God is not angry with or disappointed in me. His grace, along with his forgiveness, flows unceasingly over me, even while I’m in the midst of doing wrong. He forgives and forgives, often the same offenses over and over and over. With an awareness of that kind of strength of love, it’s hard to continue in sin. It makes me want to change, to do better. It also takes away my need to beat myself up for mistakes. The price is paid, I’m already forgiven, and all God wants is for me to turn from my sins and press ever more into him instead.

“…He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13:5b-8 (ESV)

The truth about the Lord is that he is unchanging. He isn’t here one day and gone the next, willing to help you and then  leaving you high and dry at another time. He is forever faithful, and he always has been, and he always will be. So for me this means I can trust him and have utter confidence in him. I’ve learned a lot recently about relying on God and his strength to get me through tough times (moments, weeks, or years). How do I know whether I’m acting on my own strength or on his? Well, have I asked him to strengthen me? Has he promised he’s there, never to abandon me? Then I can know he’s there, empowering me. I can know I’m not going at it all alone, and I can be sure that if I falter, he will hold me up.

What can anyone else do to me in light of that? I used the only associate this verse with physical things – such as the persecution Christ-followers faced a lot in Biblical times. I didn’t see how that applied to me because, seriously, who is trying to beat me up or put me in jail? These past two weeks, however, I’ve been thinking about this in terms to other kinds of affects people can have on me. Emotionally? Sometimes people cause me such pain that I lose heart, I feel like I can’t go on, and I want to run and hide in my bed and not have to face the day ahead of me.

But what can man do to me? How can their painful interactions even compare to the goodness of my God? No matter how hurt I am, he is with me! He never forsakes me. He is there, willing to help me through each trial, and this includes my emotional pain as well as any physical calamity that may come. People can’t crush my joy (maybe my happiness, but not my joy) when I’m standing firm in my God and his promises.

Who has spoken the Word of God to me? My mom, Grampa, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, some friends… Thos who have taught me from the Bible – when I look at their lives, I see people who have confidence in God. Strong faith. I see them taking things to God in prayer rather than fretting. I see joy. I see patience and other fruits of the Spirit of God. I see contentment. So, the outcome of their way of life, their faith? I want that! Yes, I’m definitely ready and willing to try imitating THEIR faith if I can get that kind of abundant life from it. Bring it on!

Wednesday in the Word

Last week I was encouraged, by a Bible study I’m doing with some women at my church, to choose two verses each week and post them up and reflect on them, meditate on them, even memorize them. I have long thought known I should memorize and meditate on scripture beyond my daily Bible reading (which I have strived to make a habit this year), but I have felt too overwhelmed to do it. Where would I start? Yeah, I should “hide His Word in my heart,” but… there’s a lot of words! It felt too big to tackle!

But, I’m in a Bible study called Discerning the Voice of God.

And I really want to hear Him. And I really want to get the most from this study! So I took the suggestion and chose two verses. I wrote them neatly in cursive on a piece of paper and stuck it on my bathroom mirror. Now, the problem is, often if I post something up on my mirror I stop really seeing it after a time, but I tried to make myself look at it, read it, apply it to what I went through this week.

I believe that I will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14 (ESV)

I am realizing that what I believe affects what I think and feel as well as what I do. To take an example from the book Thin Within, if I believe I’m a chicken, I will act like a chicken, pecking at the ground in the chicken coop with other chickens. But if I believe I’m an eagle, I will soar high above. I won’t stay in the coop. If I believe God doesn’t care about me and there is nothing good this side of Heaven, I will live accordingly. I will doubt him, I will feel hopeless, I will take situations into my own hands. But if I believe I will see His goodness, here, on Earth, that he’s here with me, that will then change my outlook on life.

I’m also encouraged by the message to wait on the Lord. Of course, this appears numerous times in the Bible, but I’ve never thought about it. Take courage, it says, and wait. Often I feel anxious in my inactivity. I need to know what’s going to happen and plan how I’m going to face it, and I feel afraid if I don’t know God’s plan for me. And he says instead to wait. With courage. Believe that I will see His goodness, and be okay with leaving the future in his hands.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save.
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will quiet you by his love,
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

It is said rather indirectly, but it speaks to me and reminds me that God not only loves me but also delights in me. Exulting means lively, triumphant joy, jubilation, and elation. He rejoices over me and is glad for me. He sings over me.

I sing to Him, sometimes with a heart so full that I want to cry, and yet this verse says HE sings over ME. Our conquering hero never leaves us alone, but stays with us, and not only that, but he loves us and enjoys us. As I faced difficulty this last week dealing with depression again, I kept coming back to this verse and meditating on it, letting it sink in, trying to imagine a God who loves me so much. His love really did work to quiet my soul.

More Than Just Surviving

dedI think this is one of my biggest struggles: to not only trust God with the direction of my life, but to be content and to thrive where he places me rather than just survive. It’s a struggle at all times, but it’s especially difficult during trials. Of course, most recently it has been difficult due to deployment.

I hate deployment! That’s understandable, right? My husband is gone, and not only absent from my every day life but placed in a dangerous situation! I have to miss him and fear for his safety, and most of the time I just want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over. I don’t want to live through this year of deployment, but I have to, so many times I have this mentality of needing to simply survive. Do what is necessary to make it through another day, and eventually it will all be over.

That’s okay. I mean, eventually I will have survived the year, Hubby will be back, and things can go back to normal. But I don’t think it’s what God wants from me.

Jeremiah 29: A Letter to the Exiles

God’s people had been carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon and were going to remain there in exile for 70 years. Of all the times to justify that survival mentality, you would think this would be a prime example. But God isn’t satisfied with that… God asks for more. I found this passage really speaks to me and where I am with this deployment… Here’s my paraphrasing:

This is what the Lord Almighty says to those He carried into deployment: “Make homes and settle down; plant gardens and work on other projects. Care for your family and friends. Don’t let yourself whither away. Seek peace and prosperity where I’ve placed you… When your time is completed, I will come to you and fulfill my good promises. For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. You will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me with your whole heart and find me, and I will gather you from the places where I have banished you, and bring you back.”

God wants his people to know that he can be worshipped outside of the holy land just as well as inside. He is God over Babylon (deployment) just as much as he is God over Jerusalem. As one commentary says, “Real hope for the people, according to Jeremiah, lay not in some immediate relief from social and communal death, but in living through that experience as faithful people, awaiting the Lord’s ‘future with hope’."

Biblical Encouragement

People are watching us, so let’s follow Jesus’ perfect example:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Thrive, don’t just survive. Think on God and his goodness and all the good gifts he gives. Run with endurance, don’t let yourself whither. Keep praying and pursuing God. This is how you should live, regardless of where he’s placed you and whether or not you want to be there. This is how you get the most out of life and bring God the most pleasure.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Phillipians 4:4-9 (The Message)

Thriving

I’m still working on it, but I’m getting better at ridding myself of that survival mentality. It’s about time, since we’re almost five months into this deployment! God is really trying to pound some lessons into me, I think…lol. And I feel like I’m finally ready to start learning rather than burying my head in the ground and waiting for it all to be over. I’m finally ready to hold up my chin and start facing things head-on, with His help. I don’t know if I’m really thriving yet, but I’m doing a little more than just surviving, so I guess that’s good.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working towards, and that’s how I want to go through the rest of this deployment. I want to do more than just survive. So there are my disjointed thoughts for the day.

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New Furniture and Bible Reading

I didn’t post the Bible Reading Plan for last week, so if you were trying to follow along, well… be comforted by knowing that I’m as behind as you are. Thankfully, this particular Bible Reading Plan has only 25 days of reading per month, so that should make it easy(-ish) to play catch-up.

Anyway, please forgive me for being so behind! I posted the first 7 days of reading already, so here are days 8-21.

  • Matthew 4:12-17, Acts 5:1-16, Psalms 8, Genesis 21-23
  • Matthew 4:18-25, Acts 5:17-42, Psalms 9, Genesis 24
  • Matthew 5:1-12, Acts 6, Psalms 10, Genesis 25-26
  • Matthew 5:13-20, Acts 7:1-38, Psalms 11, Genesis 27-28
  • Matthew 5:21-32, Acts 7:39-60, Psalms 12, Genesis 29-30
  • Matthew 5:33-48, Acts 8:1-25, Psalms 13, Genesis 31
  • Matthew 6:1-15, Acts 8:26-40, Psalms 14, Genesis 32-33
  • Matthew 6:16-24, Acts 9:1-19, Psalms 15, Genesis 34-35
  • Matthew 6:25-34, Acts 9:20-43, Psalms 16, Genesis 36
  • Matthew 7:1-14, Acts 10:1-23, Psalms 17, Genesis 37-38
  • Matthew 7:15-29, Acts 10:24-48, Psalms 18:1-24, Genesis 39-40
  • Matthew 8:1-13, Acts 11:1-18, Psalms 18:25-50, Genesis 41
  • Matthew 8:14-22, Acts 11:19-30, Psalms 19, Genesis 42-43
  • Matthew 8:23-34, Acts 12, Psalm 20, Genesis 44-45

In Other News

Hubby and I now have bedroom furniture! These pictures are as much for him as they are for you, since he has only seen quickly-taken cellphone pictures. I bought a long dresser with a mirror and a tall chest of drawers from Goodwill, and my friend and Sunday school teacher helped me to get them home – and even helped attach the mirror. Not pictured is the matching headboard which I got Goodwill to throw in with the dresser and mirror. It is sitting in the hall, as I don’t have the screws to try and attach it to our bedframe.

IMG_2379 IMG_2386

Bible Reading Plan

The church I frequently attend is going through the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan! I’m planning to read along with them for several reasons…

  1. 1. Habit – I’ve gotten out of the habit of regularly reading scripture. I usually only crack my Bible open for my weekly Bible study or for church, but in the past I’ve felt much closer to God and had much more peace when I was reading daily.
  2. 2. Knowledge – I’ve never read through the whole Bible. I’ve tried several times, but when reading it from front to back, I always get stuck in the Old Testament… I’ve read through the New Testament a couple times, but there are still parts of the OT that I’ve probably never even seen!
  3. 3. Unity – I like that the whole church is doing this together, and I really want to be involved by doing it with them.

If any of those reasons stand out to you, maybe you’d like to join us? I’m a little late posting this, but there’s still time for you to catch up and join in, as the plan only requires 25 days per month of reading. So it’s not every day reading. To start with, we’re in Matthew, Acts, Psalms, and Genesis. The plan gives you passages from four different places in the Bible, which I think is pretty unique. So far it has been interesting for me!

  • Sunday: Matthew 1:1-17, Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 1, Genesis 1-2
  • Monday: Matthew 1:18-25, Acts 1:12-26, Psalm 2, Genesis 3-4
  • Tuesday: Matthew 2:1-12, Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 3, Genesis 5-8
  • Wednesday: Matthew 2:13-23, Acts 2:22-47, Psalm 4, Genesis 9-11
  • Thursday: Matthew 3:1-12, Acts 3, Psalm 5, Genesis 12-14
  • Friday: Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 4:1-22, Psalm 6, Genesis 15-17
  • Saturday: Matthew 4:1-11, Acts 4:23-37, Psalm 7, Genesis 18-20