I am, by no means, an expert in the theological field of theodicy (how we reconcile a good God and His sovereignty in view of the existence of evil). I do know, however, that God is sovereign and is completely in control of everything. If not, then He wouldn’t be God. It’s hard for our finite minds to wrap around how the rapid growth of mutated cells which ravage a young child’s body is within the sovereign control of God, but it is. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not advocating that God is the creator or originator of evil. The Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil (Genesis 1:31, James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, 1 Corinthians 14:33). God is referred to in the New Testament as the “Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18, Revelation 1:8). The "Almighty" entails God having "an undeniable grip on all things." It is somehow in God’s providence to allow evil, pain, and suffering to exist in our world because somehow it serves to fulfill His purpose.
On the one hand, what Scripture tells us about God’s sovereignty is comforting. As a believer I rest in passages like Romans 8:28 that promise that all of life’s circumstances providentially work together for my good because all things that occur, occur because they were within God’s Will. But on the other hand, in my flesh, I’m troubled by that same thought. How can the loss of my job which places my family’s financial security in jeopardy, stripping away our primary source of health care, and putting an extreme amount of stress on us for a season serve God’s Will? How does it assist God’s Will for us to suffer humiliation at the hand of those who would slander our good name based solely on lies and conjecture? How does it serve God’s Will for some to endure the shame, guilt, physical pain, and life-altering terror of a sexual assault? How does any of this "serve" God’s Will? How do the tests and trials of life serve Christians? Better yet, how can Paul proclaim that they will be worked out for our good?
Even after a decade of intense theological education, I cannot satisfactorily answer these questions. I have a tough time making sense of my tests and trials and how they relate to my good. But here’s what I know: Scripture has much to say about our reaction to trials, how we persevere through suffering, and what all of this is supposed to produce in us.
First, as God’s children, our reaction to suffering, trials, and tests should be joy. I know what you’re thinking…this is precisely opposite the way I feel when trials come. But James, writing to his persecuted congregation as their pastor, calls them (and us) to rejoice when we experience all kinds of trials (1:2). Why are we to rejoice? Because the suffering that comes from those trials builds endurance, which in turn sculpts a mature and an ever sanctified follower of Christ (1:3-4). James isn’t calling us to rejoice because of the test or the trial we’ve providentially been allowed to encounter but what that trial, through the power of The Spirit, can and will produce in us, a believer that reflects Christ more clearly.
Second, tests and trials are not for us to endure alone. One cannot last through the tests and trials of life; we cannot suffer well, outside of Christ-centered, gospel-saturated community. Our small groups at Mars Hill serve vital roles in our life as a church. One of those roles is caring well for those of us walking through the “fire.” Here recently, my family has walked and is still walking through a pretty big time of testing. Despite the hurt and pain, God has shown Himself faithful in many ways during the last couple of months. One of the most significant ways He accomplished this was through the outpouring of love, compassion, empathy, and support from so many at Mars; some who we had never even met showed us support in sacrificial ways. God has used the gospel community at Mars Hill to help my family wade through this difficult time.
Finally, God uses the tests and trials in our life to maneuver us patiently and methodically right where He wants us. When I walk through seasons of testing and trial, I’m often driven to Psalm 51:17 where David prays for restoration. In this verse, he affirms that what God wants from His people isn’t ritual sacrifice but a broken heart. It’s our broken spirit and humbled heart that God desires of us. Tests and trials remind us of how small we are, revealing how big God is. It’s in these moments that God has us right where He wants us. And although the journey to a broken and humble heart isn’t fun, the result is peace and rest with our Father.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” As Paul often does, he calls believers to live with an eternal perspective, especially in light of the tests and trials of life. We can all view seasons of trials as “light momentary afflictions” when we live a life with eternity in our view. Let us all long for the day when our faith becomes sight, and these light momentary afflictions will be over forever.