I apologize up-front about the ambiguity as I want to keep names and particulars out of the spotlight, but the story and bigger issues surrounding it are quite relevant. Some close friends of ours recently endured yet another criminal act against their family. This marks two events in two different homes within the same city. As we walked out of church Sunday morning, Laura and I each received the text message revealing what had happened. We were stunned to say the least, and the drive home was a bit numb. And yet again the same questions came up: How do you address something like this? I mean really address it? Both we and our friends are believers, so shouldn’t we have the answers, the best answers, when violence and destruction befall us? Yet the best we could come up with was head-shaking silence.
Earlier that morning another friend mentioned how, in his own experience, some people seek advice regarding painful moments or circumstances in their lives, yet get upset when that advice doesn’t turn out the way they envisioned. They want assurance of supernatural intervention, that God will be there to make everything (or at least some things) right, yet they walk away when such guarantees can’t be made. As he relayed this illustration, I shook my head at the presumptuousness of some people. Two hours later, I was shaking my head at the text I had received. Oh how proximity changes our perspective.
However, I believe my friend’s original advice still holds true. We can’t guarantee God’s supernatural intervention in the pain we endure, because the Bible itself doesn’t guarantee it. In fact Jesus did make this guarantee: “In this world you will have tribulation.” (John 16.33) It’s not an attractive statement. In fact we could probably do much better, considering we claim to worship an all-powerful God. Shouldn’t he swoop in to rescue us when we call his name? But that’s not how he works, and we should be grateful, because there are deeper concepts at work than our comfort.
Thankfully Jesus didn’t leave us in the dark. Here’s the broader context: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33) Note the contrast between “in me” and “in the world”. In the world you will have chaos, but in Christ you can have peace. These aren’t two separate places however. Jesus isn’t calling us to be removed from the world and it’s tribulation. In fact, later in his chapter-long prayer, Jesus says this about his followers: “I do not ask that you take them out of this world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17.15)
God’s desire isn’t to supernaturally rid us of or remove us from our pain and troubles, but rather to walk with us through our pain and troubles. As my friend put it, if God made this world trouble-free, why would we ever long for the next world? God wants to build our faith and mold us into the image of his son. So if he walks with us through the pain and troubles, we begin to see where true hope and joy reside, and our ultimate desire becomes him and not this world.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.