He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3)
I Met A Man Of Sorrows At Starbucks This Morning
I had an amazing conversation with a thirty-something named Tom at Starbucks this morning. Tom is intelligent, friendly, and he has experienced serious suffering in his life. His soul mate, the woman he is certain he was meant to marry and spend his life with, she betrayed him, she left him, so they never married. Since that time her life has taken a downturn. After a series of relationships with different guys she’s divorced now. Also, a Christian leader Tom looked up to cut him out of his life without explanation. Later I learned Tom was also abused by his father and other family members. And then there’s his addiction: like millions of other men, Tom is addicted to porn. Yes, Tom has suffered, and he continues to suffer. About that, there can be no doubt.
And with many of his tribulations, when he prayed for intervention, no discernable intervention came.
Tom, this blog post is written with you in mind.
Why Did They Betray Me?
First I want to talk about the people who betrayed you. Before I was married I was betrayed by someone I loved too. I’ve never swallowed a burning balled up gas soaked rag, but if I ever did, I’m sure my gut would feel a lot like it did when I was betrayed–except the fire in the rag would extinguish much quicker. Tom you were betrayed by the one you were meant to be with forever, and that has to be painful, and confusing. And then there are the other betrayals in your life. Why would a loving God allow these things to happen?
If I were God I wouldn’t allow it. For instance if I, in my infinite wisdom, determined that two people were meant to be together, forever, I would take measures to ensure that it happened the way I decided it should happen. That’s my personality. Invest myself in the plan, then execute the plan. That’s me.
I’ve said it before, if I were God I never would have put the forbidden tree in the garden. If I were God I never would have sent Joseph to check on his brothers. If I were God I would have put Bathsheba’s bathtub out of view from the roof of David’s castle. I like to make things as certain and secure as possible.
I’m often confused by Him because God often does things in a way that’s exactly opposite of how I would do it. I want to ensure that my will be done. But God seems to ensure that each of us has free will, even when it seems to cause chaos. He gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose to do things their way instead of His way. He gave Joseph’s brothers the choice to act on their envy. He gave David, the man after His own heart, the freedom to betray God Himself, and his friend Uriah.
And he gave the woman you were meant to be with the freedom to turn away. And it’s the same for your father and the other family members, they had the freedom to choose to abuse you.
God is passionate about respecting our freedom to choose. He’s completely committed to giving us the freedom to do anything we want, even if it’s not what He wants. And if you think it through, that’s the only thing a loving God can do. Because if we’re not free to do things our way instead of His way, if we’re not free to turn away from Him, then we’re not free to love Him. It’s like some of the husbands in Africa who purchase brides. The bride doesn’t have a choice. She’s forced to comply with her husband without regard for her feelings. But you know what? That’s not love. For there to be love, there has to be freedom to choose. So God gives us that freedom.
The God I Can’t Understand
I don’t pretend to completely understand why God allows people to hurt us but then it doesn’t really make sense that I would. A neurosurgeon drills a hole in the head of a kid to treat an extradural hemorrhage, and that kid has no idea why that neurosurgeon drilled the hole. The gap between what the neurosurgeon knows and what the kid knows it too great for the kid to understand why the procedure is necessary. With that analogy in mind, how am I to understand why God is so in love with protecting our free will even when it results in suffering and sin? The gap between He and I is infinitely greater than the gap between the surgeon and the kid. The surgeon and the kid are both human after all.
I love to look at this website by Carl Huang called The Scale of the Universe. It’s an amazing way to look at the different pieces of creation from from the infinitesimally small, ten to the negative 35th power, to the unimaginably massive, ten to the 27th power. It’s one of my favorite ways to look at the universe from a scientific perspective. But here’s the thing, when I look at Huang’s website I have to realize: I’m never going to understand the God Who created the universe and all that is in it. Never.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t love Him. I love my wife Kathy more than any other human being on the planet–but I sure don’t understand everything she does.
And that doesn’t mean I can’t trust Him. I also trust Kathy even though I often don’t understand her decisions.
Other Men Of Sorrow
Some of God’s greatest men were men of sorrows like you Tom. Joseph was one of them. His brothers plotted to murder him. Then they gave him a “break” and got rid of him by selling him into slavery instead. Then they told their father, Joseph was dead. Later Potiphar’s wife made sure Joseph was tossed in jail, even though he was innocent. Then while he was in the dungeon Pharaoh’s servant, who was supposed to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, forgot about him.
And then there’s what Job went through. He lost all his children, and he lost all his possessions, and he lost his health. Job lost it all.
But both Joseph and Job went through what they went through clinging to their God. As bad as you or I might have it, we didn’t experience the suffering Joseph and Job experienced. Yet through it all they loved Him. I’m not saying they didn’t express their anger and frustration to Him. Read Job and you’ll see that he brings his complaints to God directly. But like any good relationship, Job continued to love and trust his God, even through the darkest times. Job (and Joseph too) trusted God no matter how badly he was beaten down by life, because Job knew God loved him.
The One Thing We Can Know About Why God Allows Suffering
We can’t know why God allows everything He allows to happen to us in life, but you and I can be absolutely certain about one thing it can’t be. We can know for certain that it can’t be because God doesn’t loves us. We can know for certain God loves us, and we can know for a reason Joseph and Job never knew. There was another man of sorrows who proves God’s love for you, and for me. For our sake, God allowed His Son to live a life of sorrows. For our sake God allowed His Son to be called crazy by his own family members. And for our sake He allowed His Son to be rejected by men. And for our sake He allowed His Son to be falsely convicted. And for our sake He allowed His Son to be brutally beaten, and His skin to be ripped by the scourging, and for Him to be murdered. He did all of that, for our sake.
God loved and loves us so much, that He gave His own Son, as a sacrifice for our dark sins, so we can be reconciled with God Himself.
So you can know that He loves you. You can know that He wants you present with Him so much that He paid that heavy price.
You can trust Him because you can know that He loves you.
You can love Him, and trust Him.
Even when you don’t understand Him.
References and Resources
Tim Keller, Questions of Suffering podcast
You might also like: Steve Mays’ Life Of Suffering (And how God healed him) and The Control Freak And Jesus.
To protect his privacy Tom’s real name is not Tom.
Image via Jorge Elias – Creative Commons