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To assess yourself on this crucial matter, perhaps you could answer these questions. How do you respond when you don’t get your way? How do you react during disappointments?
What if I told you that God was part of what happened to you. That God is writing His story of redemption into your particular circumstances because of the role that He has decided for you.
How about this–not only is God working in your life through the horrible circumstance, but He does not want you to despair. He wants you to draw closer to Him.
Let’s not stop there. May I press a little more? The unfortunate circumstances that God is writing into your life are for your good and His glory. But more than that, they are something that He can use as a beacon to draw others to Him.
If these thoughts cause you to process your hurt in a Christ-exalting and God-honoring way, you will achieve what some believe to be the height of Christian maturity as well as inestimable usefulness in God’s kingdom.
When someone rips something that you love from you, and you come through that “crucible of suffering” loving God and others with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you are in a special place with your relationship with God and others.
But, if your loving heavenly Father leads you into the crucible of suffering, and you become bitter, angry, demanding, cynical, or irreparably discouraged, you’re in a dangerous place in your relationship with God as well as others.
I have spent many years thinking about these things because I had to. There were no other options. Evil came to me quickly and in full measure, and there was nothing that I could do about it.
On April 18, 1997, my brother’s wife shot him five times with a pistol. He died that night on the floor of his garage. He was forty-two years old. After I received the phone call and before we made the long and silent trip back to our hometown, I said:
Lord, I know you are in this. This murder did not happen outside of your awareness or allowance. My soul feels ripped apart right now, and I need you like no other time in my life.
I need to know that you are with me and that your purposes are coming to pass, even in this madness. Help me to see it. Help me to know it. Guard my heart against the diverse temptations that are coming at me right now. Lord help me!
As you would expect, God did help me that day. And He has never stopped helping me because He is a merciful God who loves His children deeply–so deeply that He would execute His own Son to help me (Isaiah 53:10).
My brother was regenerated 10-years earlier. I do believe He was born again. Shortly after God saved Him, his life changed radically. These were good years for us. We spent many hours talking about God and how kind it was of Him to regenerate “two rebellious Thomas boys.”
For the first time in my life, I had a brother who was my brother, biologically and spiritually. It was a rare and precious thing for me to have a brother who was my brother. And we cherished our moments together.
But on that terrible day, for reasons that I do not entirely understand, he was taken from me most tragically. At that moment, I pled with God that I might understand what He was writing into my life.
I asked Him to give me a sense of peace that would override and profoundly affect how I would respond to the brokenness that came to my family.
And though I knew these things, it was an altogether different experience to live it up close and personal. It was in that moment of brokenness that I most assuredly needed to know that God was with me. I needed to know God in a fresh and new way.
Without this understanding of “God is with me” and “God is writing His story into my life,” I knew I would inevitably sink into despair. I knew that I had to reorient my mind about our good Lord. If I did not, the brokenness would soon overcome me.
My primary question was, which would be greater in my life: God or my troubles? If you are going to persevere in this life, you must have a firm conviction that God is greater than all your grief.
One of the more significant questions that I had to ask myself was why this was happening to me. My soul was troubled, and I did not have all the answers as to why. God had to realign my thinking about the mysteries of His will. Here were some of those mysteries.
While I did not find answers to all of my questions, God did give me the grace to trust Him in what He was permitting. If I could trust Him with the eternal direction of my soul, I knew that I could trust Him with the death of my brother. It was a trust that did not come easy.
I came to believe that God chooses to temporarily accommodate the evil of this world while He works in and through and around the broken events of this world so that He can fulfill His purposes.
Make no mistake; God is a hands-on God, who is at work in the lives of individuals. And while God is in control of all things, He does not negate the reality of free-will.
God is in total control, even while we are choosing to make decisions. This duality is a mystery, and I had to become comfortable with it. God will reveal some things, but He will not reveal everything. We are called to trust Him even if we do not have all of the answers.
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to our children and to us forever, that we may do all the words of this law. – Deuteronomy 29:29
When evil came, I had to ask God the obvious question: what are you up to, Lord? I knew that God had more than me on His mind. I knew that He loved me, but He also loves others. It became clear that He was working His plans for many people.
I knew that my desires could not revolve around me and what I wanted, as though others did not matter. This tension would not be a struggle as long as I wanted what God wanted, even if it caused me to suffer loss (Philippians 3:8).
If I were only concerned about my life, what happened to me, and what goes on in my world, I would miss out on what God was trying to do through me.
Isn’t it true that sometimes we can get so stuck on what has happened to us that we do not see what God is seeking to do through us? When we do this, our impact and influence are shrunken down to our thoughts, our hurts, our disappointments, and the hope of getting our way.
If a person understands that God is with them, for them, and working through them, even in the most painful of circumstances of their lives, that individual is positioned to experience God in incredible ways, while being an incalculable blessing to others (Genesis 39:2).
Joseph was such a person. In his story–Genesis 37-50–we see that he was the one who was hurt. They kidnapped, imprisoned and heaped many other hardships upon him. If ever a person seemingly had a right to take revenge on someone, it was Joseph.
But Joseph did not do this. He had a better understanding of what was happening to him. God controlled him. He got it. He saw the Lord, who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).
He knew that God was writing a particular and painful story into his life. It was not about him or what he got or what he did not get. It was about God and how God wanted to use Joseph.
Ironically, his brothers, who were not in prison, were ensnared by their manipulations, lies, and attempted murder. Though they were not hurting the way Joseph was hurting, they were the ones bound by their attitudes and actions.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20
God is a counterintuitive God. He does things that we cannot do; He can use sin sinlessly. The most significant and most profound crime ever perpetrated on humanity was the execution of his Son on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
And it was our great God, using sin sinlessly, who accomplished His greater purposes through this heinous crime. And the Savior was willing to sacrifice His life for the greater good of others.
If I think that my life is about me and for me, I will be whittled down to a prison of hurt that will eventually reduce me to something that God will not use.
But if I see that my path is a path of suffering that is following Jesus, though I do not look for pain and sorrow, I can rest assured that God will be working His plan through me, for the higher purposes of the many (1 Peter 2:21).
You must know that God is not concerned about getting you through a broken world with no experience of suffering and pain. God has higher goals than to get you through life without scratches.
He is working in a broken world with broken people to accomplish His redemptive purposes. Sometimes He will choose to bring brokenness to you to achieve those purposes. That should not trip you up because you’re not living for this life anyway.
You have a higher vision and higher calling. Eventually, the Lord will bring you to a place that is not broken or temporary. That place is not here, but heaven.
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
How you think about God and how you think about your pain must be rewritten and filtered through a gospel-shaped crucible. If you do not take your thoughts captive and bring them to the obedience of Christ, you will very likely become a bitter, sad, and angry person (2 Corinthians 10:5).
As a Christian, to be controlled by someone or something other than the gospel is not a viable option. In the case of the death of my brother, I could either subject my thoughts and obedience to the loving care of my sovereign God or allow the circumstances of my life to take control of my thinking and responses. Ultimately, it was my choice.
By the grace of God, I experienced His mercy. He led me to Himself and gave me peace that passed my human comprehension as well as my painful sorrow and discontent.
This divine mercy released me from the desire to go eye-to-eye with my sister-in-law. God did not go eye-to-eye with me though He had every right to do so. Instead, He showed mercy to someone who did not deserve mercy (Romans 5:8).
Because of the gospel, I was “free in my prison of hurt.” (Read that sentence again.) Similar to Joseph, I experienced a more significant strength. It was not a desire for revenge. It was quite the opposite. It was a desire for her to get what I got–grace and mercy. My anger toward her turned to pity for her. It’s not essential for her to know how badly I hurt. It’s more important that she knows my Jesus.
Since 1997, I have been praying for my former sister-in-law, that God would mercifully save her. I do not know if this has happened. If it does, she will have the privilege of being in heaven forever, standing beside my brother and me, as all three of us worship the One that we killed.
Think about it: Paul is worshipping the Savior with those he consented to put to death. Only the transforming power of the gospel can be that redemptive.