Sooner or later, somewhere along the line, when confronted with a potentially life-threatening illness, or some other tragic situation involving people we love, the thought crosses our mind: “Why? Why me? Why now? Why is God doing this, or allowing this, to happen?”
And you know, there are plenty of half-hitched people with some pretty goofy ideas out there who think they have all the answers for us. Some say that it’s God punishing people for their bad behavior. But while I’m sure that I do deserve plenty of punishment for all my bad behavior, I’m not convinced that God works like that. In fact, Jesus, Himself, discounts that kind of thinking in His teaching about the need for authentic repentance. As the story goes:
… there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5, NASB)
So, there you have it. We are all sinners and we all need to repent of the selfishness in our lives. But God doesn’t punish some of us physically, here on earth, for the sin in our lives while letting others go scot-free. Rest assured, people will be held accountable for their sin; and those who choose not to repent of sin, but to embrace it during their time here on earth, will meet their fate in the final judgment. Check out Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus for more information about that (See: Luke 16:19-31). But, according to Jesus, the bad things that happen to us here on earth are not due to God’s direct punishment.
That having been said, the Bible does teach us that God “disciplines” the children He loves. Consider this incredible teaching written to the Hebrew children (Jewish Christians) who were suffering tremendous hardships and persecutions at the hands of their fellow countrymen, as well as the Romans, during the first century:
…you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13, NASB)
It seems as if, having been confronted with cancer and the fact of my own mortality, and in light of eternity, my personal goals and ambitions don’t seem to matter to me so much anymore. Somehow, it’s not about my plans and what I want to do for God anymore, but about His plans and what God wants to do with me in whatever remaining time He has designated for me here upon the earth.
It’s not that I no longer have the right and the privilege to pursue my personal dreams, goals, and ambitions. These are the things that make our lives unique and wonderful. But it’s more like God wants me to give those dreams and ambitions to Him, completely and without reservation. He is calling me to surrender them to Him at the foot of the cross, along with everything and everyone else in my life; so that He can take them and do with them whatever He sees fit. Perhaps they need to evaporate before my very eyes. Or, perhaps He will work with them, mold and shape them, and make of them something more beautiful than I could ever imagine. But, I’m convinced, He won’t do that until I let go—until I give them up by giving Him utter control of my destiny—and that includes a willingness to be content with whatever He decides to do with them.
Furthermore, I don’t think God is content to leave me at my current level of discipleship. And why should He be? When I think of all the trials and tribulations our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to go through as they lived out their Christian faith—losing their homes, their families, their livelihood, even their very lives for the sake of Christ—why should He be content with my lukewarm approach to faith. The Apostle Peter reminds us of the purpose behind God’s discipline, saying:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7, NASB)
God wants and deserves my unadulterated allegiance—a refined faith, purified, as necessary, through the fires of tribulation. It is written even of Jesus that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NASB). So, if even my Lord Jesus needed to suffer in order to experience the true value and significance of obedience, then who am I to argue against it, or run from it? “Oh, God, my Father, give me the faith, hope, love, joy, and peace to embrace your discipline, in whatever form it comes!”
Now that’s just me and God at work in my life. We are all individuals and God is intimately working His will in different ways and in different measures within all of us who love Him. I don’t believe that the discipline God is working in my life applies equally to everybody, or anybody, else. I don’t believe God’s reasons for confronting me with thyroid cancer are the same reasons my little nephew, Gatlin, had to endure Ewing’s sarcoma at such a young age and die at age 14; or the same reasons our sweet Jessica had to deal with Fanconi anemia and succumb to it at age 11. I don’t believe God’s purpose in suddenly taking Tim’s life, at age 23, bears any resemblance to His purpose in disciplining me with cancer.
While some of the same disciplinary benefits may be inculcated upon the hearts and lives of the parents, families, and loved ones left behind, the only sure connection that I can see between any of us, and the trials we’re individually required to face, is “FAITH”—the uncompromising belief that, “…we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).