Bariloche, Argentina (Patagonia Region) Photographer: Yoavlevy10
Every year more than 6 million tourists travel from Japan to Paris. Many arrive to Paris with a set of expectations of the city and the people based largely on the magazines they have read. They expect the average Parisian to be incredibly skinny, good looking, and to be wearing exclusively high end clothing brands. They come to the city and their expectations are not met. For a small number of people this reality is entirely too much and they literally have a mental breakdown. This condition is named “Paris Syndrome.”
Many Christians suffer from a type of Paris Syndrome about God. I remember growing up when the phrase “try Jesus” was relatively popular. God it seemed was likened to a pill. Follow God and all your problems will be solved was the implicit message. The ideas behind a cookie cutter God is still just as prominent today. Browse through different social media sites and you will see all kinds of out of context verses implying meanings they were never supposed to. The most popular books in the Christian section of a book store are hardly different from the self improvement section. But if we are honest with ourselves and we live long enough as a Christian we realize this kind of talk is nonsense. Tim Keller once said “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”
I have no intentions to color your worldview by painting an incredibly dark picture of the world. It’s a fact that the world is filled with darkness and light. Paul urges the Philippian church to focus on the good, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” But focusing on the good, doesn’t mean to deny that there truly is darkness in our world. Often times, people lose their faith in God, when they encounter such things. They were sold on the idea that because they serve God, and He is good, they wouldn’t experience any such things. Peter tells us to not think it strange if fiery trails come our way. (1 Peter 4:12, 13)
Not excluding trials and hardships, God’s hand in history can be mysterious. God’s hand in some affairs seems so obvious while other times He seems so absent. George Mueller’s life’s work seems to be a case study in the former. He lived a life of consistent answered prayer. Taking a strict approach to praying instead of asking for money, his orphanages provided for over 10,000 kids in his lifetime, and at the same time He never took a salary in the last 68 years of his ministry. One of the most influential Christian women of our time is Elisabeth Elliot. Yet, it wasn’t all peaches and cream for her. Her husband died on the missionary field not too long after Bible college, not too long after her and her husband moved and got married on the the mission field, not too long after her and husband dedicated themselves to learn the local language to translate the Bible and evangelize, and not too long after they had their first child.
In the book of Job we see Job loses everything in His life very suddenly. Job’s friends all thought they knew the answer to his suffering but were all wrong. They all thought it had to be sin in his life. Job is patient, yet Job questions his suffering to God. God’s answer to Job’s suffering wasn’t a granular breakdown of how He commands the moral fabric of this world. Part of God’s answer in chapter 34 is “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” God’s answer to Job is in a way saying there a lot of things you don’t know or understand and yet accept. This will need to be one of those things. Part of what God does we may not understand in this lifetime. Who knows perhaps explaining the intricacies of suffering, evil, consequences of evil, choice, and sovereignty maybe akin to explaining Langrangian mechanics to a kindergarten class.
So, what is a good way to deal with some of the mystery we see in life? I think one powerful way is to see God’s wisdom and sovereignty in relation to His goodness. What I mean by relation is that we should never isolate one characteristic of God apart from seeing and weighing all of God’s other characteristics in connection to it. It is all to easy to quickly delve into the realm of philosophy when looking at God’s characteristics such as His sovereignty without thinking about God’s other revealed characteristics. We may never understand all of the details of why this world is set this way, but we do know we serve the God who sent His Son on the cross for us. We trust all kinds of things in our life, from the brakes in our car working, to the buildings we work in not to collapse, to trusting our employers will pay us for the work we do for them. How much more can we trust, the God who sent us His Son for our punishment? Know that even in the midst of confusion, chaos, and pain, we have a savior who loves us.
*The idea of weighing God’s characteristics in relation to one another is not my own idea. It is an idea I read in John Piper’s writings.