I have held this one off for a while, because I have – truth be told – found this passage very hard to swallow of late.
When all is bright and beautiful in the world, and all is right by you, this verse is easy to roll off the tongue; its a wonderful thing to say when minor things come our way. I come to this verse today, and my world isn’t bright and beautiful; i am weary, in pain, worn out, angry, fearful and scared. I can barely walk, and even then not for long. I am on the strongest painkillers short of morphine just to keep me going.
For all intents and purposes, I am in a dark, dark place right now.
And into this torrent of pain and hurt comes this verse;
And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
God calls us to be honest, and my honest response at first was to throw this verse back in God’s face. It seemed so convenient, so easy to dismiss suffering as ‘God doing a good work’.
Which is easy enough to say when you’re not suffering. Try saying it when you are; i’d wager it sounds less convincing to you then. But this verse, and my difficulties in accepting it at first, made me realise a deeper truth, a truth the bible itself has repeated over and over again.
Faith is not blind. Faith is hard won, battled for, striven for.
Faith is a fight with God, not to the death, but rather to life, and life in all its abundance.
I have come to realise that the blessing and the curse of Christianity as a faith is that God does not expect us to swallow things blindly; He expects – even welcomes – struggling with us on these matters…on every matter. He is much bigger than our problems, and more than big enough to take our rantings, screaming, tears and angsts when it comes to grappling with His word. The struggle with God is best represented by our distant forerunner, and the ancestor of the Jewish people. Once upon a time Jacob the son of Isaac was on the run. Fleeing from a tyrannical and conniving father-in-law, and about to face his brother whom he had scammed out of his firstborn rights (and whom he fully expected still wanted to kill him), Jacob suffered, emotionally and physically, through whatever life threw at him. Then, the most startling event occurred to him.
In the dead of night, a visitor came to Jacob’s (by now abandoned) camp. Jacob, being the only one left, struggled against this visitor until the day dawned. The visitor wrenched Jacob’s hip out of joint, but still the man would not budge. The visitor demanded he let him go, but Jacob refused; ‘Only if you bless me!’ He grunted through the strain and struggle. The visitor asked his name. He replied. And the visitor replied, ‘You are no longer Jacob; you are now called Israel, for you have struggled with God.’
This event has been recorded for us in Genesis 32:22-32, and I am grateful for this, because this event shows precisely what those who suffer – and even those who don’t – do with God. We grapple and struggle, tussle and toss about, not because we do not want to believe, but because we do, and we want the blessings God has promised us.
And the struggle with God changes us forever.
It is worth noting that Jacob before this event is a trickster, a fraudster, a con artist and a devious and deceitful man. But after he struggled with God, we are faced with Israel, a new man, one who did not rise to cruelty and malice when the peoples he were staying with shamed his family in Genesis 34, and who made sure his dealings were just and fair with Pharaoh in the later chapters of Genesis. After the struggle, Jacob had changed into God’s man. Yes, he still fell short. Yes, he still sinned, but that is besides the point; the very personality of the man had changed from his encounter. All the evil in his life, all the hardships and sufferings and cons and deceits, had been used to bring about a good in him.
Which brings us back to this verse from Romans 8. God does not expect us to just limply accept this passage and sit back, pretending nothing is wrong. He know us better than that. He knows we want to kick and scream, to struggle and fight, to shout and wail and cry. He knows we want to doubt Him, distrust Him and let out all our rage on Him. But you know what? He wouldn’t have it any other way; He is our Father, and He is big enough to take it all. Because even our doubts and rantings will become good one day; only when all we hold dear has been exposed to the harshest light of day do our true colours become known.
So don’t hold back; don’t mistake silence for piety. Sometimes piety is screaming at the heavens. And this verse, as one suffering at this moment, is something I now hold to for dear life; one day, when the suffering has passed, I will look back and see that it was now that some of the greatest and most remarkable good things God will do in my life will have happened.
It is now that I fight the good fight, the one where God has throw all the corrupt things in me out of joint, and leave me a new man.
Praise be to God that He welcomes our struggles.
Praise be to God that He welcomes a good fight.