We are a faithless people, aren’t we? We know to say “God is good” and follow it with “all the time” but the moment something goes wrong, we’re questioning him: “Why would God let this happen to me?” “What good could possibly come of this?” “How am I ever going to get through?” “When will God step in and save me?”
They’re totally natural, those questions. And in a sense, they’re good because they do, at some level, presuppose that God has a purpose. But they’re the wrong questions. When we’re lost or suffering or alone, the question is not “Why?” or “How?” or “When?” The question is “Who?”
Who is this God we worship? If he’s a puppetmaster or a strategist, messing with our lives with no regard for our hearts, it makes sense to doubt him. But if he’s the God who is love, the God who calls Israel his darling,1 the God who was stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and nailed to a cross to suffocate to death on the off chance that you’d love him back, we have to change our attitude. Because if that’s who God is, then your first thought in times of trouble ought to be, “The God who loves me is at work in this.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see where God is in your pain or wondering when you’ll be released. The problem is when you’re seeking those answers because you don’t really trust that God is who he said he is: the Lord and Lover of souls.2
When people are suffering, I don’t often have answers. I can begin to see the ripples, the way their pain is working to make them holier and happier—ultimately. But in the moment of anguish, it doesn’t feel like enough. And so I find myself, again and again, saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s doing, but I know who he is. I know that he’s for you. I know that he loves you more than you could possibly imagine. I know that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. And so if he’s not stepping in to save you, I have to trust not in what I can see and understand but in who I know him to be. He is yours and you are his. There is nothing to fear.”
It’s the difference between Job and Jonah, the difference between a man whose response to difficulty is trust in God and a man whose response to prosperity is despair. Job loses everything and cries out, “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”3 And when he finally calls out to God, God doesn’t tell him what he’s doing. He doesn’t explain why he’s allowed Job to suffer. He simply says, “Remember who I am. Remember that I am wise and powerful, that I am sovereign creator.” Having known Christ, we can add, “Remember that I am for you. Remember that I am love.” And Job is content in knowing who God is, despite the miserable failure of his life.
Jonah, on the other hand, is called by God to be a prophet, an honor and a dignity sought by many in Israel. But Jonah doesn’t know why God would send him to the hated Ninevites and so he runs from God. In the belly of the fish, he relents, only to lament God’s will once again when his preaching is successful. He longs for death, a drama queen to the end. God reminds him that he loves the Ninevites, that he loves even their cattle, but Jonah is unsatisfied. He so caught up in his idea of how things ought to work, so caught up in the why and the how, that he’s forgotten the who.
You will never understand God, whose ways are as far about your ways as the heavens above the earth.4 “What you understand is not God.”5 And holding him accountable to your plan dictated by your finite understanding of things is just ignorant. God would not be God, after all, if he were God the way you would be God if you were God.6 Read that again. He is God and you are not. And while there’s nothing wrong with asking, “Where is God in this?” or “What good thing is God doing?”, any questions you ask have to be rooted in the answer to the one question that matters: who is God?
Nietzsche claimed, “He who knows the why of his life can bear with almost any how.”7 It certainly does help to have a sense of the why of your life but the more important question is the who. As you struggle through whatever situation is trying your soul right now, take this question to prayer. Who is God? What has he done in the past to reveal his power, his mercy, his love? What has he done in salvation history and what has he done in your life? Get to know the God of consolations instead of looking merely for the consolations of God. There is peace.