It’s my impression that many people view their relationship with God through a lens similar to that described in the book of Judges. “When we are faithful to God, God will bless us. When we turn from God, our lives will fall apart.” This isn’t absolute, because we still have to wrestle with the quandary of why wicked people sometimes prosper, and why saints sometimes suffer, but it’s an easy mindset to fall into. It’s easy for preachers to promise their congregations that God will solve all their problems, which is misleading and simply reinforces the simplistic “Judges perspective”.
Other people will elevate wisdom and suggest that our fortunes in life are determined by our choices. A smart criminal might live a more prosperous life because he makes more shrewd decisions. On the other hand if a smart criminal meets a smarter cop he may still end up in the clink. This perspective could argue that “we make our own luck.” The book of Proverbs encourages this worldview with verses like 10:14 “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.”
Alternatively, blessings and curses are random. We live in a random world where things just happen. Someone retires and sells their stocks just before a market crash. Is that a blessing? Or is it just randomly good timing because someone else just invested their life savings at exactly the same moment. One person gets hit by lightening, another 10 feet away is missed. Life is random.
I believe that all of these outlooks can be true at one time or another and none of them are absolute. I also want to suggest another that we find in Nehemiah. Satan attacks Godly people. When Satan sees God’s kingdom advancing, he works to shut it down. The Church of Christ tends not to emphasise spiritual warfare (we leave that for the Pentecostals) but it’s still a reality we need awareness of. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem ready to further God’s kingdom by rebuilding the walls of the city: a godly man on a mission from God. But by the time the walls were halfway finished he was surrounded by aggressive neighbouring states. In addition, he was confronted by weary and frightened workers within his workforce. He had done nothing wrong but found himself attacked and isolated as he served God.
Finally, there are apparently times that God tests his people. The classic example of this is the temptation of Christ immediately following his baptism. Matthew 4:1 reads “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (or tested) by the devil.” The Spirit took Jesus to a place that would expose him to Satan’s attacks. I don’t really know to what extent God continues to test His church today, but I do know that sincere faith has always been a highly sought attribute by God.
- Have I missed any reasons that people experience suffering?
- Which do you think is the most common?
- Do you believe that God continues to test his people and church today?
- How can we tell the difference between the cause of our struggles? Does knowing the reason for our problems impact the way we handle them?