I know I promised the start of a series on James this week, but I am yet again taking a small tangent. While I am continuing to study that loaded book of the Bible, I want to share something else that has also been on the forefront of my mind: God’s goodness in undesirable circumstances.
Perhaps you don’t go through your days thinking about how the prosperity gospel contradicts actual promises of the Bible, but as the child of someone with a chronic disease, the evangelical church never let me forget this. There didn’t seem to be a Sunday that went by when someone didn’t come ask to pray for healing for my mom. As her disease progressed and she had to use a walker or wheelchair, more than once she was told she didn’t have enough faith to be healed. People misinterpreted Isaiah 53:5 by sayingto her, “by His stripes we are healed.” (This verse is talking about healing us from our sins and restoring us to communion with God, not physical healing from sickness or wounds.) Yet, despite the prayers and despite the faith, my mom’s disease presses on.
I believe one of our main problems is that we misinterpret scripture. Instead of following proper exegesis which is aiming to understand what the writer of the text actually meant, we read ourselves into the test which is called eisegesis. When God only promised something to a specific people at a specific time, we take it as promises for ourselves. For example, when God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross, Moses said to the people in Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” This was to specifically the Israelite people when they were being perused by Pharoah. While it is true that God fights for all Christians, this isn’t a promise to all Christians and our solution in every situation will not always be stillness. Or, like we mentioned in the above paragraph about the “by His stripes” passage, people don’t understand what the author means by what he writes so they apply it inappropriately. We need to understand who a biblical author is speaking to and what they actually mean by their words.Not all promises in the Bible apply to us today.
Some of the universal promises to Christians are actually quite unsettling. “In this world you will have trouble,” John 16:33. “The world hates you,” John 15:18-19. Yes, God designed us to be healthy. He designed man and woman to have unity in marriage. He designed people to bear life. But we no longer live in Eden. The world and our bodies became corrupted by sin. Therefore, things don’t function as His perfect design anymore and we are promised trouble.
This leads one to think, if God’s promises weren’t all about health and wealth, is He still good even when life isn’t good?
This topic makes me think of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. The king of Babylon declared that when music played all had to bow before the golden image he had created or else be thrown into a furnace to be burnt alive. Being Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to partake in idolatry. In response to the king’s last chance for them to worship the idol, these three faithful men said in Daniel 3:17-18, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us to the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Their faith is incredible. While we know reading the rest of the story that God did indeed save them, they didn’t know this fact going into the blaze. They were willing to believe that God was still sovereign and good regardless of the outcome.
That is one thing that is still true today: God is still sovereign and good regardless of our outcomes.
While the first part of John 16:33 tells us that “in this world you will have trouble,” the second parts reminds us to “take heart! I (Jesus) has overcome the world.” People with chronic diseases like my mom may never receive healing in this life. Some people may never marry or may have hard marriages. Others may struggle financially. Many have struggled with fertility. And all Christians who hold to sound biblical doctrine will be rejected and hated by this world. Yet not a single Christian out there is without hope.
Romans 8:28 says that God is working out our situation for our good. Not that all in our situation will be good, but that He is working it for our good. We may not see it right now, but we can rest in knowing that we have placed our trust in a God who is sovereign over all and is truly good.
My mom and others like her rest in knowing they will get new bodies one day when God creates the new heaven and earth. Christians are all brides of Christ Himself. The poor are said so many times to be rich in the Bible because of their reliance on God. We are each gifted to love and care for children, biological or not. And we take heart knowing that we share in the suffering of Christ and he is greater than our troubles. Every struggle we encounter presents us with the opportunity to be further sanctified and refined as well as drawing us closer to God. While God fixing our unfortunate situation is obviously good, Him quietly working in and through us in undesirable circumstances is also good.
Lisa TerKeurst wrote, “We can’t assess God’s goodness by how we feel at any given time.” Our situations and circumstances don’t always look good or favorable. It is easy to throw our hands up and cry that God isn’t good to us. But that simply isn’t true. While not all good promises in the Bible are for us, we can rest in the fact that we serve a good God who is working even the worst of times for our good.