Life is troublesome, which is to say that much of life is incredibly painful and can cause us to question our most rock-solid convictions. Christians are not immune to troubles. Jesus told us plainly that we would have them.
“In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)
I have had my own troubles over the last year, some of which I have written about, but many others that I haven’t. These often keep me up at night. They distract me at work. They cause me to stare blankly into space at the dinner table with my family until a child asks, “Daddy, are you okay?” They bring out emotions in me that I’d rather not feel and thoughts that I’d rather not think.
I would like to face all of my problems directly, to confront them and reconcile them. I would like to deal with them and put them to bed. I would like to be rid of them quickly and cleanly as soon as they come.
But not all troubles can be fixed and not all wounds heal the way that we’d like them to. It’s these things, these lingering pains and blights, that bring out the worst in me.
And the worst is not anger. God has spared me from that disease. It’s not retaliation. I don’t attack others or lash out at innocent people. It’s not fear. I’m not afraid of life’s darkness, to which we’ve all grown accustomed.
No, all of those responses would be bad, but the one that most often threatens me is the one that is worse than all of the others. It is, I will confess, “doubt”. In times of trouble, I am often tempted to doubt God’s present love for me.
This happens when I begin to wonder whether or not my suffering will do permanent damage to my life – an unbiblical idea, I know, since I will receive a new, incorruptible body and life one day – but a discouraging idea, nonetheless.
Enduring temporary suffering is easy, if we can be confident that no lasting damage will be done. But when it seems as if the damage will follow us all the way to the grave, we are particularly vulnerable to doubting God’s love.
How could God love me and take me from my small children? How could God love me and let someone destroy my reputation for offenses I did not commit? How could God love me and take away all that I’ve worked for in His name?
And though there are perfectly sound doctrinal reasons for trusting God’s love, and though there are many biblical examples of godly men and women who have experienced things far worse than these, this is the wound in my heart that Satan threatens to rip open during troubling times.
And so it is helpful to remember this fact, that God does not set out, each day, to prove His love for me anew. He is not like the man who feels, each day, as if he must convince his wandering wife of his affection.
True, everyday brings infinitely new displays of God’s grace and goodness. Each breath is a demonstration of God’s longsuffering with sinners who deserve to die. Every molecule of oxygen that we breathe, every boundary of gravity that orders this universe, every force of friction that keeps tectonic plates from shifting into global apocalypse…these are all displays of God’s grace and kindness toward us.
But when we speak of God’s love, we speak of something that He set out to prove, once and for all, long before I was ever born. When we speak of God’s love, we need not look to the skies for rainbows or stare into the healthy faces of our children. When we speak of God’s love, we need only close our eyes and imagine a Righteous Man, sinless, guilty of nothing whatsoever, tortured and crucified in our place.
This act, barbaric and gruesome, is not merely a display of divine grace or kindness or patience (though it is all of those things and more). This act, as exposed as the naked body of our Lord, is God’s proof to all – ONCE & FOR ALL – that He loves sinners.
And on my darkest day, after sleepless nights, when all my noble goals and desires appear to be crumbling apart through no apparent fault of my own…in my darkest hour, when I am tempted to surrender to doubt and ask, with Job, “Why has the Lord taken away my righteousness?”…
In those times of pain, I must take my eyes, for a moment, OFF of my suffering and tell myself, “This cancer, this trial, this attack, this depravity…this is not the test of God’s love for me. His love does not hang in the balance of today’s uncertainty.” He proved His love for me, once and for all, at the cross of Jesus the Christ.
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… (John 3:16)
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:9)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)
It’s amazing to me that God’s justice, kindness, goodness, graciousness, and mercy are shown in many different ways throughout the Bible, and these qualities are also plainly evident in the world around me. But when God set out to prove His love for me, He did it once and for all in the death of Jesus on my behalf. And over and over again in His Word, He means to tell me plainly, “I love you, Reggie, and I proved it there.”
So I cling to this, and I fight doubt with this. I bolster my faith and stand firm in my life. Why did I have cancer? I don’t know. Why do I suffer? I don’t know. Why is this so painful? I don’t know.
But I know this: God is not my enemy. He is my Father who loves me. And He need not prove His love to me through healing, alleviation of pain, financial prosperity, or towering achievements. Though I may ask for all of these, His proof of love does not depend upon any of them.
His love was proven in Christ. It is confirmed by Christ in my heart. It will be affirmed by Christ when I stand before Him and am welcomed into His kingdom.
That is all we need, Christians. No other demonstration of love is necessary for us. The cross of Christ is proof enough.