Too often, the Church has been a stumbling block for people coming to know the real Jesus. We don’t have to allow hypocrites or cultural Christians to keep us from the life God has for us. Followers of Jesus can develop a genuine faith that transforms us and enables us to create the community He desires.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
The song “Tremble” from Mosaic has such powerful lyrics. We served at Mosaic for almost 13 years, and we know one of the musicians who wrote this song. Our families are close, and we watched her grow up. She used to babysit our kids.
Listen again to the lyrics:
Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, You silence fear
Mariah McManus and the songwriters captured a powerful idea. In the name of Jesus darkness and fear can be overcome.
But how is that possible? This is a scary and messed up world!
We are concluding our series, Trust if You Can, and today we are going to discuss overcoming the trust issues we have with God.
If we are honest with ourselves, we all have areas in which we can grow to trust God more. In what areas do you struggle to trust God?
Seriously, think about it. Does something come to mind?
I want to share one I have been working through over the years in hopes this will help you.
How can I trust God with so much evil and suffering in my life and in our world?
In other words, why do bad things happen to good people?
That’s all. I just want to tackle one of the biggest issues people have with God.
I won’t be able to answer all of the questions that come up around this issue, but I hope I can get us pointed in the right direction.
You see if Sunday mornings are the only time during the week you are trying to connect with God and considering spiritual issues, you are missing something very important in your life.
Erwin McManus, Mariah’s Dad used to say as the pastor at Mosaic, “my job on Sundays is not to feed you, but to make you hungry.”
Pursuing spiritual food only once a week on Sunday mornings leaves you malnourished.
Today I want to encourage you to go beyond coming on a Sunday every once in a while to having a deep and meaningful relationship with God every single day! In doing so, our doubts become areas of faith. Our struggles become areas of strength.
So how can I trust God with so much evil and suffering in my life and in our world?
Let’s break this down into three smaller but no less important questions.
Today, we are going to answer:
Who is God?
What is evil and suffering?
Who is God?
We need to understand who He is so we can discover that we can trust Him.
Our trust issues come from some of the following:
- Some of us have prayed and begged God for something that did not happen.
- Some of us have suffered a great deal, and we even blame God for our suffering. At the very least, we struggle to trust Him for even allowing the things we have faced.
- Some of us have been burned by people who say they represent God.
- Some of us are mad at a version of God that does not exist.
These trust issues have real effects on our life like the following:
- Some of us have decided He must not exist or if He does exist He must be aloof, distant, and doesn’t care.
- Some of us have added superstitions, other beliefs, and even created our own version of faith. Jesus is in there, but we’ve added on our own ideas just in case.
- Some of us treat Him like He’s Santa Claus. We think if I do what He wants me to do then maybe He will give me what I want Him to give.
To some extent or another, we have distorted views of God that we can unlearn so we can discover who He really is.
Growing up, my Dad’s side of the family was very religious. They went to church regularly, but I don’t think it was something that was discussed in the home. And in many ways that was how they raised me and my brother.
My Mom’s side was not very religious. My grandmother got more involved in a church in her later years, but when we would invite my grandfather to attend church He would always refuse to go, warning us that if he went to church, God would probably send lightning bolts to put a quick end to his life.
The Scriptures are filled with stories that reveal who God truly is. Let me summarize with just a few.
God is Creator.
God is Love.
God gave us freedom to choose. And with our freedom, we have damaged our world and each other.
Even still, God chose to rescue us from the brokenness and evil within our world
He offers forgiveness. He extends kindness, grace, and mercy.
Ultimately, you can know who God is by looking at His Son, Jesus.
Jesus was God walking among us.
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. – Colossians 2:9-10 (NLT)
God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:17b-18 (NLT)
So what can be disorienting is reading about wars in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and the judgment of nations. Some see God as angry and eager to condemn people because of how we see the Old Testament (and even how religious people have treated others throughout history). For many of us growing up in the United States, we were introduced in English class to one of the most famous sermons written on this Continent called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” or in history we were introduced to the medieval version of heaven and hell and judgment with art like Dante’s Inferno. So it’s easy to see why some might connect their parents’ uncontrolled rage with God and treat God like someone we need to appease or why some might dismiss this kind of God completely.
Here’s what I have discovered: If you genuinely want to find God and discover who He really is, He will reveal Himself to you.
If you are here and unsure about God, faith, and Jesus, let me ask you:
Are you open-minded spiritually?
Are you closed-minded?
If you are here and struggling with your faith or finding yourself more distant from God than you want to be, are you willing to pursue God again?
One of the ideas that might trip us up, but is really important to understand is how we relate to God.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” – Job 28:28
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Proverbs 1:7
What does it mean to fear God?
We should have the ultimate level of respect and reverence and a feeling of awe towards God more than everything else. We should have a greater fear of God than we fear bad things happening or fear people.
And it’s true, Jesus makes the darkness tremble – even the darkness within us which is why when you finally acknowledge you need God you are overwhelmed with His love and forgiveness. This is why you are motivated by gratitude for God’s unconditional love to grow and let Him transform you!
Now when we don’t understand something in the Bible. Now some of us see the Bible as archaic and no longer relevant. In reality, it is ancient, and the wisdom offered is timeless. We need to look at the context and interpret the Scriptures with the Scriptures.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:18
We fear God, but because God is love we can lean into our relationship with Him.
He is perfect love so as we draw near to Him we discover we have nothing to fear.
He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve. Jesus died on the cross defeating sin and death.
C.S. Lewis, a brilliant English professor and atheist who came to faith later in life writes about this in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the story, God is portrayed by the lion Aslan.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”– C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion…”
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God has the power of life and death. Our very breath is dependent upon Him. It makes sense to fear Him, but He’s good. You can trust Him with your life, your hopes, your dreams, your relationships, your pain, your mistakes, your struggles, with your entire life.
God sees this life differently than we do. We fear death because it is the great unknown. Yet listen to how God refers to death:
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants”.- Psalm 116:15 (NIV)
“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” – Isaiah 57:1 (NLT)
Paul who suffered greatly in life because of his relationship with God said it this way:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. – 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV)
He also said:
“To live is Christ and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21 (NIV)
And it isn’t just the Bible that talks about a life after death. Our senior pastor John Burke has written all about the medical and scientific evidence we have for a life beyond this one in his bestselling book Imagine Heaven. (PIC)
We can trust God with our lives, with our death, and with all the challenges we face. He is the Creator. He loves us, and He loves us enough to give us freedom. He loves us enough to be with us in the midst of our suffering. And one day, He will make all things right.
What is evil and suffering?
One of the disciples of Jesus who is mentioned a lot in the New Testament was Peter. Here’s what he wrote to those he cared about who were going through a difficult time:
“Do not suffer for murder, theft, or any other crime, nor because you trouble other people. But if you suffer because you are a Christian, do not be ashamed. Praise God because you wear that name… So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” – 1 Peter 4:15-19
Peter reveals that there are three different types of suffering:
consequences (for the bad that we do)
persecution (for the good that we do)
circumstances (for the world in which we live)
Let’s look at this a bit more in depth.
Consequences – Bad decisions have bad results.
Are you suffering because of a mistake you made or continue to make? Peter mentions that some of us suffer because of our criminal acts or for meddling in the affairs of others while not taking responsibility for ourselves. Maybe you had the best intentions, and you were even heading in the right way, but you ended up messing up the process. In the end, we reap what we sow. Sometimes our suffering could have been avoided if we had more emotional intelligence. We do things we know we shouldn’t do, and then get mad at God for the results!
In our freedom, we have made bad choices that lead to results we did not want. We wonder if God cares, and He wonders if we are even listening!
Years ago I was a youth pastor in Los Angeles. Once I was in a meeting with a teenager who was pregnant and her mom. I was trying to help them navigate their next steps. The daughter was still struggling to come to grips with the consequences of her actions. She would say things like: “I just don’t know how this happened!” I may not be a very good counselor, but I knew exactly how this had happened. Then she would cry and say: “How could God do this to me!” I wasn’t sure if she hadn’t heard the birds and the bees speech yet, but God was definitely not the cause of this situation.
So often we ask God to free us from the consequences of our actions. Instead we should be asking Him for help to make better decisions.
We need to be quicker to learn from our mistakes. We need to humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness, ask those we’ve hurt to forgive us, and ask God for the help to forgive ourselves. Guilt and shame can keep us trapped. We need to have the courage to involve others in our healing and recovery process. Humility helps us acknowledge we need help from God and help from others. Our pride can keep us from moving forward.
Persecution – Good decisions may have tough results.
Are you suffering for doing good? Sometimes to get to where God wants us to get, we must endure hard times.
For some of us, we try so hard to avoid pain in our lives that we avoid making the right choices. We choose to reject God’s guidance because we value how we feel more than we value the future God has for us.
Genuine persecution comes when we are criticized, mocked, ridiculed, or even endangered as a result of the good choices we make. In our world, people who choose to follow Jesus face hostility, imprisonment, and even death.
As strange as it may sound, Peter says that if you are suffering for doing good then we need to rejoice which means to be grateful and even to thrive in the midst of our trying times because we are catching a glimpse of what Jesus was willing did for us. “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
Keep going. Persevere. Endure. Your efforts will be rewarded.
Circumstances – A broken world affects us.
We live in a fallen world. We are also adversely affected by the choices others make, whether those choices seem innocent or those choices are downright evil. We don’t have to look very far to see evidence of a world in disrepair. Disease, death, violence, natural disasters, injustice all point to the fact that something has gone wrong. Other times we face difficult moments as a result of the times in which we live.
The Scriptures warned us we would face hardship in this world. Things are not as God intended, but they won’t always be this way either. Heat waves, ice storms, hurricanes, viruses, buildings collapse, and our heart breaks for those who are hurting and grieving.
Challenging circumstances remind us of our frailty, and they can be what draws us closer to God rather than pull us away.
It is so easy to say that until you experience personal trauma.
Just after high school graduation. I had really been growing in my walk with God. Been really following him for about one year at that point. I was going to go play volleyball at a new sand pit court at park in the suburbs of Dallas/Fort Worth called the Bedford Boys Ranch. Now, there were going to be some cute girls there, so I decided to make some bold fashion choices. First, I cut my Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt to show off my abs, and then I am embarrassed to tell you, I decided to start my own fashion trend. I put on some cool looking boxers over my black shorts. I was wearing tighty whiteys, black shorts and then orange boxers with purple polka dots! In my mind I was looking pretty fly for a white guy!
I was riding my bicycle to the park with a volleyball under my right arm and while holding a water jug in my left hand. This was 1990 so of course I wasn’t wearing a helmet which probably weren’t invented quite yet but even if they had been it would have messed up my feathered hair anyway. PIC
As I came down the hill towards the volleyball court, I got a lot of speed. I was going way faster than I had intended and faster than the Volkswagen that turned in front of me thought i was going. It happened so fast! I hit the passenger side of the hood, crashed into the windshield, and flew over the car landing on the grass just beyond the road. Just like you may have heard or experienced, time slowed down. I remember flying slowly over the car and hearing the two teenage boys in the car screaming: “oh my God!” Then once I landed on the ground, time went back to normal. I looked down and my arm was cut wide open. I could see the bone, the muscle, the tendons. I noticed my leg was cut up pretty badly as well.
One of the fastest kids in our high school saw the whole thing and recognized me. He ran to the phone and called 911, and then he ran to his car and drove to my house to tell my parents. They got there before the ambulance took me to the hospital. My friend Craig ran up to me. I was in shock and not really in pain quite yet. I was fully conscious but not fully aware of how badly I was injured. I reached into my pocket with my left hand and pulled out a mix tape I had borrowed from him to give it to him. He acted grateful even as blood was squirting all over the place including on the mixed tape I handed to him.
In the end I got 70 stitches and some nice scars to remember that moment. PICS Remarkably, I didn’t break any bones. They were all superficial cuts, but I had some really gnarly scars.
This was a really hard moment for me in my renewed faith. What happened?
I was really trying to serve God and follow Him. I was even on my way to play volleyball with some friends who I was trying to help connect to God. Why did this happen? I was praying while riding my bicycle!
I had to wrestle with God. Why didn’t he protect me from that Volkswagen?
Even still, my faith was tested. Am I going to trust God only when things are going the way I want them to go? Or am I going to trust Him no matter what, regardless of the circumstances.
I found a great deal of comfort from the Scriptures during that season. The apostle Paul experienced a great deal of suffering for his faith. He was beaten, attacked, imprisoned, beaten with stones, and ridiculed for his faith.
Paul said: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11
In that season I discovered that we cannot experience the power of new life without experiencing the pain of dying to the old life. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion.
Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering. It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A genuine faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well.
Who we become in life depends on how we respond to tragedy and hardship. We need to take our pain and what we have suffered to God.
With God’s help, He can bring good out of our suffering when we entrust our lives and circumstances to Him.
We live in a broken world. As a result, we will all suffer.
Now I knew the sister of the kid driving the car. A few weeks after the accident, she came by to visit. I asked her what her brother Brad had told her about the wreck, and she told me he hasn’t been able to talk to anybody about it. He was too shaken up. A couple weeks after that conversation I was healing up really well.
A year later, I had plastic surgery on my arm in hopes it coming back straighter and without the killoid scarring. About the same time, I had a knee surgery to get out some glass that was still in my knee. We did both surgeries about the same time so I could heal up before the next school year. My arm and my knee were bandaged up, and I was using crutches. I went to a restaurant with some friends, and I saw Brad working there. This was the first time I had seen him since the wreck. I wanted to assure him I had no hard feelings and wanted to make sure he knew I was ok. I felt bad he couldn’t even talk about what happened. So as I was coming into the restaurant, he was walking away from the table where he had just taken their order, so I called out “Brad!” and started waving at him with my bandaged arm. He looked at me and turned white as a ghost and hurried into the kitchen! Poor guy didn’t know I was fine but instead thought I was still bandaged up from a year before!
Here’s the thing: Most of the time we do not know why God allows pain into our lives.
Maybe the struggles you are currently facing are the direct results of your prayers for something better in your life? Maybe God has allowed pain to come into your life to refine you and help you become the person He created you to be.
Even body builders realize “No pain, no gain!” If this is true physically, of course it would be true spiritually.
When you are facing a trial, what do you do? To whom do you turn? Do you see things from God’s perspective? Do you notice His love, His sacrifice, His plan? Do you see Him showing His love through the people around you?
If you are in the midst of a trying time, don’t give up. Too often, we bail. We bail on God. We give up on relationships. We give up on our dream. When in reality, we quit just before the breakthrough.
“Everything can look like failure in the middle.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Our current crisis may seem gigantic, but in a year will we even remember how we were feeling on this day? Since we do not know the future and our memory of the past fades so quickly, we often live as if the present is all there is. We have been told to live like there is no tomorrow, but more often than not there is a tomorrow. The spirit of the old cliché is to live with urgency. Most of the times we do not seem to be at all urgent about doing good, but when things are going bad everything seems urgent. When it comes to doing good, live like there is no tomorrow. When it comes to crisis, know that there is a tomorrow.
Many times, as life proceeds, we begin to regain our hope. We can see that life can go on. Life can get better. I would imagine, you and I have forgotten more trials than we are even remembering.
The Scriptures are filled with stories of people who suffered in tremendous ways. For those of us who follow Jesus, we follow someone who is referred to as “the Suffering Servant.” In fact in Isaiah 53, Isaiah predicted 700 years before He came that the Messiah would come and suffer on our behalf. Jesus knows what it feels like to grieve and experience loss. He was acquainted with every aspect of life. He understands what it feels like to experience pain, rejection, abandonment, betrayal – all the things that haunt us.
God is with us in the midst of the suffering. One day, He will make all things right.
To overcome trust issues with God, here are 3 practical next steps:
1. Be honest with God.
And we see this in the Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures where David feels like he is suffering in spite of trying to lead a life that honors God. He opens up to God. He complains to God. He shares His doubts with God.
“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him…. no one is concerned for me.I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. – Psalm 142:1-4
After doing so, he ends so many of the Psalms which are really like his journal entries with the following:
I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living…. because of your goodness to me.” – Psalm 142:5-7
Often David questions God with “Why me?!” God is ok with that kind of honest prayer. Be open and honest with God. He is big enough to handle your emotions.
2. Choose to trust no matter what.
Be ok not knowing why this is may be happening.
We can still trust God even if we don’t fully understand God.
There are paradoxes in relationships including in our relationship with God.
Skeptics see tragedies and charge God with the following:
There is so much evil and suffering in this world that God cannot both be all loving and all powerful. Either God is all powerful and cruel or He is all loving but not all powerful.
This is a false choice!
Here’s the thing: God is all powerful AND He is all loving.
His ways are mysterious. This is a paradox.
A paradox is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”
Let me share a couple of examples of paradoxes in relationships.
Marriage can be the most meaningful relationship in your life and the most painful one. The same person that brings you so much joy can also bring you so much heartache – even when you stay together and work through the hurt.
Let me give you another one. When describing parenting, I heard that especially when your kids are young: “The days are long, but the years are short”
This is 3 year old Trevi. PIC This little version of Trevi doesn’t exist anymore which makes me sad, but I don’t want her to stay that way forever because then I wouldn’t have ever met 19 year old Trevi PIC who sang here on stage 2 weeks ago and plans to serve this next year as a missionary in Paris.
And one day I will miss 19 year old Trevi, but what will 30 year old Trevi be like?
Will she be an entrepreneur? Will she choose to marry? Will she decide to have kids? Will my grandpa name be something plain like grandpa or something cool like Big Poppa or something embarrassing like PeePoo?
Life is filled with paradoxes so we need to Grateful for the long days and grateful for the short years.
We remember with fondness when we were young, but we look forward to the wisdom of age and we look forward to the next life with Jesus in heaven.
And with God.
God is all powerful, and He does care for us when we suffer.
God is all powerful and loving and allows us to suffer yet He can bring good out of that suffering.
God can allow a nation to fall even while he rescues individuals from the destruction He allows. Like Ruth was in the time of the Judges.
God is patient and God will bring justice. In this life or in the next.
God is always with us. Even when we cannot feel His presence. Even if we have rejected Him. God is more tenacious than we are. His love is enduring. His love perseveres, for His love for us is perfect.
In the midst of suffering, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.
For some of you, you are suffering and you’ve turned away from God – turn back to Him. Let Him show you how He cares. He is all-powerful and He does care for you.
Start today. Restart today. Return to him or as the Bible says: “Repent”
God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance… – Romans 2:4
This means to turn from your ways, your way of thinking, the choices you are making, and surrender to follow Him and His ways, to take your thoughts captive and surrender them to Him, to surrender your choices to Him so that your actions more reflect the loving Jesus.
Maybe today is your day to say “yes” to following Jesus. Show the world this new relationships through baptism. Baptism is a powerful symbol of being washed clean of your sins, dying to the old life to live a new life.
Some of you are here, but you still aren’t sure. If that is you, we are so glad you are exploring faith here with us. Ask God to reveal Himself to you, lean into this community, open your heart and mind to the Scriptures and to prayer and to worship. As you do, He will reveal Himself to you. For some of you, that is your next step.
For some of you, you consider yourself a Christian, but that’s because you grew up that way. You know the stories from the Bible. You know the story of Jesus. You may even read the Bible and pray and serve and come on Sundays, but your faith is more about what you believe than it is about experiencing the personal relationship with God. For you, your next step is to surrender the religious version of Christianity and to pursue God for more of His presence in your life and to ask Him to help you experience His love and share His love with others.
For some of you, you are walking with Jesus, and your relationship with Him is an absolute priority, but even still there are some things you don’t fully understand about God or there are some unanswered prayers that have hurt. There is some doubt from time to time. Now doubt is not something to fear. Consider doubt like a light on your dashboard showing you what you need to pursue with God. Doubt can actually be a way God is calling us to something deeper. In other words press into your doubt, take your doubts to Him, and let him bring wisdom.
Some of you know you need to be the answer to someone else’s prayer to God for help. God shows He cares by sending others on His behalf. The question for you isn’t “How do we know God cares?” but “How do people around you know that you care?”