I’m going to let you in on a little secret about me, okay?
Not that you want or need to know, but, here it is anyway.
I don’t like surprises.
In fact, I loathe them.
If you wanna get on my nerves, surprise me with something.
It doesn’t matter what it is, good or bad, if I don’t know about it advance, then, chances are I probably won’t like it, not immediately anyway, and I may not like you for surprising me with it.
Trust me when I say it would be much better for everyone involved if the one doing the surprising would just tell me up front what’s going on, so that I’m not caught off guard and can do what is necessary to deal with whatever it is that might be in store for me.
But, enough about me.
Let’s take this a step further.
What about you?
Have you ever considered that, as a Christian, you serve a God who likes surprises?
Not in the sense that you or I could ever take by surprise a God who is omniscient and all-knowing, but that He, in His sovereign wisdom, will often interject into our life those unexpected interruptions that catch us off-guard and that disrupt our own personal sense of security and assurance.
When we hear the word “surprise” our default reaction is to think of it only in positive terms; that whatever the surprise is, we tend to assume it will be something we’re going to like, the one thing that will ultimately satiate that long-held need or desire and bring us to a place of happiness and contentment.
And why wouldn’t we assume such a thing?
After all, what kind of person would offer as a surprise anything that would engender feelings of anxiety, fear, and insecurity in us?
Well, what if I told you God is that kind of person?
It’s not that God wants us to experience these emotions out of some divinely sadistic desire to see us suffer or struggle, but that He wants to use the unforeseen events in our life to mature and sanctify us spiritually so that we increasingly reflect the image of Christ.
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29a)
Now, having said that, I will readily admit that when it comes to matters like suffering, we Christians have a tendency to over-spiritualize things.
In our zeal to offer godly hope and encouragement to people who are hurting, we instinctively resort to pitching Scripture verses as a nostrum for the tangible and often extremely intense pain they are going through, because we believe that’s what “good Christians” are supposed to do. This is completely understandable given that as Christians we know, we are convinced, we wholeheartedly believe, that the answers to all the problems of this life are found in God’s Word (Proverbs 30:5.)
Nevertheless, despite our good intentions, what we don’t always understand is that in moments of intense suffering those who are in the throes of it may not necessarily appreciate (or want to) their experience for the blessing that it is, because blessings are often realized in hindsight rather than foresight.
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” – Philippians 1:29
Suffering and blessing are the oil and water of the Christian life.
It doesn’t always make sense to us that they would go together, but they do. As difficult as it is to accept, such a paradox is the road Christ has ordained that His elect should travel.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow.” – 1 Peter 2:21
Nevertheless, we do not travel the road of suffering alone.
Yeah, I know.
You’ve heard that one before. I get it. I do. But, trust me, it’s true.
In fact, it is a lesson I’m learning right now even as I type this.
“It will be of great advantage to the struggling Christian to remember that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life. I don’t mean that we should not try to live above them. I mean that if we do not succeed, we are not lost, and we are not alone, as the fragment of our faith cleaves us to Christ.” – John Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing All We Can While We Wait for God – and Joy, p. 34 (Kindle)
In those surprise moments when God allows the unexpected to intrude upon our lives, we must take comfort in the fact that Jesus was both verus homus and verus Deus – truly man and truly God (Colossians 1:15, 2:9) – and, as such, He knows exactly where we are and what we’re going through (Hebrews 4:15-16.)
That said, however, let’s not kid ourselves, okay?
The reality is that we are fallen human beings who live in a fallen world where the effects of sin make it so that in the midst of suffering, holding on even to the eternal truths of God’s Word is oftentimes easier said than done.
As I said before, the last thing I want to do is over-spiritualize this issue. Only Jesus was verus homus and verus Deus. We, on the other hand, are not.
Our position in Christ does not magically transform us into “super-Christians” walking around with a big ‘C’ on our chest, as if we were somehow immune to the effects of instances of sadness, pain, and despondency that God allows into our life.
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (1948)
Unexpected suffering may be a surprise to us but it is not to God.
After all, it is He who allows it into our life to begin with.
That’s not to say it won’t be difficult for us to trust Him in those situations, because it most certainly can be, which is why we need to be patient with others who are suffering and not be so quick to “minister” to them with Scripture passages when, perhaps, what is most needed is to love them by simply being available to them with no other agenda in mind.
“The truth of the matter is that no matter what kind of hardship we might find ourselves going through, every human on the planet, even those who are outside of God’s electing grace, moves through his days in a context of unfathomable grace.” – R.C. Sproul, Jr., Believing God: 12 Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept, p. 91
We may not always see God’s surprises as blessings, as they can stretch our faith in God in ways that, to say the least, make us uncomfortable if not downright scared.
But, be encouraged.
He understands and knows how fragile we are (Psalm 103:14) and that there are some surprises He sends our way which, though we know are ultimately meant for our good (Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6), we would much rather do without.
Humbly in Christ,