Trusting God in Life's Hard Places
November 1, 2005 - Jerry Bridges, author of "The Pursuit of Holiness," has been on staff with The Navigators since 1955 and served as vice president for corporate affairs for 15 years. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, he talked to Decision about what it means to trust God in every circumstance.
by Jim Dailey
Q: In your book "Trusting God," you write that it is often far easier to obey God than it is to trust Him. What do you mean?
A: Obedience to the moral will of God is well defined in Scripture, whereas the circumstances that we live in are rather ill defined. We never know just what's down the street for us or what the next hour will bring. Also, we have the promise that our obedience to God results in blessing, not because we earn that blessing but because He has been pleased to do it that way. Sometimes, however, we cannot see the positive effects of the adversities that we face, and it is here that we must trust God.
Q: Often, we trust in things that seem secure, such as our jobs, careers or families, but the Lord wants us to place that trust in Him, doesn't He?
A: The person who frequently reads Scripture realizes the temporal nature of anything on earth. In Proverbs 18:11, the writer says, "The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall" (NIV). When we have security—a retirement plan, life and home insurance or these kinds of things—we tend to put our trust in them. But people find out all the time that these walls are not unscalable.
A friend of mine is a pilot with United Airlines. He has just lost all of his retirement income because of their bankruptcy. That which he thought was pretty secure has evaporated. Before it collapsed, Enron had bought some very solid utilities. People who had been working for those utilities suddenly found themselves without any retirement income. So, the loss of these things is not all that unusual.
Q: Didn't the Apostle James warn us about the danger of presuming without trusting in God's providence?
A: James does not condemn people for making plans to conduct a business and make a profit (James 4:13-16). What he condemns is their leaving the sovereignty of God out of the equation and instead saying, "We are going to do this." In my grandfather's generation, a frequent expression was "God willing." I'm sure that some people just spoke that habitually, but for a godly person, it was an acknowledgement that he or she really wasn't in control of his or her plans. Ultimately God could prosper those plans or negate them.
Q: The recent destruction along the Gulf Coast left some people wondering how they can put their trust in God when events seem so unpredictable.
A: What happened in New Orleans is not unusual on a worldwide scale. In 1985 an earthquake in Mexico City killed 6,000 people and left more than 100,000 homeless. Then I think of earthquakes in Turkey, floods in Bangladesh and the tsunami in Indonesia. Somehow I think that we Americans think this shouldn't happen to us. We're so used to reading about the tragedies in other countries, but we take offense at the fact that it could happen in America. I've often asked myself, "Why doesn't it happen more often?" We have to be careful not to judge a people or a country when they are the victims of a tragedy. However, the fact is that we are a very ungodly nation. And by ungodly I'm not talking first of all about wickedness, which is certainly true of our nation. Ungodliness—that is, living as if God does not exist—is more fundamental than wickedness. Our country has banned God from the public square.
Often we act as if God owes us a comfortable living, but there is no place in Scripture where God promises a comfortable living, even to the godly. Although we cannot say why God allows natural disasters, we can say that nothing—not even the absolute loss of one's home down on the Mississippi Coast—can separate the child of God from His love (Romans 8:37-39). We may not understand why God doesn't shield His children from such things, but we just have to believe that He has a beneficial purpose for us. Jesus said that God causes rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. In the same way, natural disasters befall the just and the unjust.
Q: So the follower of Christ, then, is always kept in the sovereign love of God?
A: Right. In Matthew 10:29-30, Jesus talked about the sparrow. He said, "Yet not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (NIV). God exercises His sovereign control over the destiny of a single sparrow. We may think God has more important things to bother with, but we forget that God is infinite in His mind and control. Jesus is saying that God's sovereignty extends to the minutest details of His universe. Certainly it extends to the most minute details of our lives.
In Luke 12:6-7, Jesus makes a similar statement, probably in a different situation, much like I may give the same message or variations of the same message from time to time. There He says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God" (NIV). This speaks of God's love and goodness. Not only is He in control of the destiny of the sparrow, but He doesn't forget the sparrow. The psalmist often lamented, "Why, O Lord, have you forgotten me?" When it looks like God has forgotten us, we have to remember that Jesus said that not a single sparrow is forgotten by God. "Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (NIV).
Q: Of course, the Cross is the supreme expression of God's love for us.
A: Oh, absolutely. The most forceful evidence of the love of God is that He sent His Son to die on the cross, to endure the wrath that we should have endured, that we justly deserve. I think that believers here in America fail to reckon how deserving of the wrath of God we really are, apart from the cross. We tend to think of ourselves as good people. We tend to look at the egregious sins in our society, and since we're not involved in those, we think of ourselves as good people.
Q: Is one of the difficulties in dealing with God's sovereignty that we often don't see God at work in our adversities, and we fail to trust Him?
A: When we don't understand what God is doing, we question what He is doing. I go to Romans 11:33: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out" (NIV). When we always try to understand what God is doing, we run up against a wall because God says in Isaiah 55:9, that "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (NIV). In those days such an idiom meant "an infinite distance." So it's not that God is just wiser than we are; it is rather that His wisdom is infinitely higher than ours, and consequently it is inscrutable.
Look at the life of Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery. Then he was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and sent to prison. Still at the end, he could say to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20, NIV). Today, we look at Joseph's life and see how God worked it out for good.
Yet in the Book of Acts, Paul was left in a prison in Caesarea for two years. This was sometime before his prison sentence in Rome. Paul never refers to this time in any of his letters. In fact, except for Luke's mention in Acts, these two years are passed over. We could say, "God, what are You doing? You've left Your star apostle to languish in prison." We go back to Paul's words again: "His ways are inscrutable."
Q: So because God is sovereign, loving and wise, we must trust God, even when life hurts?
A: God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He knows what is best. And in His sovereignty, He has the power to bring it about. That is true for large-scale natural disasters or on a personal level for parents who have lost a son in an auto accident or for my own daughter who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just a few weeks ago. Whether it affects hundreds and thousands of people, as Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina did, or whether it affects just a few people, these things really hurt. We have to look to God, and say, "Lord, I don't understand why these things happen or why You allow them to happen, but I know that it could not happen without Your permission, and, therefore, I trust You."
Q: How can the believer truly find that kind of comfort?
A: When we begin to doubt God's love, we need to look at the Cross and see that there God took care of the greatest possible disaster that could ever come upon us. We grieve over the tragedies in the Gulf Coast, but realize that the loss of property and physical life is nothing compared to the loss of one's eternal life. Jesus said, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26, NKJV). Nothing in this temporal life can compare with the value of eternal life.
We can lapse into the thinking that God owes us a comfortable life. I think of a conversation with a man whose mother was dying of cancer. She was a pastor's wife and had been in ministry for 40 years. She was very active, ministering among the women in her congregation. This man said to me, "After all she's done for God, this is the thanks she gets." That isn't biblical thinking.
Q: What would you say to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and to all who suffer from adversities, to encourage them to put their trust in Christ?
A: I would say that there's no way I can enter into your feelings of desolation. But God can and does feel what you're feeling. He does understand, and if you are a believer, He says that nothing can separate you from His love. I don't understand why God allowed this problem, but I know that He still loves you and wants you to trust Him. Then I would say on the basis of God's Word—and let me admit it's easier for me to say it than it is to practice it—that God is ultimately in control and will work all things for His glory and your good.