Desperation and the Design of the World

Why were you born into your family? Why were you born at a certain point in history? Why were you born in a certain geographical location? Why were you born with a specific ethnicity? Why were you born rich or poor? Why do you have the job you are working? Why are the circumstances in your life the way they are? The litany of why questions could go on. But check out these verses for a minute. They come from Acts 17:26-27.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

His design for the lives of his creatures is desperation. He orchestrates all the details of our existence, from big to small, in order that we might seek after him. There are many things we don’t know or understand about our backgrounds, circumstances, and challenges. But one thing is certain from this text. Their is design in them. I believe there is application here for both the believer and unbeliever.  In God’s grace he arranges things in such a way to push us to pursue him. This is the hidden gift in bitter suffering and pain. This is one certain reason why things in your life are the way they are right now.

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10 comments

  1. If you want to talk about desperation, Job is a good example. I was reading in Job this morning and in chapter 9 Job says about God: 10 His great works are too marvelous to understand. He performs miracles without number. 11 “Yet when he comes near, I cannot see him. When he moves on, I do not see him go. Echoing the paradox (we talk about paradox a lot) described in your Acts passage. God is invisible, yet ever present. Job very clearly saw his need for Jesus: 32 “God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial. 33 If only there were a mediator who could bring us together, but there is none. 34 The mediator could make God stop beating me, and I would no longer live in terror of his punishment. 35 Then I could speak to him without fear, but I cannot do that in my own strength.

    I think the biggest asset of pain and suffering (another paradox) is that it produces change. Change we wouldn’t otherwise have any part of. One of the most paradigm-shifting things I read in a book entitled He Loves Me is: We often pray to God for the removal of the very things He is trying to use in our lives for our good and His glory.

  2. I hear that about Job—a serious example of desperation. One suffering people can and should follow (in most respects). On your comment about suffering—Would you say all pain has a purpose?

    1. I would say that, for the Christian, everything has a purpose in God’s economy. That’s what Romans 8:28 is telling us. That’s what Joseph told his brothers about their evil acts. There are many purposes for pain – warning, teaching, change, maturation, development of perseverance, endurance, and hope. All pain? I think so. At least for the Christian.

    1. Good.

      What may be worth exploring is the question of whether or not we make good use of our pain. If we kick and scream against it, and refuse to change or grow, did anything productive happen? Maybe it still did, but not to the level of effect it could’ve had if we had went through the situation mentally focused on: what is God trying to teach me, what is my attitude like regarding this trial, and the whole time despising the flesh and ego for they war against our spirit.

      I wonder if we needlessly go through some trials because we didn’t learn from them the first time. Or could it be like exercise? We have to continually go through them in order to stay in good shape, all the time getting stronger (more mature) and better able to handle them.

      I’m still going through trials with family issues, particularly with Tyler. But I also see growth happening in my life. I see my flesh coming under better control, which allows my mind better opportunity to work.

      1. Rob, when you think about growing and changing through pain what do you have in mind? How do we know if we aren’t wasting our pain? Does God work something in us through pain regardless of our response? Is our response critical for pain’s changing affect? Is it either or or both? I am wondering how we should think about the role of pain, the role of God, and our role in transformation. I hear you with the situation with Tyler. I know you guys have been through a lot. It is really encouraging to me to hear how God is working in you through it.

      2. As we’re discussing this, I’m still adjusting my opinion about pain, suffering, and trials. I’m wondering if what’s really occurring with our distress over difficulties is more about our lack of ability or maturity, than it is the trial itself. What we perceive (there’s a key thought) as bad things are always going to happen this side of heaven. Even if you look to the example of Job, who certainly had far more than his share of unfair, difficult things happen, you see a guy who didn’t have full understanding of what was happening or why, and consequently ranted and raged against it and God. We go through far less difficult events but still break down and are unable to appropriately process and deal with them as a result of immaturity (which includes sin, selfishness and pride). Again, as I said, I think the biggest plus of trials are change and maturity that we wouldn’t have anything to do with otherwise. We have to be forced into it.

        I think we can refuse to appropriately deal with the issue. Which response includes anger (which I think is ok as long as it doesn’t lead to sin), depression, anxiety, fear, discouragement, substance abuse, etc. I don’t know if some growth is still inevitable, or whether any good is neutralized, or possibly we could end up embittered, addicted and in worse shape. Even that would be a trial of its own that could lead to change and maturity. Kind of like hitting rock bottom before you get it. I do think all of that depends on our response. That’s getting to the part of your question about the different roles played by God vs. ourselves. I just always fall back on the fact that any good I produce is either a direct or indirect result of God’s involvement in my life. So even if my action – just like very writing of this response, or your writing of this blog, or your ministry where you’re at now – is good, or causes something good to occur, it’s only because of God. That doesn’t, in any way, relieve me of my responsibility to act for good. Phil. 2:13 speaks to this.

        Regarding what’s going on in my family: God has shown me that He can use me for good, not just punishment, in my family. He’s showing me that I have a lot of maturing to do. He’s helped me see these things, determine that they are right and good, and commit myself to them. It’s not comfortable, but I consider the results to be worth the cost. Die to live. My focus is slowly being shifted towards the live part. God help me.

  3. Rob, thanks again for your thoughtful response. I do agree with you about our perception of things playing into how well we suffer. Sometimes what I make up about things makes the thing much worse. You bring Job up as an example. Do you see him as a good or poor example for how he deals with pain? In your view what is Scripture teaching us about engaging God in pain through that book? This seems to be a critical question. One I am not clear on myself, but would like to get more clear on. I also agree with your thoughts on the tension between our responsibility and God’s work in us, with us, and despite us. I’m thankful that He never stops working even when I do. I appreciate your comments about what things in your family have been doing in your walk. The call to our families is a call to the Jerusalem Road. Let me know your thinking on Job.

  4. Yeah, with perception, I think you can extrapolate things out like: it’s always gonna be this way, or things will never get better, which leads to being defeated based on potential future. That’s the problem with worry or anxiety. it’s based on what MIGHT happen, which usually doesn’t, yet we reap the consequences of creating that concern in our mind. Also, more to what I was talking about, do we view the difficulty as an annoyance or an opportunity. Carl Jung, who as far as I know is an atheist, said everything that irritates us about others, can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves. Even this secular psychologist sees that the perception is part, if not most, of the problem. If your discussion of despair makes me uncomfortable, is it because I think it’s a poor or meaningless topic, or because I cant face dealing with difficult issues.

    I see Job as an honest look at a man subjected to excruciating physical and emotional stressors. He gets a lot right, and I think a few things wrong. But who can blame him? Apparently God. Overall, he does much better than I could ever hope for, and in that is a good example to me. Maybe that’s the purpose of the book, cause I don’t see how letting Satan toy with a man like that has a purpose. I may have some better insights after finishing it again.

  5. The thing that challenges me about Job is the ambiguous ending. On the one hand God makes it clear that Job spoke accurately and commendably. On the other hand he repents for some things as well. I am of the opinion that the brutal honesty in prayer and dialogue was commendable. I think some of his theological conclusions were potentially problematic. I agree with you that he exemplifies faith in the face of great challenge and suffering.

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