Dear John, if God is so good, then why...

I need to give just a little context for this post. Our dear friends John and Lauren Griswold with their three lovely children, Tyleigh, Noah and Atreyu, have suffered deeply over the past three years. First John broke his leg so badly after just putting on a pair of roller blades to enjoy some fun with his kids Christmas morning 3 years ago that it has never healed since that time. His suffering and pain has been intense this entire time which has unavoidably affect the entire family.
But to add more to the injury, a few weeks ago a bizarre accident occurred in which both he and Noah were smashed between their car and an out of control pickup truck in which the driver had just died of a heart attack. Noah suffered multiple breaks in his leg and hip but John's upper leg (the same one that was broken before in the lower part) was broken multiple times and his hip and pelvis were literally smashed to pieces.
He is now home in a wheelchair full of metal and screws trying to hold the pieces together. Noah is recovering much faster. But the questions arising from these events are unavoidable for anyone seriously seeking to understand the truth about God's intervention or apparent lack thereof when such things take place.
So this morning as I felt convicted to face these questions personally I decided to express what was coming to my mind as an open letter to my dear friends who are like children to me. God allowed me to play a part in introducing them to new truths about them and they embraced them with great joy which in turn brought joy to our own hearts. We have watched as they have grown tremendously in faith, have struggled with many of the things we all struggle with but have pursued knowing God through everything.
Now I hope that my clumsy attempts at searching for answers might be of benefit, not only for them but maybe for others who struggle to find any sense in senseless suffering.

If any feel impressed to help out with this family's needs, a fund has been set up on FaceBook for that purpose. Blessings as we share as family, weep with those who are hurting and rejoice with those full of joy. 

John, my brother and son in Christ. Your situation and your pain has become a definitive reference for me pressing me to face questions that have surfaced time and again, not only in my own life but in the minds of many challenged by what has taken place in your life or similar situations. The tragedies that seem so random and unexplainable that have crushed your body and devastated your family over recent years remind us of things that happen to us or our loved ones. These events unavoidably force into the open difficult questions about the kind of God that claims to be in charge of everything. This morning I wonder if maybe I hear God offering me slivers of answers as I contemplate not just your painful circumstances but more significantly the responses you are choosing to give along with your family.

Here is one of the many 'why questions' that inevitably rises to the surface whether we are willing to admit them or not. At least it is one that has haunted me for most of my life and has never really found much resolution. When things happened in my life that brought pain, suffering, difficulties or such things of a similar nature that were clearly not a result of me taking a stand for right but simply seemed to be random, the question always surfaces, 'How am I to relate to this problem or pain in the light of my beliefs about God and the larger context of the cosmic spiritual war all around us?'

It is much easier to try to understand when the bad things that happen in our life can be easily traced to push-back from our enemies for taking a stand for truth. But when a crisis hits that cannot be directly linked to anything seemingly related to our witness as a Christian, how should we view it? It is in this context that the many 'why' questions find fertile ground to quickly take strong root. For when I don't feel it is legitimate to view a tragedy as persecution for my faith, then it gives far more impetus to the temptation to question the goodness and faithfulness and protection of God over my life. It is also easier to question whether or not such events might not even be punishments from Him, or at least some sort of discipline from Him related to some hidden sin in my life or other such cause.

I don't know if these kinds of questions have tormented you to make life even more difficult than the insane accidents that have already devastated your body and altered your hopes and dreams for your life, but knowing how the enemy attacks, I suspect you have not been exempt from such assaults.

But rather than offer you glib remarks or clich├ęs (we all hate people offering such things under these kinds of circumstances), I simply want to be honest about what God seems to be saying to me this morning as your situation came vividly into my thoughts. If any of these musings are helpful then may God be honored and His reputation be enhanced. If they sound too much like words of a fool tromping into places where angels are too wise to go, then please forgive me and ignore this entirely, but know that I still care deeply about you and long for the very best in your lives in spite of what is happening.

The focal point of what I am sensing right now as I resonate with your suffering is this question of the unfairness implicit in all tragedies allowed to crash into the lives of God's children. This of course applies to any tragedies, but the question seems to take no extra angst when we see it in the context of people's lives who are earnestly seeking to know God and are taking serious a pursuit after His heart. Maybe this is part of the problem, an underlying assumption that somehow if we turn our lives over to God there seems to be a pervasive belief that God's children should receive an extra measure of protection from bad things happening to them, other than the likely resistance and persecution from those rejecting God. Yet clearly that seems to not be consistent forcing us to ask the big 'why' questions that can make us feel guilty for even asking. Why did God permit.... If He is all-powerful and has foreknowledge of everything that is going to happen, then why did this tragedy happen to us?

This is where the real struggle is not nearly so easy to resolve by simply running for refuge to Scripture. I know, I've been there, tried that and run into confusion almost immediately. Take for instance one of the passages about suffering from Peter just before one of the best descriptions of the real truth about the cross in 1 Peter 2.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, (1 Peter 2:18-21)

Peter here contrasts sorrows and suffering that come from two distinct sources – one as results of our own choice to sin and the other as a results of persecution for doing what is right. This is easy to accept, but it is the arena of the in-between that provides the most fertile ground for the 'why' questions that haunt most of us. What if our suffering seems to not be directly attributable to either of these causes? What if our suffering seems to only result from random chance, or maybe even the evil of others whether intended for us or not? How do we resolve the issue of affects on us by evil when the sources of such events seems to be purely generic? That is where it is not nearly so easy to use tidy labels or boxed categories to create easy explanations based only on these words of Peter.

Paul too has a few things to say, but again most of his suffering came in the context of his own passion to share the good news about God with people who became infuriated at him as a result. Thus when he talks of the inevitability of encountering persecution when we choose to live godly lives (2 Timothy 3:12), it seems to make it easier to face. But what are we to do with the in-between kinds of suffering that defy labeling and yet still tempts us and everyone who hears of it to question the goodness and faithfulness of God who has promised to watch out for His kids He says He loves so much?

I feel like maybe I am getting close to spiritual quicksand here, yet clearly these kinds of situations and the reality of your pain forces an honest mind to face these things instead of pushing them off into a dark corner for fear we won't be able to find answers and look like fools for trying. many people attempt to tackle this issue who only end up adding to the suffering instead of bringing comfort, so the result has created a pervasive atmosphere of skepticism and even hostility toward anyone thought so foolish as to walk into this no-man's land and draw fire from people on both sides. But maybe it is unavoidable to draw flak for even bringing it up. But I am not trying to offer you neat and tidy explanations of things too deep for me to begin to explain, but rather I am making an honest effort to face something head-on for myself that seems to be unavoidable in all of our lives.

Maybe we have been set up to feel guilty if we dare to ask the why questions. Maybe we are afraid we will be challenged and even shamed by others who are bitterly asking the why questions but refuse to believe there are any valid answers and who are eager to shoot at anyone who claims there might be. I can think of one or two people like this can be very triggered by such discussions. But for me I feel compelled to ask the questions or I don't feel I can be true to my commitment to bring everything to the table in my relationship with God and give Him a chance to answer these things directly.

Let me press it even closer since I'm already walking close to the center of the firing range in full view of those on all sides. The first accident you experienced with the complex breaking of your leg that refused to heal for over three years certainly started a barrage of questions in the minds of many who know you. I don't know if people raised the God-oriented 'why' questions directly with you, but I am sure many of them wrestled with them themselves. We too have empathized with your pain, have watched you suffer and struggle with the debilitating emotional side effects of living with chronic intense suffering while feeling helpless to do anything about it. Yet in all of this we also noticed as you have chosen to face it with resolve and not charge God foolishly – to put it in words from Job.

But this last accident not only seems insanely beyond anything that happened before but included your family even more directly as your son barely escaped with his life and joined in your suffering, albeit at a lesser level of intensity. If anything the current situation simply intensifies the pressure to ask the hard questions of why God allows such a freak accident to devastate your body and add to the intense suffering you were already experiencing. And if friends were struggling to reconcile their picture of God with reasonable explanations of what happened three years ago, now the whole issue just became supercharged and the questions become even more persistent in the face of grappling to understand the real truth of God's relationship and motives in His activity in our lives.

I don’t think anyone with a reasonable mind who would attempt to claim that you deserved what has happened to you. I know I would never want to make such an assertion. You have shared in a growing awareness of glory involving the real truth about God's character and that has been transforming all of our thinking in its fresh revelations to our hearts. We have been learning that God is not in the punishing business which is a central part of the good news we have begun to embrace.

That is not to ignore the reality that there are principles of cause and effect that define everything that affects our lives. Salvation is God's process of bringing all of us back into harmony with these powerful principles or laws that govern everything, and that when violated can produce enormous negative effects in our lives. But while these natural laws have certainly been a factor resulting in your suffering physically, they do little to explain how they might be at work in the spiritual realm though there may be more effect than we currently understand. But that is an arena I am not ready to jump into yet.

Back to the central question I face as I watch your pain and wrestle to make sense out of how it should fit into my emerging understanding of the truth about God. Where do random events of violence that seem to not fit on either side – persecution for doing what is right versus natural consequences for violating moral principles – fit into my growing belief in the perfect goodness of God? I am coming to the place where I know it is false to accuse God in any way as being complicit in what happens to cause all such suffering. I am not willing to blame God any longer as participating in the system based on rewards and punishments represented by the Tree that caused this mess to start with back in Eden. But after dismissing that as a factor I am left looking for how to make sense of what remains.

Returning to view everything from the biggest context possible has always been the way in which I have found sense where there seems to be no possibility of making sense. Evil is clearly not restricted to just one side or the other, persecution for doing what is right versus suffering consequences for wrong. There is the whole arena of the in-between that defies easy explanation. It is this middle ground where all of us feel susceptible to the effects of random acts of violence or natural disasters or freak accidents. These events do not discriminate between those who follow God and those who live in rebellion against Him. The Psalms are full of wrestling matches over this very issue and even in Job we find discussion of this, though there was plenty of pressure on Job to blame God in that instance.

I want to move ahead here after spending so much time framing the question, maybe too much time. What I want to note is the effect in all of this that your public testimony of confidence in God through all that has happened is having on people around you. I know you are aware even more than I am how your family's choice to praise God and trust Him implicitly even while unable to give explanations for these things is giving more credibility to the truths about God you are embracing. Whether or not the suffering you presently experience could be attributed to persecution for your faith or whether your faith is simply in spite of your circumstances, your choice to trust God and honor Him carries weight much farther than you could ever realize.

Maybe this is where the most compelling answers to my questions might lie. It is much easier to see how a person might praise God when their suffering is a direct result of standing for truth and being persecuted. And although it might seem a bit strange for a person receiving earthly imposed punishment for their faults to praise God in them, it still might have some positive effect. But when someone, even an entire family, chooses to face unexplainable suffering that apparently has no basis in either of these causes, who chooses to express openly a confidence that God is still trustworthy as completely good, kind, caring and protecting – even when apparent evidence might appear to scream the very opposite – now that seems to induce a compelling power that could have potentially more impact than even the witness from the persecution of a faithful Christian.

This reminds me of something God has brought to my attention in the past. As you know He has been mentoring my wife and I for many years in the area of trusting God in our finances. We have seldom had much income and for many years I spent far too much time worrying while desperately struggling to just barely make a living for my family. Finally after many years of this I became deeply convicted that my worrying was my real problem and that it is a blatant sin, an affront to the clear command of Jesus to not worry about anything but to trust our Father who is committed to providing for all of our needs. As you know this has been no easy issue to face, but I have done so repeatedly and the result is that we walk in calm faith much more than we did in the early years of our marriage.

The pattern I began to notice was that time after time when I had enough work or was blessed with a little extra income, it was all too easy to relax from my complete dependence on God and then I would find myself plunged back into a desperate situation where I would feel forced to turn to God and throw myself on His mercy again and learn to trust Him implicitly again for everything.

As I saw this repeated over and over (not unlike the long history of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament leaving and returning to God over and over), I realized that what I was failing to learn was to live in the very same total dependence on God irregardless of what my circumstances might be financially. What God was seeking to teach me was to trust His heart of love and His promise of provision for me the same, whether I happened to have plenty or whether I had nothing. Faith was not just to be an solution to the pressure of worrying when everything seemed hopeless; rather faith needed to become a part of my character, something that was to be part of my very identity all the time.

In other words, God has been teaching us that faith is not something I fall back on when things go wrong but rather was to be a constant way of thinking. And this is more difficult when things are going well, when I have enough work to take care of our bills, when we are comfortable and have more than enough – this is when the testing of my faith is most strenuous, not so much when circumstances drive me to throw myself on God's mercy. It is the good times that challenge me to exercise real faith much more than when desperation becomes a motivation driving me to God. In fact this penchant to rely on desperation as my primary motivation to trust God is not that much different than making worry a part of my life. Both of them are illegitimate motives that Jesus wants to remove and replace with a trust in His heart that will not be manipulated by circumstances, either rich, poor or in between.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. (Philippians 4:11)

What appears to be emerging now, at least in my own heart, may well address these questions I flushed out related to your situation. Again, I am having this dialog with myself and God, not trying to explain what you should do or believe. But your situation has presented a context in which some of these issues are compelling to anyone looking for better answers than what has been offered us in the past.

If God is leading me to practice trusting His heart without need for a constant crisis to motivate me to live a life of faith in the area of finances, why wouldn't the same be just as true in every other area as well? And that reminds me of something God started to get me to pay attention to years ago. He began teaching me that where He wanted to lead me was into a relationship with Him where my motives would not be based on the flux of circumstances or even how I might benefit from our relationship but to a deeper level where I would trust His heart of passionate love for me so well that my only motivation would become simply living for His reputation rather than seeking to defend my own.

I have to honestly admit I am a long ways from fully being that kind of person yet. Yet I still believe that is God's plan for me, and not for me alone but for all who are responding to the drawing power of His love. And just because I have not arrived there yet does not detract in the slightest from the validity of that goal, for I believe that when the big picture is correctly appreciated that this is the conclusion everyone will come to as they see more clearly the real issues involved.

I feel so moved even as I attempt to express these things that I hardly know how to convert my emotions and thoughts into words. Maybe I shouldn't, but then again maybe I should. I remember the advice of a man I have come to deeply respect from his book My Utmost for His Highest.

If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of his life. Struggle to re-express some truth of God to yourself, and God will use that expression to someone else. Go through the winepress of God where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle to get expression experimentally, then there will come a time when that expression will become the very wine of strengthening to someone else; but if you say lazily—‘I am not going to struggle to express this thing for myself, I will borrow what I say,’ the expression will not only be of no use to you, but of no use to anyone. Try to re-state to yourself what you implicitly feel to be God’s truth, and you give God a chance to pass it on to someone else through you.
Always make a practice of provoking your own mind to think out what it accepts easily. Our position is not ours until we make it ours by suffering. The author who benefits you is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been struggling for utterance in you.1

The principle that I see developing in your experience is parallel to similar things God has been seeking to teach me for many years. When we choose to trust God, even while no one is able to come up with plausible explanations of why all these terrible things have happened, when your family chooses over and over to view these tragedies as ways to honor God's reputation and defy all insinuations that God is negligent in His care for us, as you praise God in the midst of pain and unreasonable suffering and defy worldly common sense in favor of heavenly perspective even when it doesn't seem to make sense, the power of your testimony to defy all natural reactions and to offer God only glory may have even more potential impact than the testimony of a martyr who obviously stands for truth in persecution.

Is this too strong of a statement? I feel crazy even asserting it, yet something compels me to. This has nothing to do with relative value, comparing you to saints who gave their lives for truth. We are all equally valued by God and I suspect the martyrs might be the foremost in affirming that. They never viewed themselves as a cut above others like we tend to view them; they simply clung to their trust in God's heart no matter what came to distract or divert or force them to believe otherwise.

Yet isn't that the very thing you are facing right now? While your circumstances may appear to having nothing to do with religion or standing up for right and taking the hit for it, you are still in the firing range where evil attacks with or without excuse. The main intent of all evil is to compel us to darken our opinions about the goodness of God for whatever reason, to dampen our willingness to speak boldly about what He has been showing us about His heart. So if this is true, then maybe there is more persecution in our lives than we previously assumed. Maybe we are much closer to the heart of the battle than we ever imagined. And when we choose to shoot back using only ammunition approved by God instead of succumbing to the insinuating inferences about God by the enemy, we are on the front lines defending God's reputation as we choose to give Him glory no matter what is going on with us.

I want to affirm you publicly, John and Lauren and each of your children, as you wrestle against much more than flesh and blood. Yes, in this case flesh and blood have been very much involved in the battle and your suffering comes from much more than spiritual pain. But the effects of physical suffering inevitable affects our spiritual challenges which only adds to the power of the temptations similar to what other children of God have faced throughout the ages.

Job when enduring his own unexplainable physical suffering, was offered the option to curse God and die. I have wondered why this might even be appealing to someone under such circumstances, but it doesn't take much to realize that our real temptation when unexplainable suffering devastates our lives is to blame God for not protecting us as we would prefer. But the book of Job pulls back the veil to show us the real reasons for suffering and the real villain behind it all. We have no reason to believe anything has changed much since that day. The book of Job was written to remind us of the true cause of all tragedies and that it is not because of God's will or punishments that we are caught in the crossfire. But when we find ourselves there, the real issue becomes our opinion about God and how we will choose to reflect our concept of His treatment of us.

Everything about evil is designed to tear apart God's reputation as the Source of all perfect love. We know this intellectually, yet when pain kicks us around it is much harder to cling to that truth. And while I won't be so foolish as to conjecture about any reasons as to why these things may have happened to you and many others, what I can do is encourage you to cling to God even in the face of everything pushing toward believing the opposite. God is love, God does care and always will, God is with you in your suffering and God has the amazing sovereignty to take anything evil throws at God's children and morph it into an even greater blessing as we release it into His authority.

So, how can we place our trials and suffering into the place of being under God's control so He can transform them into blessings and things of beauty? It is definitely not by figuring out how He might be able to pull it off. But it does have a great deal to do with clinging to what He has already revealed to us about His heart. I am convinced that as we choose to trust His heart in spite of screaming pain or compelling amounts of evidence asserting God is not worthy of our trust, as we chose to praise Him instead of succumbing to bitterness, trust Him instead of despairing, choosing love instead of fear, we will discover His peace and joy transforming us into trees of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

The kingdom of God is... righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

May the glory you bring to God's reputation transform you into strong oaks of righteousness as you are increasingly filled with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of your sufferings.

We love you deeply.

Your brother, sister and friends in the close bonds of the family of our Savior.
1 Chambers, O. (1986). My utmost for his highest: Selections for the year. Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications.


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