What difference does it make to believe in God when you experience hard times?
Twenty years ago in April I found out that I was pregnant with twins. Eight weeks later an ultrasound detected differences in growth patterns between the two babies and I was put on bed rest to give my unborn boys every chance to survive. Baby “A” who we named Alex passed away in late August, and was delivered on September 6. Baby “B” who we named Trevor was born on September 26. As I spent weeks in the hospital and engaged with many women who were also experiencing the stress of complicated pregnancies, I clung to God and remember wondering, “How do people make it through hard times without God?”
I’ve thought about this question often over the years, and it has come up again several times in conversation in the midst of this pandemic. It strikes me as a question that some people might not understand. Instead, they may wonder, “What difference does it make to believe in God when you are going through hard times? Both people of faith and people without faith are losing their jobs and getting sick. What is the point of believing something if your faith doesn’t somehow guarantee you protection from heartache? If you believe that God is powerful enough to stop or change whatever calamity comes your way and he yet chooses not to, how can your faith survive?” I know people who have stopped believing because they couldn’t satisfactorily answer these questions. “I tried following God,” some say, “but it didn’t do anything for me.”
In order to address these ideas theologically, Romans 8:18-38 is a good place to start. If you asked the Apostle Paul, “What difference does it make to believe in God when you experience hard times?” this is what he might say….
Answer #1 – Faith in God does not make Christians immune to the pitfalls of life on Planet Earth. One of the core messages of scripture is that the world is not currently operating as God designed it. People’s rebellion against God in Genesis 3 and in every subsequent generation has sentenced us to live in a world marked by disease, death, emotional strife, and natural disasters. We are living on earth, not in heaven. If we expect heaven here on earth we will be sorely disappointed, and will shake our fists at God when we experience hard times. While God does intervene miraculously on behalf of his people at times, he does not always choose to do so; his purposes are not necessarily our purposes. As Romans 8 affirms, our world is subject to frustration and in bondage to decay. The whole creation groans, and “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23).
BUT Answer #2 – Faith in God gives Christians perspective and hope as we encounter the pitfalls of life on Planet Earth.
Perspective #1 – Assurance of a glorious future. The Apostle Paul assures us that our current experience of pain and heartache will pale in comparison with our future experience of God’s glory: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
Perspective #2 – Assurance of help now. We are assured that we aren’t alone in our suffering. Even when we can’t express or understand our own situation the “Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27). If we are believers, you and I are never alone in any situation. The Holy Spirit is with us, providing help now!
Perspective #3 – Assurance that God can redeem everything we experience. Many times when people encounter hardship they are destroyed by a sense that what has happened to them is senseless and irreparably damaging. Christians, however, believe the opposite: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
Perspective #4 – Assurance that God is saving us and making us look more like Jesus. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
Perspective #5 – Assurance that God is FOR US. In earthly terms we measure whether or not God is trustworthy by evaluating whether or not he’s answering our prayers now. Scripture, however, teaches us to base our confidence in God’s posture towards us by recounting his actions in the past: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
Perspective #6 – Assurance that no hard times can separate us from God’s love: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
As I began processing the death of Alex twenty years ago, I was often overcome with disappointment that the sovereign God whom I follow did not protect me from this hard time. I believe that God could have miraculously intervened and saved this little boy and yet he chose not to. As a Christian, I had to embrace both the fact that I am not immune to the pitfalls of living on Planet Earth, and the fact that God offers me perspective and hope as I encounter them.
My prayer is that we would all learn to embrace and articulate these same truths. To different degrees, everyone world-wide is experiencing its pitfalls right now, and people may be wondering, “What difference does it make to believe in God when you experience hard times?” If you sense that friends or family members are asking this question, I’d invite you to say, “In some ways there is no difference because we are all experiencing exactly the same things. But in other ways it’s entirely different, let me tell you how the Apostle Paul explains it…”