What God Ordains is Always Good
Some time ago, I cried myself to sleep many nights playing this song on my phone, holding it close to my ear. Several months before, I had experienced personal betrayal. The pain was real, and the breach remains unhealed to this day. But the song told me the truth. What I was experiencing was the best thing for my welfare, though it was difficult for me to believe what I knew to be factually true. There were three sticking points for me: 1. I lacked the humility I needed to take what God had put in my life with thankfulness. 2. I wanted to figure out why things had happened the way they did and it wasn’t making any sense. 3. Though I knew in a factual way that God loved me, I had a really hard time feeling that he loved me. Quite honestly, I felt forsaken and nearly alone in the world. I don’t think my situation unique. We all tend to respond to suffering along these lines, unless, of course, you’re more spiritual than I am. That’s entirely possible. But for those of you who struggle in a similar way, I want to share a few things suffering has taught me.
I must be humble. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…(Job 13:15)” If nothing else, my personal sufferings have taught me how very proud I am. Whenever painful circumstances surface in my life, I eventually have to deal with thoughts that go along these lines, “Why is this happening to me?” And though I don’t usually articulate what comes next, it’s implied in the first question, “I don’t deserve this.” Underlying that is the assumption that I’m pretty special stuff and God shouldn’t let these things happen to me. So whenever I listened to the song, the first verse helped realign my thought processes, “What God ordains is always good, His will is just and holy; And though the path be wrought with thorns, I follow meek and lowly. My God indeed in every need knows well how he will shield me. To him, then, I will yield me.” It is not my natural tendency to follow meek and lowly. It isn’t yours either. The events that are prominent in the news bear that out. Instead of bowing my head and submitting to whatever God puts in my path like my innocent Savior did on His way to the cross, I clench my jaw and fight against it, quickly forgetting that the only person in the history of the world who had the right to fight against the injustices done to im was Jesus. Only he didn’t. And what happens when I fight his ordinances in my life? Sin happens. When I don’t like the cancer diagnosis given to me, I may move to Oregon so I can “take control” of my life’s end in a last ditch effort to shake my fist in the face of a God who chose a path of suffering for me. If I don’t like the results of a jury, I might take to the street, wickedly creating more chaos, violence, hatred and injustice than the original act of injustice against me ever could have done. I must daily beg God to help me walk in humility, so I can bow my head and say, “Thank you, Lord. What You ordain is always good. I will follow You through this.”
God’s mind is bigger than mine. I must stop trying to figure it out. “Canst thou, by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? (Job 11:7)” When hard things happen, I want to know why and I want to know right now. And what I really want to be assured of is that God allowed these things to happen to make room for better things. What I usually mean by “better” things are things that I perceive as being better, like success, better relationships, or having a greater impact on those around me for good. All of those are good things, but they are a bit superfluous when compared to the ultimate best thing, which is the glory of God. God will have his glory in all things, whether they be the things I want or the things I don’t. The hard part to accept is that, beyond that great purpose, I may never know all the whys and wherefores until eternity.
But suppose your suffering was caused, not by circumstances beyond the control of you or others, but by someone whose unkindness, backbiting and general nastiness wounded you? And the question rolling around in your mind is, “God, why am I suffering and this other person isn’t? Why are you letting this person get away with this scot free? Why isn’t this person experiencing the consequences of his/her sin?” The short answer is that nobody is getting away with anything. If the person who hurt you is a child of God, than you better believe God is in hot pursuit. God promises to chasten us when we continue in unrepentant sin. The chastening of God is proof positive that we are his children and not bastards. (Hebrews 12:8) If the person you have in mind is not a child of God, then know that everyone will face God and give account for his deeds at the judgment. But the longer answer is that none of those questions are any of my business. What God ordains is always good. It is not my right to ask why he deals with others the way he does. In the broader scope of suffering, it is never appropriate for us to try to peer into his hidden purposes. He’s already told us the basic reasons he allows us to suffer in passages like James 1 and other places. God does not owe me an explanation, and when I try to demand one from him, I run right into Job’s sin. Do you remember how God responded to that? He came in a whirlwind and asked Job a few questions of his own. In humility, Job was forced to admit his wrong with these words, “…therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. (Job 38-42)” We can only say with the hymn lyricist, “What God ordains is always good: This truth remains unshaken; Though sorrow, need or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken; I fear no harm, for with His arm, He shall embrace and cheer me; so to my God I yield me.” This leads to my next point.
God does love me and I am not forsaken. When you’ve grown up in church and heard the truth over and over again, it’s surprising how often that truth can still seem hollow, especially when experience seems to contradict everything you know. When you’ve been mistreated by others who bear the image of God or when you see image bearers treating each other in horrible ways, it is far too easy to take the failings of others and project them onto God. When dear friends and family turn on you, the very people God put on earth to reflect his light and love, it is easy to believe that God, the original source of light and love, no longer loves you either. What is hardest is when God himself continues to deny you a legitimate and God-honoring desire or pleasure like marriage or fertility or a good relationship with a spouse or parent. So what’s the solution? Speak the truth to yourself. Interestingly enough, when I listened to the song, I didn’t start out crying. I’d get through the first verse and then the second, “What God ordains is always good, He is my friend and father; He suffers not to do me harm though many storms may gather; Now I may know both joy and woe, someday I shall see clearly; that He has loved me dearly.” On the last line, the tears would roll in like a flood. The thought presented such hope to my grieving heart. Even if I couldn’t understand right now, I knew I would fully realize his love for me in eternity. I suppose that’s why I returned to those words over and over again. I felt alone, I felt forsaken, but the song reminded me of the truth long grown cold. It was such a small thing, but I clung to it. I felt no shame to cling to that small thing and neither should you. God does love you. He has not forsaken you. He is not sitting far away in the heavens, uncomprehending of our earthly pain and suffering. Like Paul said to the men at Athens, He is not far from every one of us, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being…(Acts 17:22-28)” But more specific than that is the fact that our God has suffered in the person of Jesus Christ. He went to the limit and beyond of human suffering while he lived with us on the earth and experienced the cross. He can never dishonestly say, like we often do, “I know just how you feel.” He does know just how we feel and much more than that. We can never out-do Him in compassion and tenderness. We can never understand more than he understands. We can never wear him out with our grief. He is always ready and willing to listen to our sorrows and our tears.
In the end, after all my protests and anger and rebellion at the pain God brings into my life I have to say, “I submit. You have the right to do whatever you want to me because you are good.” I know I still have much to learn and I have no doubt that I will have to preach this to myself all over again somewhere down the road, but I also know God is faithful and will be faithful to continue teaching me. I hope that I can keep saying with the hymn writer and with all of you, “To Him, then, I will yield me.”