Right after I graduated from high school, I joined an EMT class so I could volunteer with the local rescue squad. The class consisted of studying basic first aid as well as learning how to do patient assessment, apply splints and administer first aid. These skills are called “practicals.”
During patient assessment, the first thing you’re taught to do was “shake and shout.” This meant the first responder would kneel down beside a patient who appeared to be unconscious, place his hands on the patient’s shoulders, gently shake her while loudly asking, “Are you alright?” in each ear.
One evening our instructor was late for class so she told us to work on the “practicals” until she arrived. As we practiced the various skills we’d need to pass the test, I noticed that one of my classmates, Caroline, was starting the patient assessment.
Let me take a moment and say Caroline had a good heart and was a very likeable person. However, if you were in a car crash and Caroline showed up with the ambulance crew, your odds of survival would be higher if you did CPR on yourself than if she did it. For example, one evening during a break, she told us she went squirrel hunting. After she shot the squirrel, she laid it on a stump and did chest compressions on it to see if she could revive it.
Right after Caroline shook the dummy and loudly said, “Are you alright?” in each ear, I stopped her.
“Caroline,” I said, “What if the patient is almost deaf? You need to be louder.”
She shook the dummy and raised her voice. “Are you alright? Are you OK?”
“You need to be louder,” I said.
She did it again and this time she started shouting.
This conversation went back and forth several times until I had her shouting at the top of her lungs. Everyone else had stopped what they were doing to watch us. I have to admit every time she worked on the dummy, I laughed. Right after she was done shouting, I’d regain my composure so I could tell her she still wasn’t loud enough.
All of the fun stopped when the instructor walked in the door and said, “Caroline, what are you doing? I could hear you across the road.”
The truth is Caroline was probably loud enough the first time she did the “shake and shout” on the dummy. Her problem was she listened to me as I told her an untruth. I only did this to her to see how loud I could get her to be. There was no evil intent on my part.
Many of the untruths Christians believe about God aren’t started with evil intentions either. They usually begin because biblically illiterate Christians are trying to make sense of difficult situations when the answers aren’t easy to find. These untruths about God can cause lots of problems.
One common untruth which does this is the phrase, “It was God’s will,” whenever some unexplainable tragedy strikes us. While this phrase is usually spoken with the intentions of bringing comfort and easing suffering, it often has the opposite effect.
If you’ve just lost your child to SIDS and are looking to God for comfort, would hearing “it was God’s will” make you think God is concerned about comforting you if he is the one who inflicted this pain on you in the first place? No. It would make you wonder how God can be love if he did this to you. He would appear unloving, overbearing, distant and uncaring about your hurts.
Besides, if we are nothing but pawns in God’s game of life and death, is he really a God we want to follow anyway?
We know we live in a world that’s cursed by sin. It brings sickness, problems and eventually physical death to all of us. But, as we saw last week, God doesn’t look at death the same way we do.
Even though we know this, we still wonder about the things that happen to us before we leave our bodies and go to be with the Lord. Are we supposed to believe that everything bad is God’s will and that God expects us to be content with that?
The Bible doesn’t say we’re supposed to do this. John 3:16-17 says, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” If God loves us enough to have his Son die for us and save the world, isn’t it logical God wants good things for us while we’re in the world?
The Bible says he does. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
This psalm teaches us God wants to be a calming presence for us when the world around us is falling apart. And the world around us is falling apart. We live in a world that’s cursed because of sin. At any moment the rug might get pulled out from under our comfortable lives and we have to face tragedy or an uncertain future.
We also have to remember the actions of other people affect us. Our actions affect them. From the very beginning, God created humans with the ability to choose to do the wrong thing. We looked at that last week with Adam and Eve. They only had one command to keep and they broke it. That allowed sin to enter the world.
People haven’t changed. We all have the ability to choose to reject God. When we do, others can pay the price for our disobedience. Several thousand people died on 9/11 because a handful of individuals chose to listen to a false god and commit mass murder.
Another important point we have to keep in the forefront of our minds is we have an enemy that wants to destroy us. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Satan is constantly working to convince us God doesn’t love us or really care about us.
But since our God is loving and compassionate, how does he look at the problems and sufferings which happen to us? Let’s see what the book of Romans has to say about it.
The apostle Paul begins his letter to the church in Rome by explaining that every person on earth is a sinner and needs God. The problem is following the Old Testament law and being circumcised doesn’t take away sin. Only Jesus does. But God does more for us than take away the guilt our sin brings upon on. Romans 8:28-39 tells us how he does this.
It says, “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. 29 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. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.”
How does God use suffering for our good? Take a close look at verses 28-29. God uses everything that happens to his children, whether these things are good or bad, to conform us to the image of his Son. The difficulties and tragedies life throw at us make us more like Jesus. That is, if we allow God to use them for that purpose. God doesn’t stop us if we choose to be bitter about life and walk away from him.
God not only uses the disastrous things in our lives to help us. He uses them to help other people. Listverse.com tells how Steve James took a heart-wrenching tragedy and helped thousands of other people.
“He was inspired by the generosity of his daughter, Brittney. In 1998, then-16-year-old Brittney chose to sponsor a Kenyan boy, Newton, through the Christian Children’s Fund. She hoped one day to meet the young boy in person. But she never made it to Kenya. In 2001, Brittney was discovered dead in her apartment. She was only 19.
To honor her memory, Steve went to Kenya to meet Newton six months later. He also gathered supplies and medical equipment to take on his trip. As a certified registered nurse anesthetist, Steve wanted to use his medical skills to help Kenyan patients.
But he wasn’t prepared for the scope of the suffering he encountered. When he returned to the US, he told everyone about the problem of unmet medical needs in Kenya. Steve and his wife, Greta, founded Kenya Relief to help.
“There were times when we would pass out medicine from the back of a van,” remembers Steve. “On one trip, we saw 800 patients a day, a total of 2,400 people . . . Unfortunately, we were unable to fully care for them because of limited resources.”
A decade later, James and his team created Brittney’s House of Grace, a 60-acre orphanage outside of Migori, Kenya. Dozens of children are cared for there. Even adults receive medical care. Kenya Relief kept expanding with separate dormitories for boys and girls, a library, a cafeteria, and more. Steve was also determined to build a school and a hospital.
‘There’s no better place to leave a legacy than Kenya,’ said Steve.” (http://listverse.com/2014/12/23/10-inspiring-stories-of-people-who-turned-tragedy-into-triumph/)
Steve took one of the most painful things anyone would ever have to endure, the loss of a child, and used it to help thousands of other people. As tough as it was on her family, Brittney didn’t die in vain. God used it for good.
In the last few verses of Romans 8:28-39, Paul addresses the war between good and evil that rages around us. The power of darkness will never be stronger than the power of God. It will never be able to take us away from the salvation we have in Jesus and the love God has for us. We need to make sure we don’t do that to ourselves by blaming God for the unfair difficulties we face and walk away from him.
As you think about the tragedies you’ve faced in life, instead of saying, “It was God’s will,” ask God to show you how he used them to make you more like Jesus and how he can use them for good.
Please pray this simple prayer. “God, how have you used the tragedies in my life to make me more like Jesus and used them for good?”
The great thing about the untruth I told Caroline is it didn’t cause any problems. She even laughed about it. We can’t say the same thing with untruths about God. They affect how we view him and how we live out our faith.