Nobody gets through life without feeling a little shortchanged at one time or another. Sure, there are dream-like seasons when we feel the sailing couldn’t be smoother. But these seasons tend to evaporate with a snap of the fingers, and our bliss goes up in smoke as some unwelcome misfortune parades its way into our lives. I’m not trying to be pessimistic; I’m just being real. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of one’s own health, financial troubles, relational strains, romantic unfulfillment, lack of friends, wayward children, or another of the million and one woes commonly experienced, we all—at some point—suffer the pains of life in a broken world.
And if we aren’t vigilant in protecting our hearts, these pains, losses, and troubles can lead us into bitterness . . . bitterness toward God.
I mean, he is sovereign, right? God is in absolute control of all things at all times, correct? Correct. Though it can feel to the finite human soul that this world is in chaos—and in some sense, it is—God is ruling over the chaos. No teeny particle passes this way or that without him permitting and guiding its movement. God foreknows and permits all things that come to pass. All things.
Now this doesn’t mean that God wants things like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina—or our wife’s cancer diagnosis, our job loss, our mother’s death, or our friends deserting us—to happen. Human logic is quick to come to the conclusion that if God allows something, he must heartily desire for that thing to occur. But this isn’t true. Logic and reasoning are gifts, but they have their limits; our minds are incapable of comprehending the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33). However perplexing it may be, the truth is that the Sovereign King of the universe allows many things to transpire that anger and grieve him. Remember how Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus? He was moved to tears over the pain that the people he created were enduring. God takes no delight in suffering, but for mysterious reasons that we aren’t entitled to know, he allows it.
But hear me: God is not to blame for our suffering. Brokenness creeps its way into our lives because of sin—not necessarily our personal sin, but the sin brought onto the scene by our first father, Adam. The unblemished perfection of the world shattered into pieces when the representative of all humanity rejected God’s good rule over his life. And you and I have done nothing but add to world’s problems with our own sin. We have all—with merry hearts—joined Adam in his rebellion against God. We, humanity, are to blame for why things are the way they are. But we so easily lose sight of this. We forget the big truths about why things are messed up (sin), and what God is doing to remedy it (Jesus), and so easily become bitter with God about why things are the way they are.
A few years ago, I found myself extremely embittered over various things that God had allowed, and was allowing, to exist in my life. At the beckoning of more mature brothers in Christ, I began asking the Lord to help me counter this bitterness by cultivating humility, gratitude, and an eternal perspective. I started setting my mind, day by day, on the hardest and best truths in the world.
Truths like these:
1) God owes us nothing. If this isn’t a humility inducer, I don’t know what is. If you guys are anything like me, you probably walk around with spiritual amnesia—forgetting you were at war with God until he changed your heart, forgetting you still sin against him constantly, forgetting the only thing you “deserve” is to be in Hell. I know that’s a buzz-kill, but it is a foundational truth we must stay grounded in. Friends, any smidgen of goodness that we experience in this life is purely owing to grace. And—I think this is the most difficult part for us to embrace—God can dish out different graces to different people as he chooses. If he wants to make someone else prosper financially and not you, he has the right to do that. If he wants to grant someone else perfect health until their dying breath and not you, he has the right to do that. God can pour out his mercies in this life in whatever way he pleases, and we haven’t a leg to stand on in complaining about it. However, regardless of how God chooses to give or withhold in this life, he gives us so much in Jesus!
2) God gives us everything in Christ. And if this isn’t a gratitude inducer, I don’t know what is! We deserve nothing but to be tormented forever by God’s righteous wrath toward our sin, but if we are in Christ, God gives us forgiveness, righteousness, and the entire world (1 Corinthians 3:23)! He has made us co-heirs with Jesus and in the age to come, we will reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12). We, being clothed with glorified bodies and minds, will shine like the sun in the glory of his Kingdom (Matthew 13:43). We will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3)! And more than all these things, we will forever enjoy the incompressible pleasure of unhindered fellowship with the good, loving, and all-satisfying God. However, I know that even as many of you read these things, many of your hearts may still lay lifeless in ingratitude and bitterness (the struggle is real!) . . . and I think this may be because you have shortsighted vision.
3) This life is just a blip on the radar. I think what a lot of us need more than anything is for God to drop an eternal perspective into our brains. Brothers and sisters, the world that we live in right now—with all of its ugliness and dissatisfaction because of sin—is going to be burned with fire, and a new world will come rushing in on its heels. In this new world, there will be no more suffering—no sickness, no pain, no loneliness, no loss, no death—but only continuous pleasure and joy. The richness of all that God is will no longer be hindered by the presence of evil, and it overflow into every aspect of our lives. Our joy and satisfaction will run deeper than we can imagine. We have got to believe that this is really going to happen! If we don’t, we will keep on having weak hearts that ravenously search for hope and comfort in this world. If we don’t put all of our hopeful expectations in the Resurrection and the world to come, our joy and gratitude will fluctuate according to what we do or don’t have in this life. And this is no way for new creations in Christ to live!
Cultivating humility, gratitude, and an eternal perspective in my life by meditating on the big, awesome truths of God has been ridiculously effective in killing my bitterness toward God. He owes me nothing, yet he gives me everything. I deserve Hell, but he gives me an eternity of happiness and satisfaction. I have no reason to be bitter with God about anything, ever. He is overwhelmingly good and gracious to me in Christ.