Yes, I said “causes”. This was by far the most difficult thing to wrap my mind around. I had always been taught that God has “good plans” for us, something about future, hope, and joy, you know the verse. And I believe that He is always good, and always has our best interest in mind. Of this there is NO doubt. But, I have come to discover that this does not mean that everything feels “good” or that we will never experience pain. It is a warped mindset that has been perpetuated in the western church that “claims” only the “pleasant promises” in the word, and then teaches that if you’re not experiencing all good things in your life then you must be weak in your faith, or have committed some sin, or anything else that places blame on you. This is completely contradictory to the Word, which says that He will “lead us into all truth” and that “He makes our paths straight”. So, if I truly believe that He is guiding my every step, then I have no other choice than to believe that He sometimes leads me into dark places.
I will never forget when this started becoming clear. Paul and I were engaged, and I was heading back to Donna’s house (where I stayed for a couple months to save money for the wedding), and I was stopped at a stop light. This street was just about 1 mile from where Zeke lived, and I remember crying out to the Lord, “Why didn’t You keep me from dating Zeke? You always warned me, or directed me, or kept me from making stupid relationship mistakes. Why didn’t you this time? Why did You let me go through so much pain?” And I heard His answer clear as day, “Will you trust me, even if I never tell you why?”
My whole world stopped. There it was, a challenge from the Almighty. Would I trust His sovereignty? Would I trust His heart? Did I truly believe in my heart that His plans are perfect? It drove me into His word, fully expecting to find out that I had just eaten too much green chile, and that God didn’t really say that. Here’s what I found instead (from the NKJV):
Lamentations 3:2, 32 He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light...Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me…
Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this, Job did not sin.
John 15:20 If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you
John 16:33 In the world you will have tribulation.
I found that God promises that we will have pain in this world. I bet you don’t hear that one “claimed” as much, eh? But He has also promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. So we can walk through those valleys of the shadow of death with confidence that “death” is only a shadow, in the glorious light of His presence.
I can already hear the responses, so let me clarify. Lamentations 3:33 says that the Lord “does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men”. I’m not saying that God causes us harm. There is a difference. It can be subtle, and it can feel like God is inflicting great pain on us, but He is good and merciful and faithful and His love endures forever. So when He leads us, we can be confident that He is leading us in our destiny, purpose and with our best interests in His heart. So how can we tell the difference? I’d like to paint you a picture.
Imagine yourself in the center of the Amazon jungle. The undergrowth is thick, and the canopy of the rich rain forest block any sign of the outside world, including the sun, moon or stars. It’s dark. It’s very dark. But you are walking. You have a guide, and he’s warned you of the potential dangers in the forest, which include, but are not limited to, wild animals, poisonous plants, quicksand, getting lost, or even an encounter with an cannibalistic tribe. But he has promised that if you stick close to him, he will take you to the most beautiful and rich land, full of promise. You have agreed to take the journey, convinced that the end is worth the risks of the trip. Suddenly you trip over an exposed root, falling face first into a patch of poisonous leaves. The itching begins immediately, driving you to a point of insanity. Your guide kneels down into the same patch of leaves, takes your arm and lifts you to your feet. He reaches into his backpack, and pulls out a bottle of some salve that you really don’t want to know about, and begins to apply it to the hives that have covered your exposed skin. As your pain begins to subside, you realize that he’s not itching. In fact, he has had no reaction to the poisonous leaves whatsoever. The journey resumes, and as you’re walking, you catch yourself watching his steps as well as yours, watching out for those dang roots, and you ask him, “Why didn’t you have a reaction to those leaves?” Your guide simply smiles and says, “Once you’ve encountered that poison, you build an immunity to it, and it will no longer harm you. I fell into a patch very much like that one a long time ago, and now I could sleep in it with no reaction.” You ponder this as you continue on your journey, and you’re intrigued. You ask the guide for all his secrets, and He just smiles, and says “You’ll learn in time. For now, let’s keep walking.”
The guide did not cause you to fall. He did not cause you to have a reaction. He was simply leading you. This is the difference. We live in a fallen world. This is a place where we will fall, we will feel pain, we will scream and cry and shout, and find ourselves surrounded by darkness. But that does not mean we “missed” the Lord’s leading. He may have just led us there.