The other day I read a passage in Luke 4 that got me thinking of an essay published in my book, Lessons Along the Journey. I thought it might be good to adapt the essay for this blog.
Whom would you compare me with, as an equal, or match me against, as though we were alike? . . . I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose (Isaiah 46:5-10).
As I sat one morning on my couch and pondered the idea of God’s absolute control over our every circumstance, a question slipped into my mind: Is God, who is in control of all things, good all the time and in all circumstances?
And I remembered a passage from St. Luke’s gospel about the Lord’s visit to Nazareth. The people in Jesus’ hometown challenged Him to work miracles for them as He’d done in other cities.
I could understand their argument. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. The people asking for miracles were His childhood friends and neighbors. He’d been in their homes, and they’d been in His. Why shouldn’t they expect Him to heal their sick and touch their hurting as He’d done in other cities?
But they learned, as I’ve learned – and have had to relearn time without number – God doesn’t always do what we want Him to do.
“Indeed, I tell you,” Jesus answered, “there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:25-27).
In other words, God does what He chooses and for whom He chooses. And no one – not even Jesus’ neighbors and childhood friends – has a right to expect or demand He do otherwise.
But Jesus’ remark infuriated them. In a flood of passion, the crowd “rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill . . . to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:28-29).
Seems to me, people haven’t changed much since that day centuries ago in Nazareth. Many still grow bitter toward God over withered dreams and crushed hopes. They rail against Him because an accident took someone they love, or their marriage crumbled, or their child wasn’t healed, or . . . .
And so, unable to throw the Lord over a cliff, they throw away their faith instead.
It’s a danger we all face.
Like Martha who wept at the Lord’s feet over her brother Lazarus’ death, I often wonder why God is silent when I need Him to speak to my heart. I wonder why He says no when I need so much for Him to say yes. Why does He work miracles for others, but not for me?
In my many years of walking with Christ, I’ve come to recognize these questions are critical questions of faith -- and I don’t think God will let any of us gloss over them. Our maturity as Christians depends on how we answer those questions, because each time we don’t receive what we ask, each time we get knocked to the ground, we face two choices: throw Christ over the cliff, or persevere in our faith that God will work grace into our circumstances – regardless of how things look or feel.
In her short life – she was only twenty-four when she died – St. Therese of Lisieux discovered, “Everything is a grace. Everything is the direct effect of our Father's love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything. Because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.”
The answer to the question, Is God good all the time and in all circumstances? is rooted in what St. Therese can teach those who listen. When doubts hammer our heart into the ground – God is good. When tragedy explodes through our life – God is good. When all of hell itself rises against our soul and overwhelms our strength – in all circumstances and at all times, God is good.
We come to that conclusion because it is simply not possible for Him to be anything else.