My parents’ next-door neighbor once told my mother, when she was going through a difficult time, that “God never promised you a rose garden.”
It was the first time I had heard the phrase. And it certainly wasn’t a particularly empathetic thing to say. But sometimes we can find truth even in hurtful words. While this pithy maxim was no comfort to my mother at that time, I can take some comfort in it today. It reminds me in times of doubting, when I let fear seep into my consciousness, that God is working even in the trials.
The saying isn’t in the Bible, but the Bible backs it up. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have troubles…” (John 16:33) and we see God’s servants–Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus, Paul–suffering over and again in the scriptures. We know that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
God, his Son not sparing, has given us salvation. And he has promised us a better life to come–but that is not this life. We can take solace in Romans 8:28, though: “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.” This doesn’t mean everything we experience will be good, but does assure us that every experience will be used for our good. Our hardships and trials may strengthen us or better refine us into the people God wants us to be. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” (Malachi 3:3).
I have confidence that God–who is all powerful–is at times restraining himself from stepping in to lift us out of our trials. I believe his love for us is more than we can even begin to imagine, and that he feels pain at our sorrows.
When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, we can be sure he knew what he was about to do. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” he said to the disciples. “But I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). He knew before he even set out for Bethany that his friend would live again.
Yet, upon seeing the sorrow in this place, Jesus wept. He doesn’t weep here because Lazarus has died. He knows Lazarus will live again. It says, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:32-33).
He wept not because Lazarus had died. He wept because his friends were in pain.
What comfort there is in knowing that Jesus weeps also for us in our sufferings. That he would be moved by our pain also.
So many times I’ve thought, like Mary, “Lord, if you had been here….” Or, “Lord, if you wanted to you could take it all away. You could heal our broken bodies. You could pull us out at any moment from this trial.” And these things are true.
So why doesn’t he lift us out in immediate answer to our prayers?
If Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Mary is right to say this. But if Lazarus had not died, he could not have been raised from the dead. We see that there is more glory for God–and surely a deepening of faith for all those witnessing this resurrection–because Lazarus died. The trial–the death, the four days of mourning–was never in vain.
While I will have troubles in this world, God is using them. Not one trial will be wasted. Not one heartache will be for naught. And God must have purpose in our trials; if they were of no use to us or to him, I don’t believe he would allow them.
Maybe God will see fit at some point to step in and give us a miraculous healing. To bless us with children conceived naturally in our own home. But maybe he will give us children another way. Or maybe he is directing us to a childless life for a greater purpose and glory than we can understand.
But knowing that God has allowed trials in our lives, and that following Christ does not mean freedom from all pain or suffering or illness in this life, reminds me that in the hard times God is still with me. He is here, refining me like silver, blessing me in trials, feeling my pain and heartache, loving me and drawng me closer to himself each day.
And with that knowledge has to come grattitude. I’m thankful that he loves me enough to make me the person he knows I should be. Even when it’s painful for both of us.