How many of us have grown up thinking about the American dream—if you just work hard enough, you can accomplish your dreams? And how many times have we heard that the reason our lives are going well, ornot going well, is because—according to the cause-effect mentality—“if you live a righteous life, you will be blessed and will never have to deal with difficulty.” And the flip side of that is: “Wow, your health (or life) is a wreck. What did you do to get yourself into that mess?”
The False Security of the Cause-Effect Mentality
Lots and lots of clichés. We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all been tempted to think about them. It’s funny, though, how we decide to apply them. The truth is, we are more likely to apply responsibility and blame to others as they are going through hard times—“What did they do to deserve that?” However, we are often much more likely to assign blame to someone else when we ourselves are going through hard times: “What did I ever do to deserve this?” (Otherwise meaning, I am a victim of someone else’s irresponsibility, etc.). Really, these clichés are simply a way we try to make sense of the things that happen in the world around us. After all, we would like to think that if we do everything right, we can control what happens in our lives, bringing good our way preventing bad things from happening. Unfortunately, life is not always so simple. To be more truthful, these clichés simply give us a false sense of security, as well as a platform for becoming judgmental toward others.
The Case of Job
Let’s think for a moment about a gentleman named Job. He was facing difficulties beyond what most of us could comprehend. These difficulties and losses were allowed to happen in his life, but were not a result of sin. The situation he was in was less than ideal. He had lost his children, his home, his livelihood, and finally his health. To pour salt on the wounds, his three “friends” chastised him regularly and were caught up in the cause and effect mentality. “Job, your life is a disaster. Obviously you must have done something terribly sinful to deserve this, and we obviously have not sinned, because life is going along great for us. You had better repent, as it would appear that God is angry with you.” Let’s not forget the final chapter of the book of Job, however. The Lord was revealing his nature to both Job and his friends, and pointed out that the three friends had it all wrong. By judging Job, they were sinning, as his circumstances were not a result of sin. They were told they needed to seek forgiveness for their misjudgment and mistreatment of Job. Job did forgive them, and eventually saw his life restored. He was found to be faithful to the Lord in good times and in bad.
God May be Reaching Out to Us
In other cases, however, we may have gotten far away from God’s plan for our lives, and are being given a sharp correction to get us back on course. Think about King David, who the prophet Nathan confronted about his sin against Uriah and his wife. David knew what he needed to do, which was to take ownership for the sin he really could never hide from God, and then to humble himself, ask God for forgiveness and restore his relationship with the Lord. (See 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51). Despite David’s shortcomings, God loved him and forgave him.
Why Do Difficult Things Happen?
So why do difficult things happen? It is true that there are many circumstances that we have contributed to and times when we could have made better choices. However, there are other times when our circumstances defy explanation, or are the result of someone else’s choices, and we are left to deal with the aftermath. Sometimes, we are being disciplined, such as in the case of King David, but at other times, we are being challenged to remain steadfast, like Job, despite very difficult circumstances. At times, circumstances are allowed, not to break us, but to mature us, to build some spiritual muscle, and to develop our character. (See James 1:2-12). I don’t know of any super-star team that has made it to the play-offs by sitting on the bench and just deciding they were skilled. Rather, it has come as the result of training, conditioning, and pushing beyond previous levels of ability, to build a strong, cohesive, effective team.
As Christians, we may need times of pruning and training. We may need to trim away some superficial or unimportant things, such as our shallow, self-centered, or unmerciful ways of seeing others, in order to get a clearer picture of our goal, and to become what God is asking us to become: more like Christ. Coming to understand the purpose behind the experience can build faith. Likewise, trusting in the sovereignty of the Lord to know what is best for us when we do not fully understand what is going on, can build our faith just as much. Rather than doubting God, Job chose to trust God’s plan.
Judgment Belongs to God Alone
The bottom line is that each of us lives in a fallen world. Good and bad things can happen to both good and bad people. We are called to walk in humility and peace with others, and reserve judgment of others, for God alone. Listen to the teaching of Jesus:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in our own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-6, NIV)
Mercy Not Sacrifice
God calls for mercy above sacrifice. He calls us to have mercy on others, which is a condition and attitude that comes from a humble heart. This is a heart that understands that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s grace. We have all been shown mercy, grace, and forgiveness without ever deserving it. In turn, the Lord asks us to show grace and mercy to others. To God, mercy for others is far greater than offerings in the offering plate, serving on a church committee, or saying all the right things.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, NIV)
Speaking to some Pharisees, leaders in the church who were judging him, Jesus said:
If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:7, NIV)
And in the Letter of James, we read:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13, NIV)
The Gift of Forgiveness
When we have offended others, we need to seek to restore the relationship, asking for forgiveness, while those who were offended offer the gift of forgiveness, recognizing the mercy and grace that God has shown to each of us.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace, and be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15, NIV)
A Christian Counselor Can Accompany You on the Path of Mercy and Forgiveness
At times, working with a Christian counselor can help an individual to focus on determining how to forgive, especially when one needs to maintain one’s health and safety in circumstances where the person doing the harm has not changed. (See Matthew 7:6).Working with a Christian counselor can also help people to see God at work in the midst of challenging circumstances, and can help them to develop both faith and character. Christian counseling can help one to develop greater discernment for opportunities to show mercy to others and to offer and receive forgiveness, which are very powerful expressions God’s love.
“Judgemental girls”” Image ID: 11072857, Copyright: photographs33, Published: Jun 11, 2012, DepositPhotos.com; “Stern parents looking angry,”” Image ID: 4720230, Copyright: elenathewise, Published: Jan 21, 2011, DepositPhotos.com; “Mother Daughter Love,”” Image ID: 6516301, Copyright: lisafx, Published Aug 29, 2011, DepositPhotos.com