It was a history book that made me snap. Not with bouts of rage and fury but a moment of accumulated sadness and frustration. The question we ask so often it risks become how we think, rose up and blurted out of me: “Why?” On this occasion, God lovingly answered me. He doesn’t have to but this time He did. Here’s what happened.
It has been a hard term. Autumn is always the busiest but things beyond our control have been happening, with malignant effects on people we love, and that makes everything more difficult. When it’s one of these times, everything else bad is magnified. And the news is rarely of minor miseries anyway. Add into this mix Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews, a brilliant and frequently desperate account of the Jewish people up until their expulsion from Spain in 1492. The catalogue of crimes committed against them by people claiming to be Christians was overwhelming me, and the individual detail of yet another led me to call out with unclear emotions to God.
With my words still in the air I heard Him whisper to me, “My Son”. Two thoughts swiftly followed. Firstly, Jesus is coming back to settle all accounts. He is the Judge of all the world (Matthew 25:31-32, Revelation 20:12-15) and His return will see justice done for all. This event will be so complete and so perfect that it will more than atone for all that has been (Dostoevsky’s famous lines from The Brothers Karamazov were no doubt being recalled to me.) The second thing I thought about Jesus was Him dying on the cross. It was as if God was gently but firmly saying to me, “Do you want to talk about suffering and justice…?” He knows, He has experienced far more than I ever have or will. And the justice I deserved, He put on His perfect Son instead.
I picked up the book and finished reading it. Before I went to sleep, I continued a habit I’ve been establishing of reading a psalm as the last thing I do at night. I had got up to Psalm 92, which told me the following…
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD,What could have been more perfectly chosen to challenge, comfort, and remind me? I gratefully considered myself to have been told.
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night…
How great are your works, O LORD!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but you, O LORD, are on high forever…
The LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
There was one more lesson to receive. My inclination is towards joy (Philippians 4:4 etc.), as I think is fitting for those confident of an eternity of joy with God. But does that put a veto on sorrow? The next day my Twitter timeline contained a link to a video by John Piper entitled “Simultaneous Joy and Sorrow.” You can watch the whole thing below (just 15 minutes) as he explains how 1 Peter 1:6 describes the normal Christian experience in this life to be of both these emotions:
“In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”So God had spoken to me in three ways: the whisper of His Spirit, the plain text of His Word, and the counsel of a good teacher. Did I learn anything new in this? Not exactly, but I heard the truth anew, afresh, and that was what I needed. Does this explain the evils we see and experience? Not entirely, but it gives us enough to trust Him, that His light is here in the darkness and will one day overcome it.