Why God allowed suffering in my life (for both before and after becoming a Christian)

I grew up obeying rules and secretly (secret from myself, that is) thinking I was better than other people.  At nineteen, as I was beginning a slide into depression but didn’t know it, I was “called” into my bedroom by what I was hoping/afraid might be God.  I told Him I wanted to be like the Christians in the Bible.  God told me through the Bible that those who are forgiven little, love little.  But, those who are forgiven much, love much.  I thought I had little to be forgiven of so I told God I wanted to be forgiven of much and I thought it might be fun to sin.  God impressed on my spirit, “You’re a sinner!”  He wasn’t talking about your everyday church-going sinner that we all are.  He meant I was vile, evil and depraved.  I replied, “No, I’m not!”  He said again, “You’re a sinner!”  I said again, “No, I’m not!”

Then God did the kindest, most loving thing He could do for me:  He “blessed” me with mental illness (that would not be correctly treated for ten years).  The mental illness caused indescribable psychic pain, anguish, regret, and shame.  My emotions left me (but I didn’t know it) causing me to feel like I hadn’t really talked to anyone for ten years; I literally felt alone for all of those years.  And, my Pride was assaulted:  I was in and out of mental hospitals, I was humiliated because I lost many jobs, I could not do some of the simplest of things (like count money), and I despised being labeled mentally ill and a failure.

Why did I call it God’s “blessing?” because that was the only way for my Pride to fall.  I came to realize I was vile, evil and depraved; just like God had told me.  God called me again after ten years and I grudgingly accepted Him.  And God began the continuous work of changing me so that eventually I will have the beautiful loving character of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus.

But bringing me to Jesus wasn’t the only value of the pain.  God allowed that pain to go deep within to allow me to care deeply about the hurts of others; to be able to empathize with others, and let others in pain know I that have hurt deeply as well.  I use the pain God gave me every day in my job, as I walk alongside those dealing with mental illness.  (And, I also use the pain to understand others who have experienced pain, such as my children, who were traumatized before we adopted them).

I wouldn’t wish mental illness on anyone.  I wish I could have learned without the pain.  But God used the pain to win me to Himself and change me; and help me to care about, and be willing and able to serve, others.

And for that I will forever be grateful.

God is faithful in small things, and will be faithful in large things

I was told by a mentor that seeing as much answered prayer as I do is a gift.  I hope this is not true.  I don’t see nearly as much of what God is doing as I would like.  And I hope everyone sees as much or more of what God is doing than I do.

“Thank you Jesus”

If you are like me you have blamed God when things go “wrong”.  “God, how could you let this happen?”  If God gets the blame when things go wrong, shouldn’t He get the credit when things go right?  And if He should, do I thank Him? for everything?  Did my alarm clock get me out of bed for work?  Thank you Jesus.  Was there air in my car tires to take me to work?  Thank you Jesus.  Did my car start?  Thank you Jesus.  Did the traffic lights work?  Thank you Jesus.  I could spend all day thanking Jesus in my head for all the things that He makes go “right” for me.

If I think these examples are trivial then what would I do if Jesus didn’t make these things go “right” for me?  I overslept, had a flat tire, my car wouldn’t start and after I had changed the tire, jump started the engine I found myself in a traffic jam because the traffic lights were out.  If it is not trivial when it goes wrong, it is not trivial when Jesus makes it go right.  I’m going to thank Him.

“Fired”

I told my employer that I would not work with pornography, occult, or abortion ads.  They threatened to fire me.  My Bible-study group prayed for my wife and me and I prayed God would tell me what to say.  God didn’t give me the exact words to say, instead He made my thinking very clear, He made the path of love very obvious.  I would be hurting others by doing these ads.  I was responsible for my actions.  There is a chain of actions that takes pornography from producer to user and I would not be part of that chain.  God gave me the chance to tell top level management about Jesus.  And in the end, I didn’t get fired.  In fact, five years later they asked me to write an evangelism series of ads for them.

“Finding the Lost… Toys”

When we first adopted our two sons (they were 6 and 2 years old) they had lost a toy.  I suggested to them that we pray and ask Jesus to help us find it.  We prayed, “Jesus would you help us find this toy”.    I simply told my two sons that Jesus would help them find the toy and that He might not bring the toy to them so they needed to start looking.  And then I had to resist the urge to “help God find the toy.”  This was nerve-wracking for me.  Did I really trust God to come through?  What if we didn’t find the toy? What would that communicate to my sons? to me?  I was relieved when they found the toy.  I decided that every time we lost something we would ask God to help us find it as a faith building exercise for my two sons, and me.  Sixteen years later we now depend on God to answer our prayer to help us find things that are lost and for everything that concerns us.  And I realize God doesn’t need my “help” finding things, I need His.  We have found all but a handful of the things we have lost.  And some of those things may have been thrown away by mistake.

“Mator and the big public test”

Jeremy and John were swimming in a lake with their toys, one of which was a truck called “Mator” from the Disney film Cars.  They lost it in the murky water thirty-five feet from shore.  They yelled to me, “Dad, we lost Mator, we’ve been looking for it and we can’t find it anywhere… should we pray?”  Now this was a test for me.  I have never found anything I have lost in any lake if I couldn’t see it. And, dozens of strangers were standing around us waiting for my response.  I yelled back,  “Dear Jesus, please help them find it.”  Jeremy took one step and his foot stepped on top of Mator.  My boys were ecstatic.  But not as much as me.  My trust in Jesus soared.  I laid my public reputation and my life’s purpose on the line that Jesus could do something I could never do, and He came through.

“Faith Games”

I expanded this idea for my youngest.  He spent a lot of time playing video games then and I said to him, “You know how we pray to Jesus and He helps us find things?”  He said, “Yeah.”  I said, “He can help you play video games too.  Just ask Him.”  Jesus has turned playing video games into a faith classroom for my youngest son.

“NOT hearing from God”

Interest rates were at record breaking lows for mortgages and the time seemed right to move.  I decided I wouldn’t do anything until I heard from God.  My wife wanted to move, people were telling us now was the time, but I wanted to make sure not to run ahead of God.  I waited and prayed for God to let me know it was His will to move.  I waited months and heard nothing from God.  I told God that time may be running out.  Finally, my wife said, “Jim, you’re waiting for God to tell you it’s time to move, how will He do that?”  I said I was waiting for an impression, something similar to how God has communicated to me in the past.  She said, “Maybe God is speaking through our circumstances?”  Though our elementary school special ed experience had been excellent our sons needed a school system with stronger middle and high school special ed programs.  I realized I had had tunnel vision, expecting God to work in only the ways I had experienced before.  We moved and our boys have had a great special ed experience.  My wife is my best counselor and Jesus uses her daily to help me.

“Looking for a House… and the Bathroom Door”

In our old house I could lay on my bed with my head at the foot of the bed and look through the bedroom door, across the hall, through the bathroom door and make sure my youngest son was okay taking a bath.  I asked God, “How am I going to be able to watch him like this in our next house?”  He had me stand next to my bed, lay down and look at the wall.  He said I would be able to monitor John by laying on my bed just like that.

I didn’t believe Him.

After we had bought our new house I realized that the extra door to connect the master bedroom to the main bath  was exactly where God said it would be for me to be able to see into the bathroom and monitor John in the tub.

“Jeremy Tithes”

I told my oldest son about the benefits God claims for those who give Him back the extra 10% he gives us.  My son gave 10% to our local church of the money he had earned and we watched what God would do.  Within a few days a co-worker had run out of people to give free movie tickets to so she offered them to me and my family.  God had taken Jeremy’s $7 and given Jeremy $40 in tickets.  Now here’s the disclaimer:  God is not Santa Claus, a vending machine or the stock market.  If you give to get rich you will be very disappointed.  God’s goal is that we learn to love and depend on Him, not manipulate Him so we can love money more.

“Two of my Mentors say I Over-Spiritualize”

When I first was saved by Jesus my mentor said that I over-spiritualized.  I saw everything in the context of Jesus.  More recently one mentor said, “God doesn’t care what color socks you wear.”  I believe that if it matters to me, it matters to God, and that if it matters to God, it should matter to me.  And I believe no circumstances are by chance, everything that happens has been planned by God.  And I believe there is no part of life that you can say, “This doesn’t have anything to do with God.”  There is no such thing as “secular.”