God Sends a Tempest

This essay appears as the commentary to the April 27th entry in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.

“God will not force any door to enter in.  He may send a tempest about the house; yea, shake the house to its foundations.  The door must be opened by the willing hand, ere the foot of Love will cross the threshold.”  These few lines lie at the core of MacDonald's thinking.  Suffering is not a curse, but rather the cure knocking at our door.  We misunderstand suffering more, in our present age. than the ancients did.  I think the reason for this is that we have such a disbelief in evil.  Our generation has endeavored to make sin respectable, skewing the lines between right and wrong in their attempt to redeem sin from the clutches of morality, especially Biblical morality.  The end result is that wrong is now right and right is wrong. 

While the Gospel has always provided a safe haven for sinners from all walks of life, calling them to a richer, fuller life in Christ, a life that promises full redemption, the gospel of this age is preaching deliverance from the “ills,” if not “evils” of the Christian Hope.  The result is that we have a society that doesn't believe in right or wrong, but rather in political correctness.  Many no longer believe in good and evil, let alone Truth.   All of this is done to achieve a political end.  That is why political correctness has been used to replace morality in culture, it is called “political” correctness for a reason, and has succeeded in the minds of many, especially the young, in being elevated above all other moral teachings as the only safe guide. To be politically incorrect seems to be the only sin in the eyes of the media and the elite.  So much so, that debate, real debate has ceased among us, and freedom of speech has become a myth.  All of this has confused the issue of suffering, and led to misunderstanding of its purpose. 

Suffering, rather than true evil, is now considered to be the greatest of evils among us.  Most everyone believes this, even, I dare say, most Christians among us.  The proof of this is the countless books published by Christian and non-Christian authors trying to explain or explain away suffering.  The Christians want to know why a good God would allow people to suffer, and the atheists will on the one hand, say that it is the chief reason for not believing in God at all and in the next breath argue that suffering doesn't exist at all.  The confusion is so astounding that most Christians and others say, “Why we suffer just can't be explained.”  The Christians will often say, “We must leave this to the mystery of God.”  Our problem lies in the fact that we have merely studied “Why” suffering exists, rather than study suffering itself and to see what effect it has upon the individual. 

 “What good does suffering do?” I have often heard asked, especially when someone is dying.  I often want to say, “It does quite a bit of good.”  But I know that is, often, neither the time nor the place.  But suffering does quite a lot in a person's life.  Most significantly, it changes us.  How often have you heard someone say, after going through a trial, “I will never be the same.”  In fact, years ago I read a psychological study that said, in effect,  the brain forms patterns of thinking so strong that only a crisis can change a persons thinking.  Suffering changes us, either for good or ill.  Over the years, I have seen individuals change for the good when they have embraced their suffering, or, as MacDonald alludes above, they opened the door searching for answers and believed that God had some purpose in it all.  They became stronger individuals, not only in their faith, but in their ability to cope with the problems and trials of life.  I have also seen those individuals who refused to open the door to suffering, railing against it and often becoming more bitter and angry with life and God. 

But what actual work does suffering perform in an individual's life?  I believe it has the purpose of wrestling us from evil.  Our Lord taught us to pray, “And deliver us from evil.”  Why?  Because that is the biggest prayer that we need answered.  But what is evil?  I think the best definition I ever heard was given by M. Scott Peck in his book The People of the Lie.  He was searching for a definition for his book about evil, when his son replied, “Dad, evil is live spelled backwards.”  There you have it.  It is the opposite of life.  It is that which destroys, it is death both physically and spiritually.  It is that which sucks all the life from you, draining you and leaving you in despair.  Christ came bringing life and offering to deliver us from evil, but to do this we must be wrestled from the clutches of evil, and that's where suffering comes in.  It is God pulling us from the arms of the great destroyer, and the ensuing struggle leaves us exhausted and worn until God breathes into us again the breath of life.  But the “willing hand” must invite God to the rescue, we must want redemption. 

We sometimes resist and think we are too good to suffer, too good to be thrown into the fires of trial.  We do not yet see what evil lies within us.  And this is also what suffering does for us, it shows us our true nature.  It reveals our heart to us.  How we perform during trials tells us quite a bit about ourselves.  It should move us to open the door and call for help, but sometimes we are stubborn and slow to answer the knock of God.  What we fail to see is that the deceptive work of evil is slowly killing us by degrees, we find ourselves slowly losing our enthusiasm for life.  That is because the life is slowly being drained from us and suffering is the wake up call.  “Awake sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 14)  This waking is what Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 4, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves, we are afflicted in ever way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh....Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”  What amazing words and what a theology of suffering.  It is “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”  Those are good words to meditate upon, as C.S. Lewis did, and soon you will discover what God has been up to.

A dear relative, a good man, who had seen suffering himself and was a part of a national tragedy, asked me, as we were debating about God, “Why would a good God let little children suffer?”  I replied to him, “Because God knows that there is something more important than their suffering at stake here.”  To which he replied, “What could be more important than their suffering?”  To which I replied, “That they should become evil.”  He sat silent after that.  Hitler was some mother's little son, so was Attila the Hun, Jeffery Dahmer, Stalin and a host of others.  Some people say, “I wonder what they suffered that made them so.”  I often wonder what suffering they were spared that made them so, and what stubborn selfishness kept them from reaching with a willing hand to open the door to God and let him in.