“I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight (Psalm 119:75-77).”
Mary Draper Ingles has had enough. In the novel “Follow the River”, she and an old woman called Ghetel have gone through narrow, deep gorges in 18th century West Virginia trying to reach Mary’s home. They have walked for weeks escaping Indians in Ohio and are sick, weak and hungry.
But now Mary is sure she is at the end of the line physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Coming through another gorge, she is now faced with another river crossing the one she and Ghetel have been coming down.
Mary is sure she has gone down the wrong path for days and has been looking for a way across the river they have come down so they can backtrack. But she now finds this to be impossible because of this new, wide stream intersecting the river.
Mary begins to hallucinate, thinking of herself going down river after river and ending up as a skeleton her husband one day discovers. She is recognizable in her dream only by her wedding band. Mary had hoped to reunite with her husband after being captured by enemy Indians, but now she thinks this will never happen.
Then Mary looks up and examines a sycamore tree. She thinks it looks familiar. Then she is sure she knows it. The Indians and their captured prisoners, including Mary, had passed it on the way back to Ohio. Mary looks at Ghetel with glee and says, “Ghetel, we are only five days from home!” She thanks God for bringing them through the wildnerness to this known landmark.
There is no doubt that we suffer as Christians. God takes us through a process spiritually that is similar to the physical process of refining precious metals. He uses fiery trials to test our hearts (Proverbs 17:3). God may lead us through some narrow paths and slippery slopes to get us to where He wants us to go (Matthew 7:13,14).
However, God is not some cruel, distant being looking to torture us. We believers can be sure that He is loving, compassionate and faithful in bringing about His purposes in our suffering.
Indeed, as in the case of Mary Draper Ingles, God knows our limits. He gives us hope in the midst of pain and brings an end to it in this life or the next.
Ralph Carmichael testified to God’s faithfulness and care in a song he wrote in the 1960s:
“In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Though He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?
I will celebrate Nativity,
For it has a place in history,
Sure, He came to set His people free,
What is that to me?
Till by faith I met Him face to face,
and I felt the wonder of His grace,
Then I knew that He was more than just a
God who didn’t care,
That lived a way out there and
Now He walks beside me day by day,
Ever watching o’er me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way,
He’s Everything to me.”