“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (Psalm 42:1,2)?”
Last night I was fooling around and wrote an alternate history about myself. I went back in time and tried to convince the 13-year old “me” to not accompany the rest of my family on the move we made when I was that age.
I had spent some time with my childhood friend at a ballgame the other night, and our discussion inspired me. We talked about the old neighborhood, some of our old friends, and the parents.
Our talk made me think of what my life might have been like if we had stayed put. My “current” self told the younger one of some of the trials and tribulations he would face. I was so convincing that the adolescent me decided to stay where he was.
Unfortunately, in my story the new timeline landed me in jail for life. I was falsely accused of murdering someone in the town where I was raised and put away. My alternate life story turned out to be far worse than the real one.
I suppose when life gets difficult we all get the “life is always greener on the other side” syndrome. We start thinking “woulda, coulda, shoulda…”.
Joseph’s brothers must have been composing new life stories for themselves when they found themselves being persecuted by the ruler of all Egypt. This head man kept trying to frame them for espionage and theft (Genesis 42:12-17,25; 44:1-10).
What the brothers didn’t understand was that the man causing them all this mischief was Joseph himself. When they learned this, they surely had to be wishing their lives were fictional. These boys had sold their own brother into slavery at the age of 17, leading to a whole series of bad events for Joseph (Genesis 37:28; Genesis 39:1-20; 40:1-23).
However, the brothers were in luck. When Joseph finally revealed himself to his siblings, he told them:
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God (Genesis 45:5-8).”
In the process of his suffering, Joseph had grown. His brothers had also matured. The ordeal Joseph put them threw made them face up to what they had done to him and their guilt before God (Genesis 42:21-23: 45:16).
All the suffering brought the unexpected: events beyond their wildest dreams. The relationships between Joseph and his brothers were restored. The family was saved from famine. Jospeph’s father was able to see his beloved son, one whom he thought was dead (Genesis 45:14-28).
What we believers want most of all is to know and experience God. When He hides Himself, especially when life is dreary, we wonder what He is doing. The lack of His presence makes the bad times even worse. We feel extremely isolated.
Yet, it is this same suffering that is the agent for knowing and experiencing God, and speeding up significant change in our lives. His light and His presence come most when the darkness is the greatest (Psalm 43:2,3).
I now live in the area of which I moved away from at age 13. This summer has been one of the hottest on record so far. What has exacerbated the heat is air conditioning going on the fritz. The AC at my job and even at my favorite coffee shop is causing all kinds of complaining.
What makes the heat worse is that everyone’s expectation is that this area has cooler temperatures. We are up in higher elevations in some beautiful mountains.
At our house, we keep the AC off in our place to save money. When on the rarest of occasions it does get turned on, it is extremely refreshing. The relief is wonderful.
God somehow uses suffering and even the lack of His presence to give us what we really want, a deep relationship with Him. There appears to be no other way in this life to really know Him than for us to undergo hardships.
The grass may be greener on the other side, but it probably isn’t. If we want our lives to enjoy beautiful landscapes, we’ll have to ford some harrowing streams we didn’t expect to get to them. Wishing for another way to rare air will only imprison us in a life of true misery.
If we really want to know God and His presence, suffering is the only way there. Sorry.