When God’s Ways Make No Sense
By Larry Crabb
I recently read that when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated his wife Jackie, a devout Catholic, trembled in tears of bewilderment and anguish as she asked a friend, “How could a loving God allow such a terrible thing to happen?” Her husband’s untimely death made no sense to her understanding of who God is and what he’s about.
I suspect that beneath that one tormenting question, two others were rummaging somewhere in her mind: Is God really in control of all that happens in this world? And if he is, assuming he exists, how can anyone believe he is the God of love he claims to be?
We’re not so different from this grieving widow. “In God We Trust,” is for many a lackadaisical hope that God would do a better job running the world. We credulously trust God—our heavenly Father—to prevent tragedy in our grace favored lives and to bless us with enough creature comforts for us to enjoy getting up in the morning. But we have the right to neither, and victory in the Christian life is not defined by these.
God’s understanding of what it means to love us is radically different from ours. He issues the high calling to trust his love, to believe in every moment of our lives, pleasant moments and unbearable ones, God is pouring his faithful love “into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5).
A Southern gospel song captures our call from God pretty well: “When you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart.” More easily sung than lived.
Since childhood, I’ve been plagued by an unholy temptation to think and to do what no Christian should think or do; a flesh-driven urge that doesn’t fit well in a Christian’s life. It’s a poor fit in mine. I’m regretfully confident that some equally shame-worthy desire lies in every Christian still living.
The apostle John, I think, would agree. As an old man who for three years witnessed the purity in the heart of Jesus made visible in his life and who saw the impurity in his own heart, John wrote a letter to several churches: “If we claim to have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8). Spiritual cancer is alive in every Christian.
God has promised to be my helper in time of need, my “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Why, when I cry to him for help as temptation presses me to yield, do I sometimes sense his absence?
In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis suggests that God’s thoughts and ways confound not only Christians who seek him but also devils who hate him. In the book, Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon assigned to mentor his nephew, junior demon Wormwood, counsels Wormwood on how to keep a human from trusting God. He writes:
“You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.”
Duties such as praying? Screwtape goes on:
“It is during such trough periods, much more than during peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best.”
If Screwtape is aware of something true, then determined prayers of resolute trust when our souls are dry provide more delight for God and do something better in us than prayers of thanks for enjoyed good times.
Screwtape then adds this sentence, one that I find especially convicting:
“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
But obedience, choosing to trust God when “every trace” of his goodness seems to have vanished, is not easy.
Without faith, it is simply impossible to please him (Heb. 11:6). But with faith, even with faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, nothing would be impossible (Matt. 17:20–21). Paul told us that faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). Does God sometimes withhold that gift, leaving us unable to trust his love? Does our failure somehow work for our good? It seems so.
Troubles harass Christians as much as they do non-Christians—sometimes more. There are times we simply cannot find it in us to confidently trust his loving intentions. Augustine prayed the famous prayer, “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” Maybe that’s the prayer we should pray when we experience:
• Troubles without, such as a loved one’s unexpected death, a failed surgery, long-term unemployment, severe marital tension and perhaps divorce, disappointing friends or …
• Troubles within, such as temptation, wounds from abuse that neither prayer nor counseling heals, unbearable loneliness, a scary diagnosis, worry over signs of Alzheimer’s.
It’s puzzling. The list of troubles that batter God’s well-loved children is long. Each one God could prevent or untangle. Why doesn’t he? The familiar question screams for an answer: What good is God?
Excerpted from When God’s Ways Make No Sense by Larry Crabb. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2018. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com