We had a friend when we were younger who always seemed to get into these bad situations… You know, things going wrong for him all the time. Once he even accidentally set fire to his bedroom. Generally he took it in his stride, but occasionally he’d really get mad and say, “Why does God hate me so much”? “Why does God hate me?”
I’ve had a pretty good life so far in many ways and I’m grateful, but it hasn’t been free from some hardship and even tragedy; child bereavement, bad accidents, awful debts… And I’ve got to admit there’ve been times when I’ve been angry and mad at God. I’ve reacted badly and ended up making these painful situations a whole lot worse, not just for me, but for those closest to me too.
But this is a universal truth: ‘life is tough’. If you’re a member of the human race then welcome to adversity, pain and suffering; no one is immune from it. But this is the thing we need to know: We get to choose how we deal with that pain…
Now don’t get me wrong, life can also be wonderful and joyful. I’m not suggesting that we go looking for hardship or that somehow it’s a desirable thing. I’m just talking about how we deal with the reality of suffering in our lives because, you can go into denial about it, you can try and hide from it, but it’s not going to go away.
Most of us know the value of sacrifice and striving for a better life. We do it every day. We go to work and we break our backs to make ends meet. But what do we do if all our hard work doesn’t pay off? what if the crops fail or the dam breaks? What then? Are we tempted to say, “God must hate me too”?
One of the first stories in the Bible deals with this issue and for good reason. It’s absolutely fundamental to how we live our lives. Cain and Abel are the first sons of Adam. Cain is a farmer of the field and Abel is a shepherd. They both work hard. However, when they make their sacrifices to God, Abel’s lamb is accepted and Cain’s crops are not. And we may naturally say, “That’s not fair” or “That’s not right”, but listen, I’ve got news for you, life isn’t fair, but we don’t have to let it crush us and we can overcome it. Which is exactly what God says to Cain:
“Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.””
So we could say Cain had was having a really bad day. He, like many of us, was wrestling with the pain of his efforts and sacrifice not succeeding. But the issue here was not, ‘Why is life painful and unfair?’ It was, ‘What am I going to do about that? Am I going to master that suffering and rise above it, or am I going to let it master me and pull me down?’
And this is important to understand: God did not reject Cain, he rejected his sacrifice. There’s a big difference. Who knows but God may have had big plans for Cain if Cain had only humbled himself and learned from this opportunity his story may have been so different.
The tragedy for Cain is that his anger against God gets the better of him. He burns with rage and decides to destroy what God loves. Because this is where this line of reasoning leads: ‘If I can’t have my reward now, then nobody else can’. And he murders his brother, Abel. And that’s grim. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
And we don’t ever think that we’ll end up like that. That’s just evil people. But whenever we’re tempted to think, “I did all that for God and look how he repays me”, or “I gave up this or that for God and when did I get anything in return?”, or “God is punishing me unfairly” then we too are on our way down the path of Cain.
You can watch a video of Rob presenting this talk here: LATEST VIDEOS
Did Jesus have bad days?
Do you think Jesus ever had bad days? Days when he had to choose how to react to the pain and suffering of life? Well, read this from Hebrews 5:8 –
“though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”
Think about that for a minute. He was the perfect man; he never sinned, but he suffered and chose to learn obedience through his suffering.
He was born into a brutal world. In fact even before he was born king Herod was trying to kill him. And then he had to learn all the things a normal child would learn. For example, walking… you fall down, you bang your head, you cry for your mother; you try again. And then a million other tasks, just like all of us.
All of life contains a kind of suffering and sacrifice and we have to learn how to embrace it with fortitude. Cain was promised future reward if he persevered but he just wasn’t willing to push through; he was too offended and self absorbed.
Rejecting the way of Cain
When it comes to the skill of life, of living, if we want to be good at that, even gain mastery at it, then that’s a big deal because we only get one life and we need to give it our best shot, despite what comes our way. I know it’s tough and you know it’s tough, but it’s by far the best way; it’s the narrow way, the way of Christ.
It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice to fully live life, and on top of that it takes courage, humility and patience. You need to find a soul mate and build an intimate relationship, have good relationships with your family and friends, have a paid job that makes you an income and gives you a healthy pattern of ‘work, rest and play’ in your life. Have some good pastimes that you enjoy and, (this is much easier said than done), look after yourself; avoid addictions, look after your body and eat and sleep well.
These are all essential elements to living a good full life and they take time to build up and we’ve got to sacrifice to do it. The trouble is, the real tragedy is, so many people get bitter, lose hope, give up and check out far to often. They decide that, “God must hate me” and there is no hope.
Look at Cain, he looses everything he loves: his brother, his family, his God, even the horticulture that was his passion, and he is cursed to spend the rest of his days in a kind of wandering, aimless, living hell.
Choosing your cross
No matter what you’re going through, if you are willing to embrace the pain with fortitude and courage, there is always a doorway to something higher and better (Acts 14:22).
I mean it’s not a case of “But I just want an easy life!” Because life is not easy for anybody; I don’t care who you are. In many ways, it’s not a case of ‘pick up your cross’ because everyone has a cross to bear, but pick up the cross of Jesus because that’s the one that leads to resurrection life. The yolk that is easy and the burden that is light. The narrow way that only a few find. A way filled with faith, love and wonder.
The question is, are we going to deal with the pain of life, or will we let it deal with us?
Do you think Jesus had a choice to not learn from his suffering? Of course he did. The devil gave him that choice in the wilderness, and Jesus rejected it flatly and chose the way of faith, the way of the cross (Matthew 4).
Aiming for a higher goal
We can’t avoid suffering, but what we can do is decide we’re going to use it to make life better, not avoid it, or escape from it, but take hold of it as if it’s a weapon. Remember: “it’s desire is for you but you must master it…” It’s not a question of “Why does God hate me?”, but “God, what are you going to do in me through this?”
So just like Abraham or Joseph (wow – talk about adversity), or David, and so many others in the Bible, I can choose to respond to suffering in a way I choose, in a way that teaches me obedience. In a way that makes me stronger, for a higher purpose and a greater goal, and ultimately to serve a good and loving God. A God who heals, forgives and restores us.
And that’s the key to what I’m talking about because if we are going to let God use our suffering to help us it has to be for a really good reason; a really good reward or purpose. And there is no better or higher purpose than serving God, aiming higher and wanting a better life, not an easy life, but a better life. A life built on the rock instead of on sand (Matt 7:24-27), a spirit filled life (Eph 5:18) instead of one filled with fear and regret, an overcoming life (John 16:33), a victorious life (1 John 5:4): that’s the kind of life that God wants for you, if you are willing to accept it.
So let’s pray…
Father, when things are really tough or bad things are happening in my life help me to guard my heart against the way of Cain. When there is unrewarded sacrifice or unfair suffering and I don’t understand why, help me to deal with it, overcome it and master it. Help me make the challenges and pain in my life work for me and not against me so that my heart is not hardened but remains obedient and teachable through the fires of life.
And in those fires of testing give me the wisdom to know when to fight and when to wait. And if I fall down, give me the fortitude and the patience to get up and keep on trying, in your strength, no matter what it takes.
I thank you that your word says that you actually make all things, even painful things, work together for my good if I truly love and serve you (Romans 8:28). And in this way I can learn the wisdom that knows your word and will.
I lift up all my challenges and needs to you Father because I know that through Jesus I am fully accepted and loved by you (Eph 1:5), no matter what the circumstances.
In Jesus name. Amen.