When you lose a loved one, often your friends will encourage you with comforting verses from the Bible. It is good to do this. It is good to keep the word of God before the eyes of a grieving brother or sister.
However, sometimes the grief hurts so much that even though you confess truth, believe truth, and deep down know that someday everything will be okay, there is a rainstorm going on in your heart that just won't go away. As I sit on the front porch and cry, mourning the loss of Stephen, the gentle, tearful streams of faith are almost drowned out by the loud, pounding rain of feelings.
It might be compared to a telescope with faulty adjustments. After carefully searching the sky, you are able to focus on the rings of Saturn, a prize for the backyard astronomer. However, the adjustments for focussing are loose. Because of this, as soon as you take your hand away your vision fades. That glorious image that you worked so hard to find is lost, and where you once saw precious light, now all you see is darkness. You know what you just saw, but now you can't see it.
Isaiah, the prophet, anticipated times when it would be hard to keep focused on the comfort and security we have in God. Consider Isaiah 50:10,Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. (NASB)
Perhaps it is surprising to find these three conditions grouped together:
- Fears the Lord
- Obeys the voice of the servant of the Lord
- Walks in darkness
Normally we would not put "fears the Lord," and "obeys," together with "walks in darkness." After all, the expression "walks in darkness" is often used as another way of saying "walks in sin." However, here the intention is more likely a darkness of countenance, a loss of joy, and a state of confusion. Yes, even God's children, children who fear him and obey him, can experience sadness that just won't leave no matter what they do. During times like these, while their minds sing songs of faith, their emotions drown out this music with songs of despair.
This verse anticipates such times of emotional dissonance. During times like these, let us heed the word of the prophet: "Trust in the name of the Lord and rely on your God."
You might ask, "How is this different from just confessing and believing truth?" This is an unrelenting, persistent believing: a believing that trusts God no matter what. It clings to confidence in the character of God and holds tightly against the winds of despair.
When we trust in the name of the Lord, we acknowledge his character. When all we can see and feel is hopelessness and despair, we acknowledge that God sees and knows everything. When faced with events that make no sense to us and throw us into great confusion, we acknowledge that God's ways are higher and better than our ways. When confronted with trials that seem undeserved, we remember that nothing afflicts us without advance permission from our sovereign God. And when all of that fails to sustain us, we remember the most graphically demonstrated lesson of all -- how much God loves us.
This kind of trust is what made Job say, "Though he slay me yet will I trust in him" (KJV). Job was willing to trust God in spite of having no idea why he was being afflicted. Just like us, Job had lots of questions. However, God never answered them. Surely if anyone ever deserved an explanation it was Job.
Job continued to trust God, and we need to trust God the same way. This kind of trust says that I don't have to understand what's going on around me. I don't have to try to make sense of my circumstances. This is faith that trusts God unconditionally.
We live in a society that pays a lot of attention to feelings. That's not all bad: feelings are real and are not to be ignored. But faith and trust transcend and rise above feelings. You can decide to trust God unconditionally no matter how you feel.
Will this make the pain go away? No.
Will you immediately feel better? No.
Will it still hurt? Yes.
Will you still be sad? Yes.
So what's the benefit of this unconditional trust?
One benefit is the opportunity this presents for glorifying God. Isn't it true that even unbelievers might glorify God when things are going well? No one is especially impressed when you glorify God in the midst of prosperity and comfort. The unbeliever might look at you and say, "He is faithful because he is rich," or "He trusts God because life has dealt with him kindly. Let him experience what I have experienced. Then let's see how much he trusts God."
However, when you can trust God amid great sorrow and disappointment, you quietly preach a sermon that not only grabs the attention of detractors and skeptics but is noticed in the unseen world as well. Your quiet sermon of faith and trust baffles the unbelieving. It is also of great benefit to believers, encouraging them as much as would the most polished sermon.
Furthermore, by standing firm in this way you accomplish God's chief purpose for you, which according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. What better way could we glorify God than by proclaiming to an unbelieving world that our faith is unconditional, that we hold such a high opinion of the character of God that our faith will not be shaken by adverse circumstances?
The other benefit of unconditional trust is perseverance. As your life experience calls you to persevere, and as you answer that call with unconditional trust, your faith is strengthened. Your faith becomes like a deeply rooted tree.
Your faith and trust in God can sustain you, even while your emotions drag you down like a ball and chain. Faith transcends pain; faith transcends emotions; faith transcends feelings.
Indeed, even though the rough, sharp, piercing edges of despair will still be there, in time, as they rub against your faith, they will polish it, making it shine brighter than ever before.
Romans 5:3-5 describes the benefits of persevering in the midst of trouble:And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (NASB)
As we endure dark days let us not lose heart. Let us heed the words of the prophet Isaiah. Let us trust in the name of our God and rely on him.Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NASB)