By Femi Aribisala
“God does not present himself as the preventer of adversity. He presents himself as the redeemer of adversity.”
Jide Akintunde told me a story about an exemplary Christian in his former church who was unemployed. Everyone in the church was impressed with his piety and devotion to God. Therefore, the prayer squad took it upon themselves to fast and pray for him to get a job.
Soon enough, he obtained a good high-paying job at a local branch of an international organization. Sooner still, he was given a loan with which he purchased a posh car. But just as well-wishers were blessing God for his testimonies, he had an accident in the new car and died.
Why does this kind of adversity befall the righteous? Can his new job and car still be considered blessings; or were they really curses? Would he not have been better off in his old station without the intervention of the prayer squad?
I have coordinated an interactive session on “Practical Christianity” every Monday for the past 17 years with no holds barred. However, the set-up in most churches precludes the raising of “controversial” issues. The gospel is whatever the pastor or proverbial “man-of-God” dishes out; no questions asked. This ensures that many Christians are indoctrinated on principles that are merely self-serving to their churches and pastors.
However, the faith of a seasoned Christian must stand the test of scrutiny. 2 Peter says: “We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16). Those called to be the first-fruits of Christ must speak convincingly of what we know. We must: “Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks (us) to account for the hope that is in (us).” (1 Peter 3:15). Our beliefs must be open to question, otherwise our faith is vain.
Don’t believe the lie: Christianity is amenable to reason and logic. The soundness of Jesus’ faith is practically demonstrable. Among other things, Jesus multiplied loaves of bread to show he is “the bread of life.” He raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate he is “the resurrection and the life.” Accordingly, he says: “Signs will accompany those who believe.” (Mark 16:17). He says furthermore: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17).
Questions and answers
The staple in many churches today, especially those of the Pentecostal persuasion, is the “prosperity gospel.” This maintains it is the will of God for the believer to prosper in this life. Some insist “without Christ there will be crisis.” Others sing affirmatively: “I will not suffer; I will not beg for bread.”
Indeed, David says in the scriptures: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” (Ps 37:25). The psalmist says the man who fears the Lord: “will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land.” (Psalm 25:13). As a result, the faith of many Christians cannot survive hard times.
The harsh reality often presents a different picture. The psalmist declares that prosperity is not the exclusive preserve of the righteous. On the contrary, he says: “Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” (Psalm 73:12). Job laments that the wicked: “See their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.” (Job 21:8-10/13).
Therefore, the prophets barraged God with questions. Jeremiah asks: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). Job asks a similar question: “Why does God let evil men live, let them grow old and prosper?” (Job 21:7). The psalmist is also conflicted: “Lord, how long shall the wicked be allowed to triumph and exult?” (Psalm 94:3).
I want to address here a variant of the same burning questions: Why does God allow bad things to happen to godly people?
Some of the things we call bad are not bad in God’s eyes. God does not have the eyes of flesh; and he does not see as man sees. (Job 10:4). He affirms this again and again: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
For example, it is agonizing to lose a child. But life is not lost to one who can restore it. Thus, Jesus declared that a dead child was only sleeping. To demonstrate this, he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead: “Jesus said. ‘She is not dead but asleep.’ They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” (Luke 8:52-55).
The believer needs to appropriate the mind of Christ. Amos asks: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). God creates the good out of the bad: “The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7).
One of the best things that ever happened to me was that I was attacked by armed robbers. I would not have known God if this “bad thing” had not happened to me. Thus, Isaiah asks rhetorically: “Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? Was it not the LORD? It was the LORD whom we sinned against, for the people would not go where he sent them, nor would they obey his law.” (Isaiah 42:24).
God does not present himself as the preventer of adversity. He presents himself as the redeemer of adversity. He stands as our redeemer because he delights in converting our losses to gains. God is infinitely more glorified in redemption than in prevention.
There is a redeeming purpose to every pain and suffering. C. S. Lewis, who watched his beloved wife die of cancer, put it this way: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Nobody delights in an injection because of the pain. But it may be necessary to prevent a disease or an infection.
An anonymous writer puts things in a more cryptic manner: “I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brain to work. I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help… My prayers were answered.”