How Long, O Lord, How Long??? ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

In today’s Old Testament Reading, we hear the prophet lament:

How long, O LORD?  I cry for help  but you do not listen!  I cry out to you, “Violence!”  but you do not intervene.   Why do you let me see ruin;   why must I look at misery?   Destruction and violence are before me;   there is strife, and clamorous discord.   Then the LORD answered me and said:   Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,   so that one can read it readily.   For the vision still has its time,   presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;   if it delays, wait for it,   it will surely come, it will not be late.   The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

How many times have we heard, “I’ve been through alot this past year and I’ve always wanted to believe in God.. I’ve tried.. but I don’t understand why there’s so much suffering in the world.. why do people beg and plead and pray to God to not let loved ones die.. and they die anyway? What kind of God would allow that? The horrific things people go through and see while praying to God for help.. I don’t get it and saying it’s a part of God’s plan or you just have to have faith doesn’t work for me either.. I’ve prayed about it and listened and tried to understand but I just don’t.. I’m an open-minded person and I respect everyone’s beliefs but I’m just not able to accept that a loving God would let good people suffer.”?

This question is as old as humanity.  First of all, God does not ‘give’ us the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happen in our lives.  Life happens.  Crap happens.  People make poor choices.  Natural disasters occur.  We get sick.  Nowhere does Holy Writ support the claim that any of these things is God’s doing.  What kind of God would we worship if he, indeed, sent us all the trials and tribulations and suffering and horror for which He is blamed?

We have to remember that, even though God is firmly in control, Satan has power and he fights against our Lord.  Ephesians 2:2 says:  “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2, emphasis added). In this text the apostle Paul describes Satan first as a “prince” with power, because he has authentic power in the world (1 John 5:19). This power has been given him by God (Luke 4:6). Satan has power over some illnesses (Luke 13:16; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7—it’s unknown if Paul’s “thorn” was an illness or something else). In some sense, Satan has power over death (Hebrew 2:14). The reason Satan is called a prince rather than a king is because there is only one King—Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:15).

Satan also has power over some people. The “sons of disobedience” referred to in Ephesians 2:2 are those who have not trusted Christ as Lord and Savior (cf. Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 13:12). The demons are also under the rule of Satan (Matthew 12:24), and one of his titles is “prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34). Satan has a kingdom (Matthew 12:26) and a throne (Revelation 2:13). Satan is called a prince because he is a ruler and possesses power to manifest evil in the world through influencing people and commanding demons.

“The air” in Ephesians 2:2 may refer to the invisible realm above the earth where Satan and his demons move and exist. This space, of course, is the location of the earth’s atmosphere or “air.” In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This evil realm called the “air” could be an actual locality, but it could also be synonymous with the “world” of John 12:31. This whole world is Satan’s domain (Matthew 4:8–9).

Although Satan has power and authority in the current world system in which we exist, his power is limited, always under the sovereign control of God (Job 1:12), and it is temporary (Romans 16:20). God has not revealed all of the why’s and when’s concerning Satan’s rule, but He has made it clear that there is only one way to escape the power of Satan’s dominion, and that is through His Son, Jesus (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13–14). It is Jesus who, speaking of the impending cross, declared victory: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).

Now, when Satan has so much power, what are we left with?  The Bible DOES say that that he will, when we are suffering temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executioners, (consider the Holy Martyrs.) Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt, this can be helpful.

When “bad” things happen to any of God’s children, God is grieved and suffers with us, and this was experienced most vividly in the hurt and suffering of Jesus Christ for all humanity. Any “bad” thing which happens is never the last word. Rather, God is the deepest and last word, and that word is love and eternal life with God.

The Bible clearly teaches that God does not cause us to suffer. For example, the Bible says that when we go through trials, it would be a mistake to say: “I am being tried by God.” Why? Because “with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) In other words, God never causes the trials we face or the suffering that follows. To do so would be wicked, but “God does not act wickedly.” (Job 34:12.)

If God does not cause us to suffer, then who or what does? Sadly, humans are often victimized by other imperfect humans. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Additionally, we may face calamities because of “unexpected events”—that is, because of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) The Bible teaches that ultimately “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil, is responsible for human suffering, for “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) It is Satan—not God—who causes people to suffer.

God is aware of our suffering. From the very start of human suffering, not a single teardrop has gone unnoticed by our loving Father, whose “watchful eyes” see everything. (Psalm 11:4; 56:8) For example, when his worshippers in ancient times were being oppressed, God said: “I have certainly seen the affliction of my people.” But was he only vaguely aware of their pain? No, for he added: “I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) Many people have found comfort in that truth alone—the thought that God is aware of everything we suffer, even the trials that we or others may not be aware of or fully understand. (Psalm 31:7; Proverbs 14:10.)

God feels for us when we suffer. Our Heavenly Father is not only aware of human suffering but also deeply moved by it. For example, God was sincerely troubled when his ancient worshippers faced trials. “During all their distress it was distressing to him,” says the Bible. (Isaiah 63:9) Although God is vastly superior to humans, he feels empathy for those who suffer—as if their pain were in his heart! Indeed, “Our Heavenly Father is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) Additionally, Our Heavenly Father helps us to bear our suffering. (Philippians 4:12, 13.)

We must also remember that our Lord Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to mourn.  He wept at the grave of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, and he suffered horrifically during His Passion.

God will end all human suffering. According to the Bible, God will bring an end to the suffering of every human on the planet. By means of His Heavenly Kingdom, God will drastically change the human condition—for the better. Regarding that time, the Bible promises that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) What about those who have already died? God will bring them back to life here on earth so that they too can enjoy life free from suffering. (John 5:28, 29) Will anyone be plagued by painful memories of past suffering? No, for Our Heavenly Father promises: “The former things will not be called to mind, nor will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17.)

Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus when he was still alive.

Instead, He waited to raise him from the dead when he was already in his grave.

God could have made David become king the day after he was anointed.

Instead, He waited 15 years to rise to the throne, many of those years spent fearing for his life, hiding out and running away from his own father-in-law.

God could have spoken to Moses in the desert about sending him to help free His people from slavery 40 days after he ran away from Egypt.

Instead, He made him wait for 40 long years.

God could have gotten Joseph out of prison one year after he was sentenced there.

Instead, he was stuck in that dungeon for 10 years before he was finally set free.

God could have given Abraham the son He promised him when he was still a young man.

Instead, He waited until he was 100 years old and because of physical reasons would have a more difficult time conceiving at that age.

God could have answered prayers and met the needs of these men of God much quicker, but He didn’t.

He made them wait instead.

And He often makes us do the same.

He makes us wait for healing to come after we’ve been praying for years and there is no sign of recovery.

He makes us wait to fulfill His call in our lives after He puts the desire and passion in our hearts to serve Him in a certain way.

He makes us wait to give us the desires of our hearts, whether it’s a baby, a spouse, or a new job.

He makes us wait for direction when we are stuck at a dead end and we don’t know where to go or what to do.

He could answer that same prayer that you’ve been praying for years every night in a millisecond.

That same prayer that has been bringing you to tears.

That same prayer that the longer that it goes unanswered, the more it makes you question whether He even hears.

He kept Moses in a desert for 40 years.

Joseph in a prison cell for 10 years.

Abraham without a child for 100 years.

David on the run for 15 years.

And maybe He is keeping you right where you’re at for the same reason He kept these men for so many years: to build your faith.

To build your faith in a dungeon cell, during the valley in your life where it’s too dark to see and too hard to believe.

To build your dependence on Him when you are barren and empty to see if He is truly all you desire and all you need.

To see how well you will trust and serve Him when you are still stuck in the background somewhere, doing seemingly nothing too significant for Him.

To build your trust in Him when the storm keeps raging, the battle keeps going and breakthrough and victory doesn’t seem near.

That we grow in faith.

That we learn to only depend on Him.

What are you waiting for today?

What longing do you have that seems so far from ever being fulfilled?

What prayer do you keep on praying that seems to never reach God’s ears?

I want to remind you that God is not deaf to your prayers.

He is not blind to your constant tears, to your desires, and to your needs.

IF He is making you wait, there is a very good reason for it.

If He is telling you “no” today, maybe it’s because He has a better “yes” waiting for you tomorrow.

If He is keeping you in the same place you’ve always been today, maybe it’s because He’s helping build your faith before you enter your Promised Land tomorrow.

If He is not healing you or bringing you victory today, maybe it’s because you will have a greater testimony when He waits to help you be an overcomer tomorrow.

Wherever you are at today know that God is right beside you and that there is a purpose for you. Even if that purpose is to wait.

Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening today.

Maybe there is nothing physically happening that your eyes can see but there is definitely something happening in the spiritual realm as you learn to rely on Christ.

Don’t allow your waiting period to make you hopeless about what tomorrow will bring.

Instead, let it build your faith and give you even greater hope for what God has prepared for you.

He made some of the greatest men of faith wait.

Don’t be discouraged if He makes you wait as well.

He will come through for you, just like He came through for them.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14

 

 

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