I've been reading Philip Yancey's latest book, The Question that Never Goes Away. It has been thirty years since he wrote his now famous, Where is God When it Hurts? I guess he decided it was time for a follow-up. As usual, I am truly being fed by his writing. Anyway, it got me thinking about adversity and how we are to live in this broken world.
It seems to me that most anything that can hurt us falls into one of four main categories. First, there are Natural causes, such as floods, fires, illness, aging, and accidents. Then there are Human causes, both intentional evil and unintentional woundings because of our limitations, thoughtlessness, and other flaws. We also experience very impersonal hurts that we could call Structural forms of evil, such as poverty, hunger, government policies, and other situations that are painful. Finally, there are Spiritual causes of suffering that we truly have little understanding of, in which the enemy of our souls can invade our space.
In many ways, I feel protected from the vast majority of things that could go wrong. God has been very gracious to me and kept me from many things that would have made life a lot more difficult. What's more, He has done much to redeem those things that have gone wrong.
So there is always this question about why some things seem to slip through the cracks. Why does one thing happen and not another? What determines how I am protected and when I am not? Yancey is bold enough to ask these questions and to say that after decades of studying these issues — he still has no answer. The "why" part of our suffering never seems to get cleared up.
But what we do have is hope. Reading Paul's letters from prison, one can only be struck by how much hope he has for the future. He isn't even asking, "Why am I here in prison when I could be out there doing so much work?" He simply trusts his God and waits for Him to move, doing all he can in the mean time to minister life to others. I think I often skip over verses on "hope" because the promises sound so remote, and I want something more concrete, something to help me today. But I'm beginning to think that hope is concrete. It's the stuff that trust is made of when everything around us is going wrong. And trust is necessary for relationship. And relationship is what sustains us today.
Without absolute trust and hope in the goodness of God, we would have nothing good to count on. Only despair and disappointment, because life is not going well. But hope is our belief in good that is still to come. Belief that God can redeem anything. That good will emerge over time, or that good will overcome the natural, human, structural, and spiritual adversities we are feeling today. Hope is not just about tomorrow. Hope is necessary for my life today.