The Special Issue 2013 Voice of the Martyrs magazine opens with a story about a young Nigerian mother of three named Rose whose husband was murdered for his faith in Christ by radical Muslims. She said, “The same God allowed Stephen to be stoned and allowed Peter to escape from prison… God has been faithful, and his grace has been sufficient.”
The same God was sovereign and in control of both Peter’s escape from prison, and Stephen’s stoning. Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow. I wrote here about the temptation to pick and choose the parts of scripture that appeal to us. How easy is to focus on the God who moves mountains, makes the lame to walk and the blind to see? The God who sets the prisoners free and heals our diseases and can raise the dead? But that same God is also the one who allowed almost every one of his disciples to be persecuted and imprisoned repeatedly and even suffer martyr’s deaths.
I was just speaking with some friends and colleagues about the book of Job. It’s one that doesn’t go down very easy. God allows Satan to do just about whatever he wishes with His servant, pretty much just to prove that Job will follow God no matter what. And when Job asks why these things are happening God basically answers him with this blasting of “Where were YOU when…?” questions, all designed to remind Job of just how insignificant and small he is compared with the God who was before all things, created all things, knows all things, etc.
I don’t think it’s very American to like the message of Job. I don’t think it’s in our cultural DNA to respond well to being told that we are too small to grasp the ways of God, and how dare we even challenge them. Submission isn’t really a characteristic descriptor of our nation or its people, but that’s the real heart of it all, submission. Will we yield to the God of the universe? Will we trust Him? Unconditionally?
God can work miracles. He can raise the dead, set the captives free, move the mountains, make the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear… He can heal your marriage and prosper your work. He can do all that and SO much more. The thing is, he doesn’t always choose to. The Bible is also full of verses that talk about dying to self, considering it “pure joy whenever you face trials” – of every kind (James 1), picking up your cross and following Him, etc. It’s also full of verses that remind us of how completely incapable we are of grasping the ways of God. Since we can’t grasp them, we are called to yield to them, to submit to them, to trust them. Because they are higher than ours (Isaiah 55).
It’s a hard thing to do. It’s hard to yield. It’s hard to resist the temptation to demand our “rights” with God, hard not to scream about what’s “fair.” A precious friend in a hard season of life recently told me that she is fighting hard against the urge to ask “Why me?” and is trying to ask instead, “Why not me?” Why shouldn’t I suffer? Why shouldn’t I struggle? Why should I be spared the hard times that so many others have to face? What makes me different? “Why not me?”
The same heart that can say “Why not me?” is the same heart that can, in peaceful resignation, say with Rose, “The same God allowed Stephen to be stoned and allowed Peter to escape from prison.” It’s that heart that can be at peace, that can suffer with sweetness and avoid bitterness. It’s that heart that finds itself in the Garden echoing along with Jesus, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
Oh that our hearts might easily find themselves in humble submission to the God who laid the earth’s foundations. May we find ourselves content with the fact that “the same God…” and ask not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” instead. Need a little help getting there? Spend some time reading in Job starting with Chapter 38 and let God remind you just how BIG He is, and how small you are.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]