Knowing it is for good
I am a great fan of the West Wing, the fictional series set in the White House. The President, Jed Bartlett, is served by his chief of staff Leo Mc Garry. In one episode, McGarry is trying to convince a sceptical President to respond to a terrorist atrocity by using the full might of the US military. The President replies that if he does, he cannot see where it will end. He wants to see the outcome as a clear one before he will act. McGarry, frustrated, screams out, "We don't always know where it will end!"
And I suspect that if you are anything like me, you will face circumstances where you, like Bartlett, will want to know where it ends. Sometimes those circumstances are truly awful, or painful, or sad, and we really cannot see where God has got to in letting this happen. The pain is real and we need to acknowledge it as such. But, because we are human and not God, we don't usually see where it will end, what the purpose might be. Christians are fond of citing Romans 8:28, where the apostle tells us that God works all things to the good to those who love Him and are called by His name. We tend to see the “all things” as good things here and now. We are not prone to see that in context, Paul means all things to include things we would rather not face, things like famine or hardship or persecution (see Romans 8:35). And when we are confronted with pain, we recoil from the idea that Romans 8:28 matters at that point; but those are precisely the circumstances when we need to comfort ourselves with that truth. Yes we feel the pain. Yes grief, or disease, or extreme difficulties hurt. But though it hurts we do, to some extent, know how it ends. It ends with it being used for our ultimate good, even if right now we cannot see it. The Puritan, William Bridge, wrote, "A man that reposes upon God, trusting in Him, trusts Him for some good thing that lies out of sight..."
When I am struggling, I need to see that there is some good thing that I cannot see, but which God has already seen and determined, that He will bring out of my current circumstances. And it will be such that has my good as its design so that I will praise and extol the name of the Lord.
“Faith gives a man the true prospect of things, past, present and to come, and of all things as they are. All our fears and discouragements arise from this, that men do not see things as they are. If evil be stirring, they think it greater than it is. If good be stirring, they think it less than it is.” And seeing things as they are is seeing, by faith and trust in a God who has shown Himself trustworthy, that whatever it looks like to me right now, God is still working all things to my good. And that good, when you read Romans 8, is clearly that God will bring us the promised liberation from our bondage to decay, and lead us to the glory that lies ahead, the glory that is enjoying God forever.
So when we struggle to see why we are suffering right now, and we cannot see how God is working this out for our good, we need to trust Him when he tells us that is what He is doing; we need to tell ourselves, “we do always know where it will end.”