In part because of Sue’s Sunday School lesson our thoughts have turned this week to the concept of trials in our lives. What makes something a trial, what purpose do they serve in our growth, how should we deal with them, how can we help others who are experiencing them? - all questions to ponder.
We were reminded of the Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.
The point well-made is that we do not have enough wisdom or foreknowledge to know whether an event, whether painful or pleasant, will turn out to be a curse or a blessing. A similar adage is that of the bride exclaiming to her mother on her wedding day, “Oh mother, I’m so happy! I’m at the end of all my troubles!” Whereupon her mother agrees: “Yes dear. You just don’t know which end!”
When afflictions come we tend to ask why this is happening to us. Only after we start to ask what we can learn from this, or how it might turn to be a blessing, do we begin to deal with the trial effectively.
There is a tendency to see God in our lives as a transactional relationship: when we do what he asks he gives us blessings; when we disobey we are cursed. The scriptures tell us that repeatedly. Then we make the mistaken leap to: when good things happen it is because we (or others) are doing good; when bad things happen it is because we (or others) have done something wrong. Worse yet are the times when we try to bargain with Him: If you will only give me X, then I will do Y.
But He isn’t a cosmic Santa (although He does know who’s been naughty or nice). His ultimate purpose is not to develop obedient servants, but to help his children grow into celestial adulthood. And so he proposes a covenantal relationship. If we will learn to love Him and strive to be like Him, we will surely be blessed and ultimately receive all that He has. As we gradually understand how to bless His children we will receive greater power to do so. But that does not eliminate the likelihood that part of our curriculum must include suffering - both personal and vicarious. The price of the wisdom of old age is the pain gained from our own experiences and those of our loved ones.
God is good. Life is wonderful! But not easy.