In my own life I know that my state of cheerfulness is a reliable gauge of my level of spiritual enlightenment at that moment. The more cheerful, happy, contented, and satisfied I am feeling, the more aware I am of my deep connection to the Spirit.” ― Wayne Dyer

I first caught a glimpse of her in my peripheral vision.  Just another face in the crowd, so I thought.  Until she walked right up to me and abruptly asserted, “I don’t believe in God.”

Can you say awkward?

It’s lunchtime.  I’m in Tarpon Springs, Florida at one of my favorite Waterfront Grills (my branch office for the week).  The outdoor TIKI is filled with the usual eclectic mix of local residents and seasonal guests, including this rather candid woman.

So what did I do?  I looked right at her and said without thinking, “Well, God believes in you.”  She rolled her eyes and walked away.  Was I bothered by her cheekiness?  Not at all, it goes with the territory.  When you’re not ashamed to openly admit a belief in God (as I so often do), word gets around, and occasionally some people “react.”  Ah, but this was not yet over.  A few seconds later, she returned and said, “Wouldn’t y’all like to know why I don’t believe in God?”  In my mind I thought, “no, not really” (don’t judge me).  But, realizing she was going to enlighten me anyway, I smiled and said, “Sure, tell me why you don’t believe in God.” 

“Well,” she said, “look at all the pain, suffering and injustice in this world – especially among the innocent.   If there really was a loving and caring God, why would he or she permit so much tragedy?”  With that, she walked away without waiting for my response.  Truthfully, I was somewhat relieved as I had no simple comeback to address her weighty questions.  But it did get me thinking.

Possibly one of the greatest challenges faced by God-fearing men and women is reconciling a belief in the existence of a Divine Being who is professed to be perfect love and justice with the cold harsh reality of a world full of evil and suffering.  In the midst of so much human misery, hatred and tragedy; what justification do we have for telling people that God really cares?  If He is indeed so compassionate, than why does he seem to do nothing to stop the madness?

Let’s talk.

This is the foundation of all iniquity: the lie that God is untrustworthy, the lie that God is not altogether loving and that he doesn’t have our best interests in mind.” ― Herman Hesse

Clive Staples Lewis was a British writer and lay theologian.  His well-known works of fiction include classics like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters.   C.S. Lewis was also a devout Christian.  He wrote extensively on the subject of Christianity.  His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists to this day.

In 1956, Lewis married Joy Davidman, an American writer.  Tragically, she died of cancer four years later at the age of 45.  In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis relates his own experience while in profound grief after the death of his beloved wife,

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed (by him) with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will be come. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”

C.S Lewis, though well-grounded and strongly committed to his faith in God, lived through a very dark night of the soul; a time when the Almighty seemed almost indifferent to his need.  We’ve all been there, I suppose.  Feeling forsaken.  Filled with erroneous thoughts about and bad attitudes toward our Creator, even tempted to give up on The Almighty.  C.S. Lewis struggled with an inner cyclone of emotions, but in the end he did not give up on God.  In time, he came to grips with his grief, and move toward an understanding that God’s silence is not indifference, or abandonment.  As difficult as this may be to grasp, God is always at work in our lives regardless of the sufferings we often endure.  He cares deeply about us even when he does not do whatever we desire whenever we want him too.

The Prophet Jesus once told his closest friends and followers,

33 “…While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! (be courageous), I have defeated the world.” John 16:33 CEV

How does the thought of being told to cheer-up and be courageous sound when it is applied to you and me in our world today? With economic uncertainties, rampant government corruption, lawlessness, legalized baby murder, sexual perversions, terrorist threats, social unrest, and intensifying natural disasters dominating the headlines, where does “cheer up” and “be courageous” fit into the narrative?  I will tell you: in the face of countless and diverse adversities – cheerfulness and courage are what we need to survive.

Cheerfulness (and the courage it stimulates) in a spiritual context means three things:

  1. A divinely inspired confidence
  2. A deep trust in God’s unfolding purposes for our lives
  3. A conviction that in the end God will always keep His promises

When Jesus said, “be of good cheer” or “take courage” He was not suggesting that we should have a naive, Pollyanna view of life’s cruel twists and turns.  He did promise to be with us always.  His Spirit acts as our guide, comforter, counselor, protector and healer.  However, this “truth” does not guarantee a pain-free earthly life of uninterrupted bliss to all who decide to follow him.

In today’s postmodern world, we often hear promises of how “together” we can one day achieve a utopian world order on earth where all share equally in prosperity, happiness, and well-being.  Some who herald this message even proclaim that it is a basic human “right” or at least something we all “deserve”.  With a veritable tsunami of heartache and discouragement hammering away at our collective well-being, is it any wonder why so many buy into the false hope of this entitlement ideology?

The Christian experiences and lives a paradox. He possesses joy in sorrow, fulfillment in exile, light in darkness, peace in turmoil, consolation in dryness, contentment in pain and hope in desolation.” ― Mother Angelica

After suffering physical and emotional persecution for years as a missionary, one of the early pioneers of Christianity landed in a Roman prison.  His name was Paul.  You’ll find his story in the pages of the Newer Testament scriptures.  While moldering in jail he wrote:

“I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances (of my life) may be. I now know how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.”  [Philippians 4:12–13]

Paul committed these words to paper while facing some of the worst trials of his life. Despite a continual threat of pain and death, he realized that God gives us an inner strength to endure all things.  Learning to be content in the moment and to persevere in the midst of our most difficult trials is essential to finding the genuine pathway to a winning life.

Another of the Biblical writers, James, also understood the reality of human suffering very well.  This was his advice:

…is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.  If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind…” (James 1: 2-6)

You may be wondering, “What does all of this have to do with me and my personal misery?” Good question.

Let’s assume that you work hard, do your best, maybe you even pray.  What happened?  You end up getting laid off or fired; find out you’re going to be battling a disease or someone you love is sick or dying.  You’ve done your very best to be faithful at home and the next thing you know, there’s nothing but chaos as you deal with an unreasonable spouse, an overbearing parent or a rebellious child.  Perhaps you’re thinking, “If I’m trying my best to do what is right, shouldn’t things turn out okay?”

Humanly speaking, it would be nice.  But it doesn’t always work out that way in the actual world in which we all live.  And that’s what really hurts.  If you feel as if all hell has broken loose and you’re wondering what in the world is happening, here is an ancient proverb that helps me in moments like that:

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.  Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.  Run to God! Run from evil!” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

Listen, rough times stink.  We all hate the process, and think it unfair.  I get that.  But you have to move beyond how you “feel” about it.  None of this is God’s fault.  And for the record, I’ve been there too.  In both the good times and the not so good times, I have learned to place my absolute trust in the Creator.  I trust Him because he knows things that I don’t know.

When the whole world seems to be crumbling around us, what are the alternatives?  Trusting in various government promises, the news media, or the latest self-help gurus?  Dulling the pain with drugs or alcohol?  Yeah right.  How’s that been working for you?

What about trusting in God?  Will that make the cancer instantly go away?  Not necessarily.  Does it mean your spouse or your children are going to change immediately?  Most likely not.  We have no control over what people do nor the unforeseen circumstance that happen in this life.  Neither do we know what the future holds.  But God does.  When you get to know God, you know the one who holds your future.

Has life been a bit difficult?  Need a fresh start?  Change begins with trust in God.   Don’t expect all of your challenges to disappear overnight.  It will take patience, endurance, and persistence.  In time you will learn to, “commit everything you do to the Almighty. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.”  (Psalm 37:5)

It’s up to you.  Get to know your Creator and trust Him with your life, or just walk away because you think that none of this makes any sense at all so it must be rubbish.  Honestly, living by faith doesn’t always seem rational to me either.  It doesn’t have to (that’s why it’s called faith).  I know in whom I have placed my TRUST!  When things don’t make sense, my response is: God, I TRUST you with my life!

And that my friends is why I am so CHEERFUL!  Cheers!

 Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.

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