Watching the horrific scenes unfolding in the Philippines, and then reading about faith in my Bible – particularly in the Psalms – I wonder what anyone could say to the many Christians in the Philippines about faith? What can they trust God for? No doubt many stories of miracles will emerge, but on the whole, God will not keep their house from being flattened by 200 mile-per-hour winds. He won’t keep their family from being killed. When we say trust in God, what are they to trust God for?
I wrestled with this question of what we are trusting God for five years ago when our baby son was in intensive care, fighting for his life. God doesn’t promise that illness will never end in premature death, and I had no confidence that our son would survive. I was reminded of the complications of trusting God a week or so ago when my husband was in hospital, waiting for an operation just a few days before he was due to start a new job. In both cases we were hugely blessed with the life of our son and my husband’s ability to start his job on time. But I couldn’t trust that God would bring those outcomes about. God provides no guarantees of a pain-free life for Christians, in fact, often quite the opposite.
Many Christians have fallen by the wayside when they realise that God is not a performance-related God. Prayer is not a blank cheque or an insurance policy. Bad things happen to Christians all the time. But Jesus tells us to trust in God. David repeatedly talks about trusting. Moses is commended for his faith. So what do we trust in and what do we trust God for?
I think that what we have faith in is the character of God. We know that He loves us. We know that Jesus died for us. We know that the Holy Spirit lives in us. We can be confident that sorrow in this world will be replaced by joy in the next world. There may not be meaning in the devastation of the typhoon, but it must make a difference if you believe in eternal life with God, where every tear is wiped away.
I learnt two things in the difficult times our family has faced. The first is that God finds ways of blessing us in the midst of darkness, without necessarily removing what is causing the pain. The second is not to presume what others are going through, not to be a vicarious atheist. Our family faced an abyss, but I wouldn’t have wanted anyone witnessing our situation to assume that God didn’t love us because of it. God took every opportunity to love us, largely through the kindness of others.
So as the Filipinos face unimaginable horror, I pray that God will be able to bless them within it, perhaps by the generosity of others, or, at least, numbness. I pray that, for them, the hope of heaven will sustain them until the hell they face on earth subsides.
(Photo via Mans Unides on flickr)