There is something about mountains that takes my breath away. I could gaze at them for hours and not get bored. There is nothing I have seen in this world that so powerfully captures God’s might and sovereignty than the mountains. They loom over villages and towns as if God is reminding us how much greater He is than we could imagine. The mountains shout of a God who spoke to universe into being, who could call up the rocks from the ground, a God who sees all we are and ever will be. I cannot fail to look upon the mountains and see God’s faithfulness stretching through the years, to remember what an awesome and powerful God we have.
Yet in amongst the awe and wonder, these days the mountains also stir up fear within me. For whilst they speak of God’s goodness and faithfulness, the mountains remind me that God’s plans are not my plans. His goodness does not always look the way I would like. The mountains remind me of the friend who lost his life in their heights. They bring to mind the unanswered prayers, the long nights of grief and questions. They confront me with the truth that having an almighty and benevolent God, does not save us from the hardships of life. We are not always protected from suffering.
In Christian circle we talk about God having good plans for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 God tells Israel of His ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways honour him and he will make your paths straight.’ Then Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him‘. But what does it mean for God to have good plans for us?
‘Good’ is a phrase we use frequently in everyday life. We know what it means to be good as a child, we understand what a good day or a good friend looks like, we can recognise a good job or a good meal. But God’s plans are far more complicated. We will often find situations in our lives that look anything but good to our eyes. We weigh them against our experience of good, and we find them lacking. And this is where we often stumble doubting and questioning God.
Is God’s word lying to us? Are we the exception to the rule? Does God have good plans for others but not for us? We look at God’s sovereignty with our worldly eyes and we do not understand.
Sometimes we try and resolve the problem by crediting the good in our lives to God, and the bad situations to Satan. We think of God as having his hands tied as a result of our rebellion and the fall. We picture a kind and fatherly God sat on the sidelines, weeping at our misfortune. But by doing so we downgrade God’s power. Instead of the Almighty creator, orchestrator of everything, He becomes a God constrained and restricted. Yet the bible is clear, nothing can happen to us outside of God’s power, nothing can enter our lives that He doesn’t allow to be there. We see this clearly in the book of Job when Satan has to ask God’s permission to torment Job.
It is easy to trust God is in control of our lives when things are going well. We praise Him when we get the job we’ve been praying for, or when we are given a promotion at work seemingly against the odds. We are thankful when our wages come in and the cupboards are full and we have everything we need. We can see His hand at work when the blood tests come back clear or we are healed from a particular illness. We see his sovereignty at work when we meet our husband or wife, or when are families are sheltered and protected from disaster.
But it is much harder to see God’s control over our lives when life appears to be going wrong. When we or someone we love are faced with a serious diagnosis and healing doesn’t come. When we are passed over for promotion or perhaps even hit with redundancy. We struggle to see God at work when we loose people we love, when our prayers for them seem to have gone unanswered. Or when the relationship we longed for breaks down around us, and we find ourselves alone and isolated. We can doubt his control over our lives when the cupboards are bare and we are in desperate need.
Yet the bible teaches us that God is in control of everything, the situations we view as good and those we view as bad.
‘When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. ‘
So where does that leave us? What do we hold onto in times of trial?
One thing we can be sure of is God is good and He loves us completely. So much so that He sent His only son to earth to suffer the consequences of our sin in our place. Jesus bore the weight of God’s wrath and separation from Him, because God loved us so much He wanted to restore our relationship with Him. However, God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and his plans are not our plans. He views our circumstances from an entirely different plane. A plane that stretches on to eternity. As Jerry Bridges puts it in his book ‘Trusting God’, a book I would highly recommend to anyone wresting with trusting God through the pain of life, ‘God’s ways being the ways of infinite wisdom simply cannot be comprehended by our finite minds’.
We must also remember that the ultimate good which God is bringing about in our lives is not material gain or even earthly happiness. But the work of transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. And sometimes trouble and hardship can be the best tools to build and shape our character. Even as we suffer we are following in the footsteps of Jesus himself who went through immense suffering, even though he was without sin. When the storms of life rage we have to keep holding onto the promises of God and know that we will never be abandoned or forsaken by God.
Sometimes life hurts and no amount of theology or reasoning seems to lesson the pain. Maybe one day we will be able to look back and see how God worked through our circumstances for our good. But equally we may not understand this side of heaven.
Yet we are called simply to trust. To trust our God who is all powerful and all good. To trust that no situation in our lives is outside of his reach and control. To trust that the God who moulded the mountains holds our lives in His gracious hands.
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed”