When Jesus was speaking with His disciples before His crucifixion, He gave them His parting gift: peace such as the world can never give. But He went on immediately to say,
Set your troubled hearts at rest and banish your fears. . . . I shall not talk much longer with you, for the Prince of this world approaches. He has no rights over me, but the world must be shown that I love the Father and do exactly as He commands.John 14:27, 30-31
A few weeks ago a young mother called to ask for “something that will help me to trust in the Lord.” She explained that she has several small children, she herself is thirty years old, and she has cancer. Chemotherapy has done its hideous work of making her totally bald. The prognosis is not good. Could I say to her, “Set your troubled heart at rest. God is going to heal you”? Certainly not. Jesus did not tell His disciples that He would not be killed. How do I know whether God will heal this young woman? I could, however, remind her that He would not for a moment let go of her, that His love enfolded her and her precious children every minute of every day and every night, and that underneath are the Everlasting Arms.
But is that enough? The terrible things in the world seem to make a mockery of the love of God, and the question always arises: why?
There are important clues in the words of Jesus. The disciples’ worst fears were about to be realized, yet He commanded (yes, commanded) them to be at peace. All would be well, all manner of things would be well—in the end. In a short time, however, the Prince of this world, Satan himself, was to be permitted to have his way. Not that Satan had any rights over Jesus. Far from it. Nor has he “rights” over any of God’s children, including that dear mother. But Satan is permitted to approach. He challenges God, we know from the Book of Job, as to the validity of His children’s faith. God allows him to make a test case from time to time. It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits. Jesus had to show the world that He loved the Father and would, no matter what happened, do exactly what He said. The servant is not greater than his Lord. When we cry “Why, Lord?” we should ask instead, “Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?”
Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can’t really tell, can we, until we’re in real trouble.
I haven’t heard from the young woman. I neglected to ask her address. But I have been praying for her, asking God to enable her to show the world what genuine faith is—the kind of faith that overcomes the world because it trusts and obeys, no matter what the circumstances. The world does not want to be told. The world must be shown. Isn’t that part of the answer to the great question of why Christian’s suffer?
This excerpt was originally published in the September/October 1984 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.