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This Didn’t Take God by Surprise

Written by: Alice D. Hoag, Ed.D.
This Didn’t Take God by Surprise

So often, our circumstances seem to sway the level of contentment and joy we experience in our life. Every day, I hear of some circumstance that has turned someone’s world upside down. Cancer (their own, their child’s, their life partner’s). Death of a loved one. Job loss. Divorce. Disaster. And then there are the less personal circumstances that also tend to shake up our sense of stability: wars between nations, the economy, large-scale hatred, terrorism, environmental tragedies, etc.

Life happens, as was so aptly expressed in Forrest Gump. Circumstances happen. Jesus tells us that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45b, NASB). It rains not because we are good and deserve the rain to thrive, or because we are evil and deserve to be flooded; God sends rain regardless of who gets blessed by it (or swept away by it).

The circumstances of our birth are simply that: circumstances into which we were born and for which we can take no credit or shame: our skin, eye, or hair color; the socio-economic status of our parents or ancestors; the level of relational distress between others in our household; our genetic tendencies including our intelligence, susceptibility to physical diseases, and predisposition to mental illness; our cultural heritage; and more. None of that is anything we earned; none of that is a reflection of our character or our worth. It’s what we started this earthly journey with. Yes, we are to be good stewards of what we’ve been given, but we cannot rightly claim any kudos for having been born into good circumstances, and we cannot rightly hold onto any shame for having been born into less-than-favorable circumstances.

So, it is also with the daily circumstances of life as it unfolds for us. Most of the circumstances we encounter have nothing to do with our moral integrity, and they are not reflections of character defects or strengths. They happen. 9/11 happened. Hurricanes happen. Parents divorcing happens. Children’s successes happen. Opportunities come along. We didn’t cause and cannot prevent these things from happening. The only choice we have is to respond well to them.

When difficult circumstances hit, I find it helpful to remember that God is not limited in time and space. He knew this would happen before it happened; He allowed it to happen; this didn’t take Him by surprise; He has been here already; and He is with us in the midst of the circumstances. Nonjudgmentally. Unconditionally loving. Cradling us and comforting us with His presence.

Empathy has been defined as feeling what someone else feels, being able to walk in their shoes, and understanding their viewpoint. Compassion is wanting to comfort someone in their distress. It’s not rescuing or even changing their circumstance; it’s comforting them IN their pain.

That’s what God does for us. Rarely does He rescue (though miracles do happen); He comforts. He sits in this uncomfortable space with us and assures us He’s been here already. Do we trust Him? Do we trust that He really is working out this circumstance for my good (Rom. 8:28) and for His glory (Ps. 19:1-4)? In another blog I’ll unpack the notion of “good.” Suffice it to say for now, do I trust that this pain I’m experiencing is something He has allowed in my life for my good? And if He has allowed it, can I also allow it? Will I allow this pain to work its good in me?

Pain, discomfort, distress, despair, none of these feels good. If I remember that God has already been here and deemed it acceptable for me to experience whatever circumstances I’m experiencing, then I can stop holding on to the pain and accept that this is part of His greater plan for my life.

I would be honored to walk alongside you in your painful life circumstances: to comfort you, to encourage you, to learn how to stop fighting the pain (which creates more pain), and to find the courage to embrace the pain and grow from it.