I’ve been thinking about two different responses to hardship that I’ve heard in the last couple of years. One was by someone who has been a brother for several years and had also been in church leadership for some time. The other was by someone who has been a sister for about three years. You might expect that the more mature response (in a spiritual sense) would be by the person who has been a Christian longer, but I’m sure most of us know very young-in-the-faith Christians who are more spiritually mature in some ways than people who have been Christians for many years.
The brother that I mentioned had an opportunity to talk with a non-Christian who told him something about her life experiences. When it became clear that he was a Christian, she became rather combative. Specifically, she told him about her mother, who had died within the past couple of years. Then she asked him if God was loving, why He had allowed her mother to die. The brother’s answer was, “I don’t know.” Period. When he told the story, I was expecting something like, “I don’t know, but…”
Sometimes in such a moment, we don’t know what to say, but then later, we realize how we could have responded differently. However, the brother seemed rather satisfied with his response; the main reason was that he hadn’t “offended” the woman in that moment. On the other hand, it also seemed as time went on that he didn’t really have the spiritual maturity to respond differently. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he is no longer in a position of church leadership.
When I heard the story, the first Scripture that came to mind was Luke 13:1-5. In verses 4-5, Jesus says, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” As this applies to the woman that my brother in Christ talked to: her mother was not “more guilty” than anyone else; after all, the entire human race is under the bondage of sin, but Jesus frees those who believe. This woman still had the chance to repent. Now, would I have quoted these verses to her in that moment? Probably not, but I would have said something like, “I don’t know about your mom, but I know that you still have the chance to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.” In fact, in another very similar situation, that’s what I did. I don’t say this to boast, but simply to respond to I Peter 3:15, which says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I believe this verse applies to people who are just being combative as well as to people who are sincerely seeking answers.
At the outset, I mentioned two people, one of them a sister who has been a believer about three years. She experienced two rather extreme hardships in a short period of time. First, her husband died; then she developed cancer. She also has two young children. That kind of combination would be devastating to anyone, but here are some things that she said in her testimony last year:
“God allows certain situations to happen in our lives for us to examine how we respond. All these situations are allowed by God.
Despite my doubts, God used the opportunity to strengthen my faith, understanding His grace and mercy. He will strengthen me in time of weakness.
The hardship we endure is actually a disguise for His wonderful blessing.”
Wow, and wow! Frankly, if my wife were to die and I were to develop cancer soon afterward, I doubt I would have the spiritual maturity that this young sister has. And I don’t have young kids anymore, either! This sister came to saving faith during her hardships because of the love she experienced from the church that she and her kids had started attending. A couple in the church even offered to take in her children and raise them as their own if she died. (She didn’t; the Lord used doctors to completely eradicate her cancer.)
Maybe you think that I’m comparing apples to oranges because the brother I wrote about was not responding to his own hardship, while the sister was. However, the key point is spiritual maturity, not how closely the situations match. May the Lord give all of us discernment and understanding in how we respond to hardship, whether in our own lives or the lives of others, and whether those people are believers or not.