You know how there are things you know to be true without question, but somehow you can’t really get yourself to fully understand? It’s like calculus or physics: okay, I get that this is a formula that works, but I really don’t get how. I’m winging it and hoping that when all of this crazy numberless math is done, I have the right answer.
That’s how I’ve always been about bad things happening. This world is the nuttiest, craziest, scariest kind of place I can think of. Death, sickness, violence, pain… Incalculable suffering happens every single day. As Christians, we pray. We rejoice when healing comes, when storms abate, when good prevails.
But what about when that doesn’t happen? When the good die young, the raging hurricane wreaks havoc, or evil rules the day. Some lose faith. Some question God, get angry with God, turn away from God. Some of us grit our teeth and say, “God has a plan.”
I fall into that last category. I get it. I get that Jeremiah 29:11 is a real thing.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
-Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
I have lived my life by the verse. When I spent over a decade paralyzed by fear, all I could think was that God had a purpose. Some days I got really, really angry with Him about it. Others, I was at peace with it. But I watched people who prayed and were healed of all manner of craziness. And I wondered, “God, why not ME?!? You CAN, so why DON’T you?” There were moments with me screaming at him, “Why are you doing this to me?” (Okay, truthfully, I think it’s fair to say I spent more time angry with God than at peace. We can be real here, right?)
Ultimately, He did heal me in the most beautiful of moments on my 28th birthday. I rejoice in it daily. I praise Him for it.
But I remain vividly aware of those agonizing, angry years, those “why not me” questions. And I know that God doesn’t heal everyone… or heal everyone in the same way.
And I still wondered why.
Although I know He has a reason and a purpose, that why still ate at me.
This week, I re-read Daniel, and I noticed something I probably should have seen the entire time.
Daniel and his friends had favor in exile in Babylon.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego escaped death and pain when they were thrown into the fiery furnace.
God closed the mouths of the lions so Daniel wasn’t torn to tiny pieces.
We cite these stories so often as evidence of God’s amazing, grace-filled, delivering power.
But here’s the thing a lot of us miss:
God didn’t deliver them from all suffering. They were still in exile. They still had to go into the fiery furnace. Daniel–at an advanced age by that time–still spent the night in the lions’ den.
Daniel and his buddies were not spared fear, discomfort, or even the broken hearts of exiles. See, God could have let them stay with the remnant back home. He could have hidden them from their accusers, made the fiery furnace go out, sealed the mouth of the pit… But He didn’t.
Into the foreign land, the furnace, the pit they went.
Do you really get that? Do you? There was ultimate deliverance and we praise God for that. However… Suffering still happened. Discomfort still happened. I’m sure there was no small amount of fear at times.
Why? Why not just give them lives of comfort and ultimate protection? If Daniel was, as Chapter 10 tells us, heard by God and even highly esteemed, why did he have to suffer at all?
As a direct result of the exile, Daniel was in place to advise King Nebuchadnezzar. Neb witnessed the fiery furnace and had his own “Come to Jesus” meeting with God. All because Daniel and his friends faced suffering.
Without the exile and the lions’ den, King Darius never would have done this:
“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. ‘For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.'”
-Daniel 6:26 (NIV)
Know what? Suffering stinks. It’s awful. Nobody wants to do it. Ever. At all. But what if it’s not about us? What if it’s about the people around us? What if our pain is what leads someone to eternal life instead of eternal death?
Can we truly say that even one person’s eternal soul is worth our temporary discomfort or pain?
Because there is something in Jeremiah 29 that we often miss. The beauty to me isn’t 29:11, which I focused on for years. It’s in what comes next:
Yes, it was written to the exiles in Babylon, but I believe it applies to us as well. Isn’t the most wonderful, the most beautiful, the most important thing that we–and those around us–find Him?