By: Christina Martin
In the book ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult, one of my favourite authors, the protagonist says, “Whether it is conscious or not, you eventually make the decision to divide your life in half – before and after – with loss being that tight bubble in the middle.”
Four years ago, my world came crashing down on me. A “family crisis”, if you will. Or a “trial”, if you want to put a Christian tag on it. It was a horrible experience all the same. Now due to the personal nature of the issue, I am afraid I cannot reveal details about that storm. Why write about it then, you ask? Well, because the story isn’t about the storm, it is about the aftermath – the drowning and the survival.
For about the first two months, even though I felt very hurt, upset and angry, I held on to God. I couldn’t understand how God could possibly bring any good out of it but I forced myself to believe Romans 8:28. Gradually, however, I lost hope. I was angry because God was silent. The questions that some classmates/friends threw at me when we debated religion became my questions. “How can a God who is all good allow evil?”, “How can He just sit up there and silently watch His people suffer?”, and the most pressing one: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Obviously I didn’t get answers to my questions; God was still silent; and I drifted from my faith. I stopped reading the Bible, and I stopped praying as well. I only went to church because my family went. And at church, although I loved hymns, I forced myself to keep silent. It wasn’t arrogance, it was just all the hurt talking. I even thought of God as a sadist because I did not understand His silence while I was hurting.
At the time I was 18 and still in college. I enjoyed sharing Christ with others but now during my final year things were different. I avoided religion talk as much as possible. I remember when at a college fest a friend and I were casually talking about life, the topic slid to God and he asked me a question and I conveniently skirted around it. And as months passed by, I concluded that God did not exist, or at least forced myself to believe so, because surely if God existed, He would not allow horrible things to happen to His people, especially people who did not deserve it. A handful of people tried to help me at different points in this journey but none of their words really comforted me. In hindsight, I don’t blame them because it wasn’t a regular problem off the shelf, and they didn’t really know what to say. Sometimes I didn’t even want ‘help’; I wanted to keep myself busy in an attempt to become numb to reality.
After about two and a half years, my parents felt led by God to switch churches. Things needed to start afresh, they thought, and I agreed with them on this one. This in fact remains one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family. But I’m getting ahead of myself now. In November 2014, we began a new journey. At the age of 21, for the first time, I saw what true and genuine Christianity looked like. It intrigued me and made me think. I eventually conceded that God exists. He always did and I knew that; I was just angry with Him. But I still could not get myself to believe that He was good all the time so I made a deal with God. I decided that the day I realise why He allowed that experience in my life or the moment I see the ‘good’ from it, I would get back to Him. My parents told me that the deal wouldn’t work because God doesn’t work that way but I was stubborn and unwilling to let go.
Then one Sunday the congregation sang a song about how we need God every hour, how we cannot live life without Him, and that broke me. Realisation struck me like never before: I was terribly stupid to run away from God, the Creator of this universe. After church, I walked up to my pastor and confessed that I was struggling to believe in God’s goodness. No, he did not sit me down and drown me in scripture. All he said was that I should get back to reading the Bible and praying. “Concentrate on what you believe, and God will slowly answer your doubts in His time,” he said. Now you may not agree with this advice but I think it was brilliant. I didn’t need to put off God until I understood Him completely. Who understands Him completely anyway? Our finite minds will never be able to do that.
In August 2015, I rededicated my life to God. No, everything didn’t turn beautiful (or normal) in one magical moment. It was a process. I firstly acknowledged that He did exist, even though I forced myself to deny it before. Then one particular night, I just wrote pages after pages to Him because my thoughts work better on paper (you’d understand if you’re an introvert yourself). Guilt overwhelmed me and I wondered if God would ever take me back. I had made so many spiteful remarks about God and Christians, I had caused hurt to my family (when they had their own measure of pain to deal with), I had put the Lord’s testimony at stake when I avoided religion talk, I had… I had done so much more. Long story short, I was a hopeless sinner far from God. And now here I was, overridden with guilt, wanting to get my act together, and get back to Him.
You know how the father in the parable of the prodigal son takes him back? While the son was still at a distance, the father saw him, had compassion upon him, ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. Still at a distance. This shows us God’s reaction when we return from being lost in sin. He doesn’t belittle us by reminding us of what we have done. He doesn’t take us back reluctantly; in fact, I was going back reluctantly. But like the father in the parable, He takes us back joyously and eagerly while we are still at a distance – unsure and ashamed. It took me a while to understand that God had forgiven me the moment I had confessed. I just hadn’t forgiven myself. After I finally did, I had to make a conscious effort to turn a deaf ear to the devil each time he reminded me of my past. Even as I write this, I have to do that, and remind myself that even if a reader is going to judge me, it doesn’t matter because the God of this universe has justified me.
Now this is my ‘after’…
Even though I was pretty well-versed with parts of the Bible and certain doctrines, I came to God as a new Christian. Sometimes I think you just have to turn over a new leaf, start anew. I wanted to fall in love with Him all over again. I wanted to understand Him from scratch, like a child in a beginners class at Sunday school. From November 2015, I set aside time for God every day. Regular quiet time/devotion after nearly three years! I started with the book of Hosea because just like the nation of Israel, I also was unfaithful to God. I also committed spiritual adultery and I wanted to learn how God took Israel back. This book helped me understand that God is such a perfect, holy, patient, and jealous God, and that He will do whatever it takes to bring His straying children back to Him. Hosea 11:8 says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” That’s the kind of love He had for Israel; a love beyond measure. He is the same God today and He loves us too.
So what about my questions? As it turned out, my pastor was right. In order to get ahead one must get started so small beginnings are fine. It took me months to fully understand that God is indeed good all the time. He doesn’t dish out troubles just because He can. He does it to refine us. We may never see the ‘good’ from it on this side of the shore, or maybe we will, we don’t know. He does it all in His wisdom and because we can’t see the end from the beginning which God can, we have no right to question Him. Like the hymn goes, “He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure, gives unto each day what He deems best, lovingly its part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.” I just had to surrender and believe that God knew best. God only allows suffering and difficult situations in our lives to mould us, to make us better mirrors that would reflect Him. I know that sounds sadistic but it is not. He definitely doesn’t watch us going through it with pleasure. He is always with us, whether we choose to believe it or not.
About bad things happening to good people, I soon realised that there are no good people. We are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory. The Bible says that even our righteous acts are nothing but filthy rags. I recently came across a quote by R.C. Sproul that says, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That happened only once, and He volunteered.” How true! Evil exists in our world because of free will, and we see such acts/events as evil only because God exists. If God didn’t exist, everything would be permissible as there would be no such thing as objective morality. God allows evil because of free will; He doesn’t control us like robots or puppets. He gives us the freedom to make our own choices but that doesn’t mean that we are free from the consequences that follow. Also, God allows us to go through hardships to not only chisel us but to also make us stronger witnesses for Him. These hardships, however, aren’t permanent. It’s all temporary, and that’s the hope we have in Christ, that one day we will be free from the presence of sin and suffering.
Many a time I have wished that I could go back and drive sense into my 18 year old self and tell her not to give up on God because He is going to stay true to His Romans 8:28 promise. On the other hand, I am overwhelmed by how God has led me so far. He never gave up on me. Today I stand witness to the fact that God can work all things together – no matter how horrible or painful it may seem at the moment – for good. No, I don’t think I have seen all the ‘good’ out of that trial yet (and maybe I’ll just have to wait for most of it till I get on the other side) but I can assure you that the joy I have now is worth it all. It doesn’t matter what I have been through because now my ‘after’ consists of a closer walk with God, restored relationships (relationships that I thought could never be fixed), a deeper understanding of the Christian faith, a much better prayer life, and so much more. I thought God wouldn’t use me much after I had betrayed Him, or that I would have to wait for long before He could trust me with things again. But no, God is not like that at all. I remember praying one Sunday in December, for God to use me in church in whatever way He wanted. I was willing to do anything because I thought I didn’t deserve much. That same Sunday after service, our Sunday school leader asked me if I would like to teach, and I was so taken aback by God’s faithfulness.
Today if you’re trying your best to run away from God like I did, let me tell you that it isn’t worth it. Life as an atheist (or even as a person disproving God) is pitifully bleak. There is no purpose, no hope, no certainty. Our lives and our experiences are not just coincidences and chances strung together. We are so much more. You may be going through your worst experience and you’re probably having thoughts about throwing in the towel, but remember that God is right there with you. Sometimes we let ourselves become so occupied with our hurt that we forget to listen to His voice. Romans 8:21 says, “…Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” When life is down in the valley, we need to constantly remind ourselves about this; and ask ourselves like Job did, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” So don’t give up like I did. Hold on to God because He alone will be your constant in life’s ups and downs. And know that God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. I was a terrible soldier in battle but I know better now.
At this point, I’d like to mention that Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” – is undoubtedly true. My parents have given me such a strong foundation in the Lord that I couldn’t really depart from it even though I tried hard to do so. Knowing why you believe what you believe is so essential today, not only because you will need to defend your faith in the outside world but also because you will need to defend it to yourself sometimes. So I am glad I started on this journey of studying apologetics because it has been helping me to learn more and question more. Ravi Zacharais rightly says, “When you teach ‘all we need is the Bible’, you set up the youth to get mocked in universities and be unable to relate to their friends.”
In the words of Nabeel Qureshi, an ex-Muslim Christian believer, “No matter who you are, if you were raised by faith to believe something and you believed it without challenging it, without testing it, I urge you, I challenge you to go talk to people who disagree with you. Let them challenge you. Study these matters for yourself because when the winds come, and your foundation shakes, if you don’t have strong answers to these questions, you’re going to be left without grounding. And in that time, that extremely painful time, you better believe that you need a God to hold on to, and not just any god, the true God who can bury you through. Find the truth, search the truth. Don’t have these questions ring around in your mind and not address them. A question under the surface left will fester like an infection and even if you don’t see it, it is destroying your flesh, it is destroying you to your bones. Air those doubts, discuss them, so that you can be solid, so that you can know with certainty. Pursue God, pursue truth by all means because God is the most beautiful, unimaginably wonderful being in this universe. And if He created you, if He gave you everything you have, I would challenge you to say you owe it to Him to find out who He is. Or you can walk away. The choice is yours.”