Sometimes when I am dismayed over the state of the world or the state of a personal problem, I am tempted to think, “God, why aren’t you winning? You’re stronger than evil. You’re bigger than this problem. Why isn’t all of this taken care of? It would be nothing to You to right these things.”
The psalmists wrestled with this question in a slightly different way. In Psalm 73, Asaph struggled with not only the presence of the wicked, but the fact that they prospered. He even came to the point of thinking that his efforts to live purely have been in vain. Job’s friends’ asserted that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to be experiencing so much trouble. One of Job’s arguments against their theory was that the wicked often prosper in this life.
But nothing in Job’s circumstances indicated that God wasn’t “winning,” that He was absent, or that He had lost control of the situation. God was with Job all along, even though Job couldn’t sense His presence. God displayed mercy and compassion to Job, even though it looked different from what we might expect. All of the physical, material blessings that God restored to Job at the end of the book are items that he once again lost at the end of his life. But through the first loss of them, God taught him eternal truths and drew Job closer to Himself. Job’s relationship with God and the spiritual truths he learned would affect the rest of his life, his relationships with others, and the afterlife. Though it might have looked like Satan was winning, God was working out His purposes.
I love the Psalms for their honest emotion. Whether the psalmists faced personal danger or lamented the seeming triumph of evil in the world, they brought their own thoughts and those of their listeners back to the truth they knew about God. Psalm 10 (ESV) starts out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” But the psalmist reminded himself, “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.” He concludes back on solid ground:
The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
When God seems far away, we remind ourselves of the truth we know about Him from His Word. He sees what is going on. He loves us. He will deal justly. He might be waiting to answer for a number of reasons. We ask Him to search us and show us anything that might be hindering His answer to our prayers. And we rest in His wisdom, love, righteousness, and strength.
Trusting that God has control of the situation doesn’t mean inaction on our part. Only God can take care of all the needs of the world, but He often works through people. A needy world is a call to pray and then to look for ways to help those in need. William Wilberforce and Hannah More not only prayed against the evil of slavery but fought against it. We may not be able to solve world poverty, but we can help those within our sphere of influence.
In the May 19 selection of Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she wrote:
On the whole, the good that we are able to tally in this life doesn’t seem to outweigh the bad that we observe. We keep praying, but we don’t see some of the answers closest to our hearts. Only heaven will reveal a clear picture of how the sweet fragrance of our faith in Jesus, even in times of grief and loss, influenced the lives of those around us. Only eternity will show how our fainthearted prayers changed the destinies of people on our prayer list. Great faith believes in God even when He plays His hand close to the vest, now showing all His cards. God wants to increase your “measure of faith.” He does this whenever He conceals a matter and you trust Him nevertheless (p. 156).
The Bible tells us the world will get worse before the end. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3: 14-15).
God not only wins in the end. He is winning now. He’s working out His purposes even now.