Late last summer, while walking on a long stretch of beach off the west coast of the Netherlands, I was lulled into deep contemplation by the steady crashing of waves and lost track of distance and time. I eventually sensed a change in the weather and turned in the direction of the wind to see the massive storm front shown in the accompanying photograph. The weather was clearly about to change—and when it did my walk back became extremely soggy and cold!
The shape of the storm cloud and the dramatic seascape made me think about the unlimited majesty and power of God—and how that “terrible aspect” of God can feel foreboding and unsettling at times, especially if you are experiencing heavy challenges. When bad things seem to keep happening to you or those you love, it can feel like Almighty God has decided to single you out for some kind of punishment or testing.
Anyone can become distressed when misfortune, pain and loss don’t seem to stop, and it is easy to start wondering all kinds of things—including whether you are somehow cursed.
Consider that each one of us is created by God to be vulnerable, finite beings, and our bodies and relationships will always be prone to misfortune. No human being can escape heartbreak or hardship—and while God’s love can include rebuking us, there is no simple explanation for why some people experience more challenges than others (except for challenges caused by unjust socio-economic structures that favour some and disadvantage or exploit others).
I would gently but firmly suggest you try not to see heavy challenges as God being angry with you for some unknown misdeed: if you are being rebuked by God you will almost certainly figure out why. And stay away from wondering whether God is extracting some kind of retribution against you or your loved ones because of a miscreant ancestor. While this idea floats about in some circles, it is utterly inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and needs to be shut down.
Remember, Christian faith does not place God outside of our heartbreaks and hardships. Jesus showed us that God is inside everything we experience in this life: every joy, triumph, gain, fear, loss, humiliation, heartbreak, and hardship. When Jesus was degraded, insulted, stripped, beaten, tortured, and killed, God was telling us that God is with us in the worst things human beings can face. Hope is never outside our pain and suffering, it is always inside, with us. God’s love is never apart from us.
God loves us just as God made us: imperfect, vulnerable, finite beings. And when hardship happens, Jesus calls us to be faithful, to pray for strength, courage and guidance, and to trust that, somehow, all shall be well—because all things will eventually be gathered into Christ and made whole.
During inexplicably challenging times, it is tempting to wonder whether God is singling out you or those you love—and believing this is so will make your life feel much more difficult. Instead, try to think of Jesus walking with you, saying: “I know this is hard and it is way too much sometimes. Know that God is with you in every tear and every pain, holding you up and giving you strength. Know you are loved. Know that all shall be well, in God’s time. All that is required of you is to do your best to love God and to love others as yourself, no matter what.”
The unlimited majesty and power of God is beyond human understanding but is revealed to us in Jesus as indestructible love and hope. Walk gently in that knowledge when storm clouds come your way.