By Dr Peter Lim
This hymn was composed by the renowned Afro American Methodist minister and gospel music composer Charles Albert Tindley. The hymn speaks about trials, tribulations and temptations that often take us unawares. But “We’ll understand it better by and by” i.e. when our Lord Jesus Christ comes back again. In the throes of the current global Covid-19 pandemic we wonder why such a terrible scourge has hit the world and when and if, it will ever end. As this great cloud of doom and gloom envelops our atmosphere, it behoves us to look into God’s word, the Bible, for answers and encouragement.
During the long period of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites “groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exodus 2:23-25). We are not told how long this anguish and agony persisted but it was at least 80 years since Moses was eighty when the exodus took place. Though God was seemingly silent during those years He was far from being inactive. Moses was being groomed for the monumental task of leading his people out of the Egyptian bondage and misery.
Likewise, during the years of the Israelite exile in Babylon, God had a plan for deliverance. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil My gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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 29:10,11).
Indeed, all of us have suffered adversities of one kind or another. As Job of the Old Testament has said “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards.” (Job 5:7) The adversities that afflict us can range from major illness, breakdown of family relationships, career or business failures. Some of these could be self-inflicted e.g. lung cancer resulting from heavy smoking. Many more are inexplicable. The fact is that we live in a sinful and imperfect world. The perfect world that God created has been marred by man’s sin.
It is almost impossible to come through major adversities unscathed since such afflictions gnaw at the very fabric of our faith. As we struggle to make sense of our calamities we may want to ponder on the providence of God. J.I. Packer defines providence as “The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Psalm 145:9), He upholds His creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3) guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Psalm 107; Job 1:12, 2:6; Genesis 45:5-8) and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory (cf. Ephesians 1:9-12)” (The New Bible Dictionary). Against this overarching teaching about God, we are also told in the Bible that God is sovereign over the good and the bad – “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38). Other references are Ecclesiastes 7:14 and Isaiah 45:7. So why does God allow bad things to happen to us? Some of the possible reasons are “so that we may be mature and complete” (James 1:2-4); so that “our faith. . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:6-7); so that “we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:4-11)
In conclusion, I would like to share some thoughts from Rev. Dr Mark Chan taken from his exposition of Psalm 46:
“God is not our escape from trouble. Neither is He our shield against trouble. Rather He is our ever-present help in trouble. God does not ‘trouble-proof’ His children. He proves Himself in times of trouble.”
“The truth of Emmanuel (God with us) is not just for Christmas. It’s for always – especially in tough times.”
“Tough times often constrict our vision. Our predicaments may loom so large that they dominate the entire horizon and God is sadly eclipsed. Yet it is precisely in times of difficulty that we need a vision of a God larger than our problems.”
He suggests two steps to take:
First,” learn to take shelter in the Lord ‘our Refuge and Strength’. Make God the first option, not the last resort”.
Second, “don’t just ask God to deal with your problems; ask Him to deal with you as well.”
“But I trust in Your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5,6)