One of the fallacies, I believe, of modern thinking is that if one does everything they are supposed to do, then everything will turn out fine and life will be and become a journey of smooth sailing. It is almost an assumption, a foregone conclusion: “If I live a good moral life, keeping my nose clean, my checkbook in order, and work hard at the details, then things will turn out right, my kids will grow up to be fine adults, and all will be wonderful.”
There almost seems to be an idealism that says if we live right and do good for our fellow man, then we should be exempt from the difficulties that seem to plague everyone else. We live our lives comparing ourselves to others, and often we come away saying, “Well, I did pretty well this time around.” Difficulties come to somebody else. Someone else gets sick with COVID-19 or cancer. Someone else has the rebellious children. Someone else has the financial dilemmas. The bad things always happen to someone else. What’s more? They probably deserved it. They did not live their life as God-honoring and faithful as you did, and therefore God is just getting even with them.
No matter what our situation in life may be, whenever we go through trials or difficult circumstances, our tendency is to dwell on the circumstances so much that we lose sight of the eternal. How many times have you struggled with the thoughts that life should be smooth sailing, that life is a “bowl of cherries,” and that life should be a sweet-smelling aroma as in a garden of roses?
Reading Erma Bombeck’s famous book, “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” or listening to that once-popular old song, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden” (or almost any other country-western song, for that matter) should cause each of us to wonder if our view of life as a rose garden or a bowl of cherries is somewhat erroneous.
As I read the Scriptures, I am impressed that such pictures (as a rose garden, or a bowl of cherries), pleasant though they may be, are not the artwork of the Bible. In fact, the Bible throughout pictures the journey of life as a rough, pot hole-filled road with difficulties, trials and hardships throughout. In fact, Peter, in his first letter, writes: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…” (1 Peter 4:11). He is saying to us that we should not look at difficulties as unusual, but as the norm for life.
If you think about the Bible stories you know, isn’t that the case. There was always something that was going wrong, whether it be eating fruit from the wrong tree (Adam and Eve) or getting mad and killing someone you should not have (Cain and Abel) or dealing with a worldwide natural disaster (Noah), or being confronted with a personal moral dilemma (Abraham, in sacrificing Isaac). On and on we could travel through the pages of the Old Testament and everywhere we turn we find hardship and difficulty such as these. But even in the New Testament, we see the same sorts of things. The disciples were getting into jams continually it seems, and they could not find their own way out of the dilemmas in which they found themselves.
One of my favorites of the Gospel stories is the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and going up to the mountain to pray. He sent them in a fishing boat to go over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. While He was praying a storm came up on the lake, and the disciples were again confounded, because they could not control the boat, and they could not keep the water out. They looked up and saw Jesus walking on the water towards them, and they became afraid. They they thought it was a ghost. He was appearing to them outside of their known sphere of reference for Him. So they simply mocked Him as a ghost.
Peter even suggested that this “ghost,” if He is really Jesus as he claims He is, will invite him (Peter) to walk toward Him on the water. No one was more surprised than Peter to hear Jesus reply: “Come!” And no one was more intimidated into trying this than Peter. I mean, after all, he had to save face before these other guys who didn’t make such a bold request of the “ghost.” When he stepped out onto the water, I believe there was no one more afraid to let go of the boat than Peter, but when he realized he was walking, now that was exciting for all. But then he sank, and it was Jesus who had to come get him. (Check out Matthew 14:22-33).
This passage has reshaped my whole view of suffering. First, life is a journey of storms, moving from one storm to another. There might be respite from time to time, but storms are the norm of life, not the exception. If you think about it, every mountain peak is surrounded by valleys. Second, Jesus will come to us during the storms if we will look for Him. He does not want us to drown in the high seas of life. Third, if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will not sink. Peter only began to sink when he started looking at the stormy sea instead of the steady Savior.
Our task then is to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, and He will see us through whatever storms we face, no matter how intense they get, no matter how afraid we may be. If we keep our eyes on Him, He will see us through every storm we face.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]