• Rev. Mark Tews

Why is This Happening to Me?

“Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.’” (Isaiah 35:4).

Consider the geography of the Middle East, which is the setting for the Old Testament Scriptures. Many Old Testament stories, especially those of the Prophets, occurred in the desert or wilderness. There is a strong Biblical case to be made that the desert or wilderness is significant because we see God repeatedly drawing His people into these desolate, difficult places. In the days immediately preceding His earthly ministry, even Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days, alone with His Father. The severe discomfort from fasting and relocating away from civilization added to His ability to hear and trust His Father in heaven. Hearing God in desolate places through sorrow, sickness, and pain is a recurring theme throughout all of Scripture.

Many Christians today aren't fond of the idea that God shows up and shows us His love when we are most troubled. No matter how you feel about it, this is a theme that you cannot escape if you're trying to be informed by the whole of Scripture. We often make the same mistake the disciples made when they came across the man who was born blind. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:1–3).

Sadly, a large segment of Christians has fallen into this horrible and false theology. They believe, like the disciples did, that calamity befalls somebody who has sinned. In reality, we were never supposed to suffer hardship, sickness, or pain. God created us in perfection, but because of our sin we are now tainted. So, God had to send Jesus to redeem us and make us perfect in His sight once more. A strong metaphor for what God wants to accomplish in the desert is featured in the 35th chapter of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah described a time when “the desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:1–2).

It is prudent to realize this: when we find ourselves in the desert or wilderness of life and it isn't blooming, you might be wasting the purpose for which God brought you there. It is in those desert and wilderness wanderings that we find out that we can fully trust the One who brought us out of the slavery of sin. You will also find out that even though you’re in the desert or wilderness, your critical needs will be met. You might be hot, tired, uncomfortable, or in pain, but He will still provide you with all your needs. It's difficult to feel refreshed in the scorching heat of the desert, but that is precisely why it's one of God's favorite places to take us. We will find Him much more readily and much more seriously when we learn to stop depending on ourselves and rely on Him instead.

In the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico, the elevation is about 7,500 feet and it is a very dry, barren land. Only certain types of plants can thrive there. The plains prickly pear cactus is one of those. Even in that severely dry climate, the plains prickly pear is filled with usable moisture that it has collected and stored. It produces very beautiful blossoms even in the midst of that cold, dry wilderness. These cacti go through a lot to get their blossoms.

The prickly pear blossom gets the most attention, but that’s not the best part of the plant. In fact, the pads of these cacti, covered in with spiny thorns, are the best part. The pads hold the water for the plant. They are high in amino acids, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, vitamin C, and beta carotene. They have been used for healing purposes and food for centuries. People have used them to treat diabetes, stomach problems, cuts and bruises, sunburns, constipation, and cold symptoms. However, if you take the prickly pear and give it an abundance of water and nitrogenous soil, as you would commonly think a plant would need, it will die.

We don't like being in the desert of life. We don't enjoy being sick, in pain, or mistreated. We avoid these things as best as we can. However, when I look back at my life, I see that in the deserts of my life is where God taught me how to trust Him more. It's there that He intervened to “strengthen [my] feeble hands, steady [my] knees that give way.” (Isaiah 35:3). It’s in the desert that God comes down to meet His children and says “to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear.” (Isaiah 35:4). The world tells us that abundant life is about living in comfort. It's easy to think of the desert as an ugly and dead place. In Scripture, however, the desert is where the redeemed walk, a place where a highway is found, the Way of holiness.

What about those who seem to stay in the desert long after any meaningful lesson would be learned? What about those with chronic pain, or those suffering various afflictions that may last a lifetime? God didn't see fit to give us the full explanation on suffering in life’s deserts and wildernesses. He gave us enough so we would know that He uses it. Unfortunately, we will not be completely satisfied with His explanation. We can rest assured that He will never leave us without resources. After all, the purpose of life’s deserts and wildernesses are about hearing God. Because we know the character of God, we know that He doesn't rejoice in our suffering and He is not surprised by it. “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).

God is more concerned with the fulfillment of our life with Him than our short-term happiness. God set up our world so we, as free-thinking people, have the opportunity to find Him, receive Him, and then enjoy eternity with Him. Why can't Christians escape the pain and suffering, be healed of all disease, and enjoy Him fully now? If Christians were to become immune to all pain and suffering, we would no longer need God and our need to embrace Jesus would be replaced with selfish advancement and personal aggrandizement. Our perspective is too narrow to be able to understand all of the potential outcomes when we are faced with desert moments in life. Through the Holy Spirit, God allows us to come to an understanding of what He has done for us and why we need Him.

We must recognize that we live in a fallen world. God warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden of the consequences that would follow if they chose sin and rebellion as they did. God promised Adam and Eve (and us) that we will someday live in a pain free world. He has promised us that we will no longer have sorrow, tears, sickness, and pain. He is preparing this new heaven and earth for those who know and believe in Him.