Has Hardship Made Hope Unbearable?

Aug 01, 2022

You prayed, and she still died.

You persevered, and he still walked out.

You took them in and provided a home of safety, nurturing, and love, and the court took them away, sending them back into a place of tumult.

You worked diligently, saved responsibly, and gave cheerfully, and the illness wiped out everything.

You poured truth into them, and they rejected it, choosing a lifestyle which sometimes, if you’re honest, makes you wonder if it would have been better if they’d died in the innocence of childhood.

The job doesn’t come. The treatment doesn’t work. The relationship doesn’t mend. The prodigal doesn’t return.

Bad outcomes make believing in a good God difficult.

In the ancient story of the Israelites, they lived as slaves in Egypt. Why? Because they’d staged a revolt and tried to overthrow the government? No. Because they’d been conquered by Egypt in warfare, and this was the cost of losing? Nope. Because everyone who lived under Egypt’s rule existed as slaves? Not that either. Why?

They paid the cost of other people’s sin. Specifically, jealousy, envy, fear, lust.

Four centuries earlier the tribe of Jacob had been invited to make their home in Egypt. They were welcome guests. They followed the rules. They remained faithful. They were still targeted. As they prospered, others who lusted for power became fearful they could lose their prestige, fueling jealousy and envy. Whether it happened quickly or slowly, eventually the “chosen by God” lost their freedom.

Decrease freedom and you’ll increase despair.

By the time Moses, not as a hot-headed savior but cold-footed shepherd, arrives, four centuries of Israelite history had one word scrawled across it. “Slavery.” No doubt the graffiti sprayed on people’s hearts included “Why?”, “Where is God?”, and “What’s the point?”

But Moses does show up, promising deliverance, and for a hot minute, hope sparks pierce the darkness.

Exodus 4:31 records the response: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Imagine the excitement! “God has seen us!” “We’re not abandoned.” “We’re going to be rescued.” “He cares about what we’re going through.” “What didn’t come true for my parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents is going to happen for me!” “We’re going home!” “Things are going to change!”

And they did. But not in the way they thought.

Their lives got worse.

Pharoah wasn’t impressed by Moses’ message; he was incensed by it.

Out went the order. Not only would people have to keep producing the same quantity of bricks every day, but they also had to go and find their own straw to make the clay building blocks. When this didn’t happen, beatings resulted. Not verbal reprimands. Not assignments to a less prestigious labor force. Not a reduction in vacation time, salary, or health benefits. Cruel beatings.

Mindsets shifted.

Ears closed.

Their ability to believe in a good God collapsed. They couldn’t stomach any more promises of hope.

Exodus 6:9 records, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” (Emphasis mine)

Has devastation, disappointment, or disillusionment ever left your spirit broken?

Do you hear the compassion in these words?

It’s not “because of their bad attitudes and unbelief.” It’s not “because of their incorrect theology and hard hearts.” It’s not “because of their misplaced priorities and self-centered lifestyles.”

God’s response isn’t irritation or abandonment. “I’ll come back when you’ve got a better attitude.” “Get over it, will you?” “I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

God understands harsh situations can break human spirits.

He doesn’t just know, but he cares.

Isaiah 42:3, affirmed in Matthew 12, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Isaiah 30:26, “… in the day when the LORD binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.”

Isaiah 61:1 & Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

No one can promise you the outcome you’re seeking on this earth. No one. Not a best friend, loving mom, expert therapist, or prominent pastor. The Israelites were delivered from slavery. But not all of them. How many had been born and died as slaves? Even for those who left Egypt, things got a lot worse before they got better. Here’s the ultimate decision.

Will you believe in God based on his character or your circumstances?

Disappointment, disillusionment, and devastation always ask, “How do you praise a God when outcomes aren’t “Praise List” worthy?”

I’ve face-planted in the carpet enough times with the words, “Why” and “Where are you?” streaming from a broken heart to empathize with you. Here’s what I know.

A world without God can’t account for the presence of evil.

Of why hopes are crushed by unfairness. Of why hearts are torn by injustice. Of why lives are lost by immorality.

No other belief offers any better explanation for the tension between what is and what should be. No replies satisfy for “Why?” No responses arrive from the universe answering the question, “Where is justice?”

In John 6:68, after many people had walked away from Jesus, he asks his still-remaining followers if they’ll leave too. Peter’s reply isn’t a theological dissertation. It’s not a cost-benefit analysis. It’s not a recounting of all the miracles. Instead, he begins with a question. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

If you’re at a place where the only reason you remain as a follower of Christ is because you don’t know where else to take your broken spirit, it’s okay. There is no condemnation coming at you. No reprimand awaiting you. Only a God who knows human hearts can be broken by harsh times and is present to bind up your brokenness with tender compassion.

©Stephanie D. Smith


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