Hardship, Blame, and the Real Will of God


One phenomenon I’ve noted in the American Church that keeps getting resurrected and used as a club to beat frustrated and hurting Christian is this issue of who is at fault when things go awry.

In the Christian pantheon of blame, these four are the most prominent whipping boys:

  • God
  • Satan
  • The Individual
  • Society

Frankly, I’m burned out of the “it’s okay to get mad at God” mantra that I hear from some Christians. Job expected God to explain Himself for all of Job’s troubles and God smacked that down hard. So, the get mad at God thing is a dead end.

Well, it should be a dead end except that a lot of Christians sugarcoat that same idea by framing it within the context of God’s will. Bad things happen because of God’s will, and, because we love God so much, we should be happy that our house collapsed and our kids perished. It was all for our good.

Honestly, though, Job wasn’t happy with that answer. While he did not take his wife’s advice to “curse God and die,” this most righteous man still bristled at all the things that had happened to him. He still wanted God to explain Himself. If Job wasn’t happy with “God’s will” in his own awful situation, what chance do I have when things blow up miserably?

So we peel back the curtain on the Job epic and find that fouler Satan messing with the rigging backstage. Blaming the Enemy is big, especially within those churches that sprang from the Azusa revival.

Sadly, for many Christians, Satan becomes the universal excuse when something goes wrong. We blame him and that’s the end of the discussion. Calls for spiritual warfare go out, everyone prays binding and loosing prayers, and that’s the end of it.

Should that approach not work—and from my own experiences it doesn’t a lot of the time (because Satan isn’t entirely the cause)—some Christians start blaming themselves. “I did something wrong and have no one to blame but myself” may be true or it may not be. And if nearly 48 years of living have taught me anything, rarely is the individual entirely at fault either.  Sure, we sin and do stupid things. But God gives grace to follow, which covers our individual sins and deficiencies. With that the case, can I postulate that God’s grace is insufficient for a dingbat such as myself? Hardly.

Then society gets the blame hammer. The Christian culture wars are almost entirely driven by the idea that our society is the cause of every bad thing in…well, our society. Beyond the circular logic on that one, yeah, sometimes society does foster awful outcomes.  Sometimes society is to blame for problems—or at least for serving as a petri dish for their wicked growth. Problem is, the Bible makes it clear that we Christians can’t blame society for every bad thing in life. Rarely did society stand in the way of early Christians accomplishing miraculous things for God.

Ultimately, organizing blame into one or more of those four basins still cannot completely answer the question of why some happenings in life are just plain rotten.

I love the practicalness of the Book of James. In it are these true words:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
—James 2:14-26

In this case, whose problem is it that a brother and sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food? Is God to blame? Satan? The individual? Society?

While most people quote this passage as a primer on practical faith, too few understand it as a lesson on God’s will, which it is—in spades.

See, when we want to find blame for the condition of that brother and sister, it is the rare few who ask the question of the Church’s role in the will of God and the vagaries of life. We’ll blame our typical four sources, but do we in the Church ever wonder if we as a group are the reason for some of the awfulness we see in life?

Now, I’m not talking about being the cause of awfulness, but as the unused, mothballed resource for fixing that awfulness. James would rightfully contend that the brother and sister in Christ who remain poor and hungry will stay so unless the Church wakes up and does something to rectify the problem.

But we don’t hear that enough in our churches, do we?

Actually, let me revise that. We hear the clarion call to action in the culture wars, but we almost never hear it in cases of individual need, especially those needs that fly under the radar.

What about the case of the person crushed for the rest of her life under the burden of an uninsured operation? Does the Church have anything to say about that need? Better yet, does the Church have any responsibility toward rectifying that situation? Or will we blame God, Satan, the sick woman, or society for her plight?

More than anything, I wish more Christians would break from the standard blame game and instead ask, “What can we as a Church do?”

I’ve had a terribly stressful last couple weeks that landed me in the doctor’s office yesterday. I missed church on Sunday, which is not something I do. I play drums on the church worship team, and I don’t really have a backup at this point, so me calling in sick meant a scramble for the team leaders. Mercy in the midst of griefMore stress, more feeling bad, but I’d been up most of the night before and was just exhausted.

Now I could come up with a lot of directions for blame for causing all this stress, and I could imagine a million things God, Satan, society, and li’l ol’ me have to do with it all, but none of them trump dinner last night. Yes, dinner. Because Lisa, our pastor’s wife, brought us a homemade dinner last night.

And honestly, that kind of small act by the Body of Christ goes a long way toward defusing all these issues of God’s will and blame and highfalutin’ solutions and all that wacky stuff we get into.

When the Body of Christ is working as it should, these radically tough-to-solve problems suddenly lose much of their juice. Sometimes the answer to rotten things happening in life is as simple as showing up at the bedside of a sick person, writing a card to a shut-in, banding together to pay a medical bill, clothing someone who has nothing to wear, and on and on. It’s keeping our feelers feeling out where people need a little touch from the Lord through our being His hands.

It’s so easy to point fingers. But Church, more often than not the finger is reflected in a mirror right back at us. Rather than assigning blame or explaining the reason for someone’s plight, what are we doing to meet the needs of others in their times of distress?

8 thoughts on “Hardship, Blame, and the Real Will of God

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy

    What about the case of the person crushed for the rest of her life under the burden of an uninsured operation? Does the Church have anything to say about that need?

    Other than mouthing “I’ll Pray For You (TM)”, then always crossing on the other side of the street?

  2. James would rightfully contend that the brother and sister in Christ who remain poor and hungry will stay so unless the Church wakes up and does something to rectify the problem.

    In the last church I attended, the attitude was usually that poor people are poor because they didn’t do something right, and they’re reaping their just reward. Lung cancer is always the result of a bad decision to smoke, poor man. This allows us the assurance that the bad thing won’t happen to us, because we would never be so stupid. It’s faith in our minds, instead of faith in God.

    On the other hand, the church has come to rely on government to care for the needy – as if taking money from one brother to feed another counts to our benefit. I know of one assistant pastor whose (paid) job it is to direct the needy to the appropriate government agency.

    These are among the many reasons that my “church” currently consists of my husband, my son, a weekly Bible study, and a handful of Christian friends.

  3. Once again, great post Dan. You always have great insight into issues facing the church. My question is, how much more money would the body have to help the poor, downtrodden, etc. if we weren’t pouring much of it into million dollar buildings and paying thousands in salaries? Is this what Paul had in mind when he encouraged “cheerful giving”? I find myself in agreement with akaGaGa regarding the present description of my regular fellowship.

    • Mark,

      I’m not a big one on buildings, but I do acknowledge that we need someplace to meet. A lot of people who want to shun owning a church building don’t have really good responses on where to put 1,000 people who want to meet together. As much as I think my own church’s building has been something of an albatross, the local high school chooses to hold its graduation there, so that tells you something. Not a whole lot of places for our congregation to meet otherwise!

      As to paid clergy, I think a workman is worth his own keep. But in the same way, I think it would be better to have several paid clergy who are bivocational than to have the system most churches do. I think one of the worst disconnects in the church today happens when pastors have never worked a “real” job before. It’s one reason why so many clergy are out of touch on the issue of jobs in the lives of their congregants.

  4. I too have lost interest in assigning blame for calamity. Man is born to it as the sparks fly upward. That’s our fallen state. What shouldn’t be normal is indifference–so the real problem is, as you said, “what are we doing to meet the needs of others in their times of distress?”

    I wrote this the other day,on my blog, since I am struggling to comfort one in intense pain, “we drive on empty, multi-tasking as we go, leaving little margin in our lives for the neighbor with no bread and great need. But who is the faithful servant, the one who comforts the fainting heart, or the one who merely twitters his report of the calamity?

    I think it is the simplest things that have the amplest reward in heaven, because they are often done with the least thought of self. What, we think–it was just a cup of cold water. It was only a hug! But they are remembered sometimes longer than the most eloquent sermon, for they are often the Father’s best means of changing our focus and helping us to know His goodness.”

    Eerily, I used the same photo in my post. My husband suggested I change my first choice, saying I would alienate my male readers–it looked like a Victorian lady being escorted to her fainting couch–so I am glad I searched for the more eloquent image of soldiers grieving. That is a singularly moving photograph, and for me it worked uncropped. The other fellow is filing his casualty reports.

    I appreciate your transparency here, and hope things are better for you now. I did pray for you.

  5. Pip

    We attended an upper-middle class church in New Zealand. We fitted in nicely until our second son developed serious asthma, and my husband was made redundant from his job. We lived under the poverty line for a year, and experienced significant hardship for almost a decade.

    I used to go forward, at the end of the service, for prayer to meet our needs (more than one meal a day, and the costs of up to 3 doctors’ appointments a day, medicine, etc.).

    Often the prayer team refused to pray the way I asked. Instead, I was challenged to consider whether or not I had unconfessed sin. When I said “no,” they would pray that God would reveal my sin to me. They failed to notice that it was not me, but my husband, who had been made redundant, and our son, not me, who was sick, but somehow it was all my ‘fault.’

    We lived next door a witch who ran a spiritualist church. When we prayed for God to provide our needs, it was usually the witch who passed soup, or bread, or home-made apple pie (look out Snow White!) across the fence, sometimes within minutes. God and I had some dialogue about how he could use the witch, but not the church.

    Over the course of many years, I observed a number of things about blame. By making hardship the fault of the individual and, therefore, ‘discipline’ or ‘punishment’ from God, the circumstances of the individual can be ignored on the premise that God is disciplining them, and no-one should interfere.

    I’m still grateful for the witch. What a God-send!

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