When Suffering Exposes Unbelief

By Monica Hall

Early last year, I began following the Lord down an exciting and scary path.

There was something specific He led me to pursue, something big and crazy that only He could bring about. Although it thrust me into waters deeper than I felt equipped to navigate, after much prayer and seeking wise counsel, I plunged forward.

For several months, the path was remarkably straight and smooth. I prayed that if this particular path was not going to lead to His best for me, that He would stop me and show another direction to go, but step after step propelled me forward and everything was falling into place. I prayed all year that I would want Him more than I wanted this dream, even as I prayed that He would indeed bring this dream to fruition. As pieces continued fitting smoothly into the puzzle, I grew more and more excited, and it seemed like this extremely unlikely dream was really going to come true. Until the day when He clearly said, “This far, no further. This journey has come to a stop.”

It was rather sudden, and it was through an abrupt message delivered by someone who showed absolutely no compassion whatsoever for the fact that she had just crushed my dream. I was devastated. I was angry. I was sad. But most of all, I was confused. Had I totally misinterpreted what God was leading me to do? Hadn’t He led me down this road from the beginning? And, whispering around my heart in my darkest moments was the question that came from the raw, aching, most vulnerable part of my soul: Isn’t He good?

I was suffering, and suffering serves as an illuminator of those hidden places in our hearts that don’t fully believe in the goodness and wisdom of God.

Those places that believe we could have orchestrated things better for ourselves. Just like the luminol used by forensic investigators to find hidden traces of blood at a crime scene, suffering shines its light on our heart until the hidden traces of unbelief show up. Traces of blood at a crime scene emit a strange glow under the spotlight of the luminol, which is eerie because that blood is obviously out of place and it means that something very wrong has happened there. Similarly, when suffering illuminates hidden places of unbelief in our hearts, it is jarring. That unbelief is obviously out of place in the heart of a child of God, and it means that something is very wrong there.

Many of us are drawn like magnets to stories of saints who have suffered well. Their stories intrigue us, inspire us, and at the same time, they bewilder us. How can one endure such great magnitudes of suffering and still have peace, still trust God, still shine?

This is so baffling because so many of us do not suffer well. When afflictions come our way, we far too often fall immediately into anguish, distrust, murmuring, and discontent. As Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs stated in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, “We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us.” When afflictions come, we start thinking of all the ways God could and should have done better by us. This is the unbelief shining its ugly light in the corners of our hearts.

Do you really believe that God is good? Do you really believe that He is sovereignly working all things in your life for your good, to conform you to the image of His Son? Then you must rest in Him during times of affliction in quiet trust that He is good and does all things well. A murmuring, discontented heart—no matter how great the affliction—is evidence of unbelief.

Remember the Israelites in the desert. After the Lord’s judgment for the rebellion of Korah, the people complained.

But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” –Numbers 16:41

Now, grumbling doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, as sins go. However, just a few verses later, we see the Lord saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” The plague had begun and before Moses could make proper atonement for this grievous sin of grumbling among the people, 14,700 of them were killed by God. Grumbling is indeed a very big deal. In fact, in Numbers 17:10, God calls them rebels.

Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against Me, lest they die.

To complain against God is to rebel against God.

This is sobering indeed. A heart of discontent is a heart refusing to submit to God. A murmuring, complaining heart is one that does not believe the promises of God. When all is well, we are quick to claim God’s promises and even to encourage others to claim them when they are suffering. But are we as quick to claim them when suffering comes to us? Whether your affliction is small or great, life-changing or merely a bump in the road, will you meet it with a quiet, steadfast heart that clings to belief in the God who promises to never forsake you?

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