How Do We Know God Cares?

Yesterday we continued the series called “How Do You Know?” at Gateway Community Church in Austin. I shared at the McNeil campus in response to the question: “How Do You Know God Cares?” You can watch or listen at the bottom of this post. Here is some of what I shared:

We all face trials and challenges. When we suffer, we cannot help but wonder if God even cares about us. Some have rejected God completely because of the suffering they have experienced or the suffering they see others endure.

After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, Martin Bashir interviewed a well-known Christian author and speaker. The earthquake had killed over 15,000 people and damaged over 500,000 buildings including a nuclear reactor. Bashir asked the Christian author and speaker this question:

“Which of these is true? Either God is all-powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and they’re suffering or He does care about the people of Japan, but He’s not all-powerful? Which is it?”

The Christian author looked stunned. He was on the show to promote his book.

After trying to describe God’s compassion for people, Bashir pressed him once again for an answer: “So which is it?”

The author’s response: “I think it’s a paradox at the heart of the divine, some paradoxes are best left as they are.”

Does God care or doesn’t He? And if He does care, why would He let this happen?!

The Scriptures are filled with stories of people who suffered in tremendous ways. For those of us who follow Jesus, we follow someone who is referred to as “the Suffering Servant.” In fact in Isaiah 53, Isaiah predicted 700 years before He came that the Messiah would come and suffer on our behalf. Jesus knows what it feels like to grieve and experience loss. He was acquainted with every aspect of life. He understands what it feels like to experience pain, rejection, abandonment, betrayal – all the things that haunt us. The Bible gives us great insights into our suffering and into God’s response.

One of the disciples of Jesus who is mentioned a lot in the New Testament was Peter. Here’s what he wrote to those he cared about who were going through a difficult time:

“12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name…. 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” – 1 Peter 4:12-19

Peter reveals that there are three different types of suffering:

Consequences – Bad decisions have bad results.
Are you suffering because of a mistake you made or continue to make? Peter mentions that some of us suffer because of our criminal acts or for meddling in the affairs of others while not taking responsibility for ourselves. Maybe you had the best intentions, and you were even heading in the right way, but you ended up messing up the process. In the end, we reap what we sow. Sometimes our suffering could have been avoided if we had more emotional intelligence or did what we knew we were supposed to do. We do things we know we shouldn’t do, and then get mad at God for the results!

God loves us so much He does not force us to live according to His ways. He respects and loves us enough that we have been given freedom. The challenge is that we have made bad choices that lead to results we did not want. We wonder if God cares, and He wonders if we are even listening!

So often we ask God to free us from the consequences of our actions. Instead we should be asking Him for help to make better decisions.

We need to be quicker to learn from our mistakes. We need to humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness, ask those we’ve hurt to forgive us, and ask God for the help to forgive ourselves. Guilt and shame can keep us trapped. We need to have the courage to involve others in our healing and recovery process. Humility helps us acknowledge we need help from God and help from others. Our pride can keep us from moving forward.

Persecution – Good decisions may have tough results.
Are you suffering for doing good? Sometimes to get to where God wants us to get, we must endure hard times.

For some of us, we try so hard to avoid pain in our lives that we avoid making the right choices. We choose to reject God’s guidance because we value how we feel more than we value the future God has for us.

Genuine persecution comes when we are criticized, mocked, ridiculed, or even endangered as a result of the good choices we make. In our world, people who choose to follow Jesus face hostility, imprisonment, and even death.

As strange as it may sound, Peter says that if you are suffering for doing good then we need to rejoice which means to be grateful and even to thrive in the midst of our trying times because we are catching a glimpse of what Jesus was willing did for us.

Keep going. Persevere. Endure. Your efforts will be rewarded.

Circumstances – A broken world affects us.
We live in a fallen world. We are also adversely affected by the choices others make, whether those choices seem innocent or those choices are downright evil. We don’t have to look very far to see evidence of a world in disrepair. Disease, death, violence, natural disasters, injustice all point to the fact that something has gone wrong. Other times we face difficult moments as a result of the times in which we live. Challenging circumstances remind us of our frailty, and they can be what draws us closer to God rather than pull us away. We do not have to become victims to our circumstances; we can overcome!

It is so easy to say that until you experience personal trauma.

“The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” – 1 Corinthians 4:20

It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well. Shallow faith gives up.

Do you just talk about trusting God or do you actually trust Him and experience His power?

Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering.

A friend recently told me: “My faith was lip service before, but now that I have been willing to admit I am a broken person and need God’s help and need my wife’s forgiveness, my faith has become real. My faith became real when I was willing to go to places I had been avoiding all of my life.”

Often we are in the midst of the pain, so we bail. We bail on God. We give up on relationships. We give up on our dream. When in reality, we quit just before the breakthrough.

“Everything can look like failure in the middle.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Maybe the struggles you are currently facing are the direct results of your prayers for something better in your life? Maybe God has allowed pain to come into your life to refine you and help you become the person He created you to be.

The apostle Paul experienced a great deal of suffering for his faith. He was beaten, attacked, imprisoned, beaten with stones, and ridiculed for his faith.

Paul said: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11

In other words, we cannot experience the power of new life without experiencing the pain of dying to the old life. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion.

Our response to suffering will determine the quality of our lives. We all face disappointment. Who we become depends on how we respond.

Our current crisis may seem gigantic, but in a year will we even remember how we were feeling on this day? Since we do not know the future and our memory of the past fades so quickly, we often live as if the present is all there is. We have been told to live like there is no tomorrow, but more often than not there is a tomorrow. The spirit of the old cliché is to live with urgency. Most of the times we do not seem to be at all urgent about doing good, but when things are going bad everything seems urgent. When it comes to doing good, live like there is no tomorrow. When it comes to crisis, know that there is a tomorrow.

Consider some of the most trying moments of your life. What were they? What happened? How did you feel? How did you get through that time? Has the pain subsided? If you could make it through those experiences, you can make it through this painful time as well!

Many times, as life proceeds, we begin to regain our hope. We can see that life can go on. Life can get better. I would imagine, you and I have forgotten more trials than we are even remembering.

God is always with us. Even when we cannot feel His presence. Even if we have rejected Him. God is more tenacious than we are. His love is enduring. His love perseveres, for His love for us is perfect. As we cling to Him daily, we see His hand in our lives. Our trust grows as we see Him guiding us through the great moments and the smaller trials. We have the faith to trust Him in the most challenging moments.

How do we know God cares? He came to us. He lived for us. He suffered for us. He died on the cross for us. He rose from the dead for us. He hears our prayers. He sends others to our aid. He mourns when we mourn. He laughs when we laugh. He is there for us.

In the midst of suffering, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.

A scar shows that you survived! Scars remind us that God rescued us when things could have been so much worse!

Somehow God can take tragedies and bring about good. What we feel as a trial now may later be one of the most meaningful moments of our lives.

I know victims of abuse who have become counselors for abuse victims. I know military personnel who have suffered from PTSD help others who are suffering from it as well. I have seen families who lost a baby comfort a couple born with a sick baby. I have heard stories of men and women who died for their faith in countries that are now experiencing spiritual awakening.

Other times, we face struggles that don’t seem to make any sense. We don’t truly understand why He allows some things to happen. One thing is for sure – we also have no idea what tragedies He has prevented.

For now, He allows us to experience pain in this fallen world. One day, He will bring all suffering to an end. One day, this broken world will be made right, but He is patient wanting to give all of us a chance to discover His love for us – never forcing us always pursuing us.

God’s ways are mysterious, and God loves us. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even the most tragic moments of our lives.

The author on TV is right, we do not understand all that God is doing or why He allows some things to happen, but the question Martin Bashir asked was a trick question.

“Which of these is true? Either God is all-powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and they’re suffering or He does care about the people of Japan, but He’s not all-powerful? Which is it?”

God is all-powerful AND He does care for the people of Japan. He cares for all of us! In the midst of our suffering, we can experience His love and care in a deeper way. He offers His help and His power! The only way to experience it for yourself is to be willing to go to a place you haven’t been willing to go. Do you trust God with your life? Do you trust God with your circumstances? Do you really, truly trust Him?

What is your next step?

For some of you, you are suffering and you’ve turned away from God – turn back to Him. Let Him show you how He cares. He is all-powerful and He does care for you.

Some of you know you need to be the answer to someone else’s prayer to God for help. God shows He cares by sending others on His behalf. The question for you isn’t “How do we know God cares?” but “How do people around you know that you care?”

To hear or listen to more, see below:

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ebryant@churchleaders.com'
Dr. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for Central and South Austin and as part of the teaching team. Eric previously served at Mosaic in Los Angeles and his books include Not Like Me: A Field Guide to a Influencing a Diverse World and A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be. Eric coaches church planters and campus pastors, teaches on Post Christian Ministry, and leads a cohort for a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary where he earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership.