Do we trust the driver or do we bail?
Driving the Ohio turnpike in a winter storm, at night, is…shall we say…adventuresome. Snow completely covering the road and blowing everywhere, drivers having to guess where the lanes are, most but not all of us struggling to maintain a safe speed without spinning out or getting rear-ended. It’s a whiteout, white-knuckled experience…and that’s just for the driver. It can be even more frightening for the helpless passengers who can only watch and worry.
Such it was for my husband and I and two of our children as we traveled home from a visit to our son and his family a number of years ago…a normally four hour trip that took seven hours. The experience was so harrowing for our daughter that at one of our stops to clean ice and slush off the car, she refused to go any further with us. Even though we still had miles and miles to go, she preferred taking her chances alone at that unfamiliar but unmoving rest stop, not knowing how she’d get home, to continuing on a treacherous journey with her father and I.
We, of course, would not leave without her and finally convinced her to get back in the car, and did make it home safely. But if she had stubbornly continued to refuse to stay with us, and we had left her there, what she had thought was the prudent choice might actually have cost her her life. There are other dangers on the turnpike for an attractive young woman besides vehicular ones.
The blizzards of life
Sometimes life is like that. Blinding storms and treacherous roads seem to define our existence and we hate it. Our circumstances are difficult, perilously unstable, or even painful, leaving us questioning whether we can trust the one behind the wheel. Is God in control? Does he care about keeping me safe? Is he able to get me home where I’m comfortable and content? Does he even exist?
When life gets hard it seems to me we have a choice to make, and there are only two options: turn towards God or turn away from him. Get back in the car or abandon it. Perhaps, at least initially, there’s a third option and that is to dig in wherever we’re at and struggle to control our lives on our own. But when the road gets slipperier and we start to spin we can’t stay where we are. Our fear, distress, and helplessness in the face of ominous uncertainty fling us either nearer to God for help and assurance or away from him in disbelief, disgust, and despair.
What determines which direction we fly? I believe trials are often a test of our faith and that, testing or not, faith is the factor that sets our trajectory. If it’s genuine, saving faith we are likely to move towards God in our distress, even if our difficulties have provoked some doubts. We’re concerned…we’re questioning…we’re uncertain…but we’re staying in the car and seeking reassurance from the driver that everything will be alright. And ultimately trusting that he will get us safely home.
But if our faith is superficial, a severe trial will reveal that. When our distress and desperation drive us to seek help and answers and our thoughts turn to God, we are suddenly forced to consider what we’ve professed and ask ourselves if we really believe it. That’s when the choice comes in: are we going to turn towards God and seek him like we never did before, or reject and turn away from him because we were really only assenting to his existence as a supernatural something or other whose job was to make our lives happy.
Trials are tough love
It’s easy to “believe” in God when the weather is sunny and the roads are dry and you’re traveling along with the top down and the wind in your hair and life is good. But when you find yourself suddenly going from soft, summer winds to a terrifyingly fierce winter blizzard, you discover if God is really the transcendental object of your faith or rather your personally fabricated supernatural sugar daddy. And if one’s faith is essentially fake, is it not an act of love and mercy for God to allow or even cause suffering if that’s what it takes to wake a person up from the slumber of self-sufficiency so that they might truly believe and trust in him and be saved?
We all would love for life to be easy, but if we never experience trials and suffering we would also never feel a need for God and seek him. Trials mold and refine the believer, but they compel the unbeliever to make a decisive choice with eternal consequences. Trials are tough love from one who would rather we suffer for a season in this life rather than eternally in the next.