Don’t Judge Me For My Troubles

A woman looking out window judge not
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Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.

Judge Not

Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.

I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.

This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.

Don’t Assume

It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?

Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.

The truth is, we do not always reap what we sow.

Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.

We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).

You reap what you sow is biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.

Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).

No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.

Don’t Judge That Way

None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.

Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.

In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.

No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.

The Rule, Not The Exception

We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.

In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.

In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.

But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.

My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.

Both By Faith

Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.

32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”

Both Were Commended

By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.

Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.

Our friends may not understand. They may still judge. Our trials might be too traumatic for others to share. I get that too.

But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.

Swords And More Swords

God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.

Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.

In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.

First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.

The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.

John Piper,Faith to be Strong and Faith to be Weak

Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.

Keep on.

Why We Judge This Way

I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.

Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.

I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.

Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.

In shards and smithereens, it shatters.

Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions

A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.

But you’ll never guess what Jan said.

She said thanks.

When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy. Thanks.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. For we wouldn’t think God would send his beloved to the wilderness to be tested or let his closest friends suffer persecution and martyr’s deaths. We wouldn’t think.

My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”

Your Gift to the World

Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.

“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’

Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”

“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?

So judge not.

When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.

Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.

“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.

—Oswald Chambers, Baffled To Fight Better

Holding Freedom Up

Mt. Rushmore with family standing in front, President Washington

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

Freedom keeping is fatiguing. I fear we won’t long reap her blessings because we weary. We weary of holding freedom up. We trade the spangled banner and wave a paler flag. The strain is tiring so we walk away and throw the towel and forfeit freedom’s blessings. 

 
I’m no expert on our nation’s founding fathers. But the little I know assures me of this: It was a ton of work to get this country off the ground. Had it not been for the fathers’ strength to support the burden, we’d not be singing, O Say Can You See? but God Bless The Queen.
 

And as goes the individual, so goes the family. As goes the family, so goes the nation. Our nation cannot be stronger, cannot be better than its constituent parts. On this 242nd anniversary of our Independence Day, I’m fixed on two big ways our founding fathers were stronger than so many of their native sons.

Our fathers bore two immensely fatiguing weights of freedom that today we can scarcely bear.

 

Weight #1: Virtuous To The Core

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

It’s wearisome to be virtuous. The Spirit’s fruit is free, but it takes great effort to pull the weeds.

Virtue is effortful. The strongest battles I face are the ones I fight inside my soul. The ones I fight between submission and self, between forgiveness and grudge, between self-control or glut. Victory with those weeds makes me strong.

Benjamin Franklin nailed the need for personal virtue when he said, It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as a certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous. 

Patrick Henry, knew it too. Bad men cannot make good citizens, he said. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.


Liberty cannot exist without virtue

Our founders well knew this.

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” 

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.” 

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” 

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. We will reap, we do reap, fruit of our founding fathers’ virtue. We reap the fruit of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude. Of Jefferson’s high sense of justice and Adams’ unflagging perseverance. 

They fought the fatiguing battles for personal virtue that raged within their souls. And because they won their soul’s battles, our nation grew. Their virtue supported freedom’s fruit. 

Do we bear such fruit? Or has it fallen from the vine?

Weight #2: Civil When In Conflict

Let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 5:25-26

Beyond the daily weight of striving to be men of virtue, they bore this other massive weight. One doesn’t need to read too broadly on the fathers to see a lot of conflict. Drafting and ratifying documents like the Declaration and the Constitution required the immense strength of civility.

The term isn’t used much anymore, and a newer term, tolerance has muddied the waters. Civility, writes Gregory Koukl,

[C]an be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

With a few notable exceptions, while the fathers didn’t all see eye to eye on every idea, they refused to walk away. Or at least to be gone for very long.

Our fathers stayed engaged when ideas clashed. They believed better was in their grasp and they were willing to work for it. They bore that heavy weight of disagreement with ideas while showing respect for persons.

And that, probably more than virtue, is a weight we don’t much care to bear. We crumble under the slightest weight of disagreement. Our “right” to feel comfortable trumps the right to free expression.

Don’t Disengage

When our ideas conflict with another’s we often disengage. We wander off and find Facebook groups for folks who think like us. We say, You have your ideas and I have mine and never the twain shall meet and dialogue’s done right there. And we are the weaker for it.

Staying civil in disagreement is taxing. Representing oneself lovingly and well with those who oppose our ideas is exhausting. Staying engaged when you’re misunderstood is soul-wearying. Civility is a heavy weight. It requires persevering and persisting and caring. For those with whom we disagree.

Thomas Jefferson was John Adams’ greatest political rival. And 50 year-long friends. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. It waned when the two faced off in the 1800 presidential race. In a truly amazing grace story, their friendship was rekindled with help from their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush suggested Jefferson write Adams and he did and Adams wrote back and their friendship endured to the day they both died in 1826.

Bearing Freedom’s Weight

I’m no expert. But I know that what makes makes muscles strong is bearing lots of weight. And I know that what makes a marriage or friendship or a church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time. What makes us great is working side by side, staying engaged, in relationship, when we don’t see eye to eye. Pressing on and plowing through and virtuously, civilly moving right along.

I do this feebly and sluggishly and sometimes when I disagree, I press too hard or disengage too long. But this is where I want to be. It’s where Jefferson and Adams were.

Fifteen years after Dr. Rush helped the two reconcile, Jefferson and Adams’ friendship ended.

[O]n July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred — perhaps appropriately — on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’ family later recalled that his last spoken words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

The written words of Jefferson and Adams, however, survive to this day, preserving the rich legacy of their friendship, thoughts, and ideas. In their later years, Jefferson responded to a reflective question from Adams: “You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea. I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.”

Our founders bore these two weights: the weight of civility when big, founding-of-a-nation ideas were in conflict and the weight of virtuous living.

Pressing On Imperfectly

They did not do either perfectly. There were defeats along the way. Personal virtue flagged. For all his pursuing frugality and virtue, Jefferson’s Monticello was sold for debt upon his passing. Hamilton never resolved his differences with Burr and Jefferson grew so frustrated by the sometime lack of civility that he did resign from Washington’s cabinet. 

General Washington suffered a few defeats along the way, like the one at Brandywine Creek. But the war would still be won. The day after Washington’s defeat by the British, under General Howe at Brandywine, Thomas Paine wrote these timeless words. The first line of his speech began this post. Here is how Paine ended his “short address to [British] General Howe,”

You, sir, are only lingering out the period that shall bring with it your defeat. You have yet scarce began upon the war, and the further you enter, the faster will your troubles thicken. What you now enjoy is only a respite from ruin; an invitation to destruction; something that will lead on to our deliverance at your expense. We know the cause which we are engaged in, and though a passionate fondness for it may make us grieve at every injury which threatens it, yet, when the moment of concern is over, the determination to duty returns.

So we are not moved by the gloomy smile of a worthless king, but by the ardent glow of generous patriotism. We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. In such a case we are sure that we are right; and we leave to you the despairing reflection of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.  

And so we say to our strongest foe, who threatens daily to undo us- who tempts us to lapse in virtue and be uncivil in conflict-we say to him,

We know the cause which we are engaged in. We are and by right ought to be free. We fight not to enslave, but so that we may live as Christ made us to be. We live with these weights and weary ourselves to make room for honest men to live. We now declare ourselves free. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13