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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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