A Flood of Troubles

“Troubles have come upon me like a flood.” One of those quotes that stuck in my brain, though I can’t remember or trace where it came from. (If you know, feel free to share the source.)

Although I haven’t found the exact line in any Bible translation, the concept is certainly Biblical. “Terrors overtake him like a flood” (Job 27:20a, NIV 1984). “All day long [terrors] surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me” (Ps. 88: 17). “I [God] will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water” (Hos. 5:10). We might like to think that such floods of trouble are reserved for the wicked. They aren’t. Consider Job: news of four catastrophes in rapid succession; barely over the shock of that when he was struck with a debilitating illness; and surrounded by people who accused him of causing his own problems. Consider St. Paul: beaten physically a dozen times; jailed on trumped-up charges more than once; dealing with an excess of church members who behaved like spoiled teenagers; seeing one trip after another interrupted by bad weather, bandits, and shipwrecks; frequently feeling the whole world was against him; and tormented by a “thorn in the flesh” (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28; 12:7-10). 

Our troubles don’t have to be on the level of Job’s to drive us to the point of screaming, “God, why are You doing this to me?!!”–they only have to attack at the same one-on-top-of-the-other speed. “Internet service shutdowns; notifications of impending audits; stomach viruses; tardy busses–every day something throws a monkey wrench into my schedule. Everyone told me that if I focused on doing God’s work, He would make sure that work got done. Am I doing something wrong, or did He just single me out to suffer?”  

“We replaced the washing machine and the car’s engine gave up the ghost. We got another car and the refrigerator died. How can God command us to give ten percent and then let our budget get hit with all that?”

“My sister fell and broke her collarbone. It was almost healed when she fell again and broke her leg. The cast was barely off when she took another spill and broke two bones in her wrist. Is God playing a sadistic game with us?”

“First my husband’s business went bankrupt; then he had a nervous breakdown; then my mother dropped dead with no warning; then a fire destroyed half our house; then our son was diagnosed with leukemia; then my father suffered a fatal heart attack. If God is going to take away everything I care about, can’t He at least get it all over with at one blow?”

Can’t He at least get it all over with at once? Struggling for a couple of weeks is one thing. Struggling for years is something else. The worst part is that when you can’t see the end point, it’s so easy to lose hope that the end point even exists. We chuckle when we hear about hikers who shivered on foggy ledges all night and in the morning realized they had stopped within a hundred yards of their goal; but is it fair to blame them for not knowing? How many of us have figuratively sat down and refused to move for fear of another blow, telling God we’re fed up with unpleasant surprises and He owes us a view of the end after all we’ve put up with?

I don’t pretend to know why He so frequently denies us such encouragement. It has little to do with our spiritual strength–if anything, spiritual giants tend to receive the least explanation. Nor is there any formula for calculating who gets how much when. Job’s problems, severe as they were, likely lasted no more than a year or two. Jeremiah, on the other hand, gave up what could have been the comfortable life of a priest and faithfully followed God’s instructions, day after day, for decades–and all those years, he got little back except mockery and abuse. He may well have died feeling he had accomplished nothing significant, never suspecting how the writings he left would bless generations of believers for centuries to come.

When all we can see is one thing after another going wrong with no end in sight, the only right decision is also the last one in the world we want to make: to accept that God has reasons for allowing our lives to be flooded with trouble and that somehow, we and His work will be better off for it if He doesn’t tell us the “whys” and “how longs” right now. Of all things that make our lives miserable, we hate uncertainty the most. And can influence it the least.

What we can do is focus less on what we don’t like and more on what is certain: that God loves us and is working all things out for good; that whatever happens in this life, He will bring us to a better life that never ends; and that He is always with us, whether we sense His presence or not.

It’s not so hard navigating a flood when you trust your boat’s Captain.

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