"What has God ever done for me?"
Have you ever heard this? Have you ever said it? This frustrated rhetorical question comes from a deep-seated pain in someone's heart. They've suffered loss, strife, sickness, poverty, crime. God is somewhere out there, untouchable, unreachable, and seemingly, uncaring.
Some folks hit the hard times and turn away from God, proving themselves to be "fair-weather Christians"; believers who only walk the walk when the walk is sunny with a chance of rainbows and butterflies.
Why does God allow us to suffer? It's a hard question. On the one hand, we can blame it on this fallen world and on sin and free will. Was it God that made the young kid rob the convenient store and shoot the owner? Or was that kid being really, really stupid? And yet, when we attend the store owner's funeral and see his daughter crying for her loss, we get indignant. Where was God when it all went down?
So whose fault was it; God's, or the stupid kid?
We know God can intervene. Why didn't He save the shop owner's life? The easiest answer is that it was that man's time to die. I am of the opinion that no one dies "early". We all die exactly on time. Another answer could be that God has a plan from the man's death. Perhaps if he didn't die, his daughter wouldn't go on to start a foundation to help inner-city kids so they WON'T be stupid and kill convenient store owners. And maybe the kids she could have helped would have gone on to kill other people in other random crimes if her father had lived.
But aside from the ripple effect, suffering serves another purpose. Our sin nature is one of pride and self-righteousness. If given free reign, we become arrogant jerks who thinks the world owes us. If we live a comfortable, wealthy life, with nothing bad happening to us and people bending over backwards for us, we gain a sense of entitlement. It can happen to the best of us. We've all judged others at one point or another, thinking we're better than them, or man, did that lady bathe in her perfume today? Perhaps we've crossed the street, avoiding the homeless guy with the sign begging for money. Or maybe we turn our noses up at the obnoxious teens yelling at each other across the clothing store. Where are their mothers? Don't they have any common courtesy?
If we don't catch ourselves, our pride can become an ugly monster. When the hard times come, we realize we cannot get through them alone. We need help. We have to swallow our pride and ask for that help. Suffering keeps us humble.
We may not understand, and we definitely don't have to like it, but suffering also tests our faith. Do we have what it takes as Christians to continue to walk with God through the valley of the shadow of death? Do we have the courage to say, "I don't know what you're doing, Lord, but You've got me in Your hands." When God tests our faith, it's not for His benefit, but for our own. He shows us what we're made of, and reveals to our own hearts how far we're willing to go for Him. He exposes our love for Him and tries it in the furnace, which only serves to make our love all the more steadfast. God never promised to keep us out of trials, and in fact, promised them to us as children of God.
But ultimately, God uses the trials of life to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. Christ said in Matthew 11:29 that He is "gentle and humble at heart". Hard times chip away at our self-righteous pride and shows us how to love the world like Jesus. If you're feet are already dirty, you're more likely not to care when someone else's feet are dirty. And you're likely to love them all the more because of it! When you're not filled with pride, you love. When you're not filled with self-righteousness, you think of others before yourself.
What has God ever done for you? He's kept you humble. He's revealed that your love for Him is genuine. He's conforming you into the image of His Son.
And He sent that Son into the world to live among us for 33 years before sending Him to die on a cross for your sins naked and alone. He rescued you from Hell and gave you eternal life. If that was all He did for you and me, it would be enough. If He didn't use the evil circumstances of our lives and use them for the good, it would be enough. If all God ever did was sacrifice His Son for us so that we would never taste the wrath of God, that we would never feel one burning tongue of flame in the fires of Hell, IT WOULD BE ENOUGH.
What has God ever done for you?
He died in your place so that you could LIVE. If you believe that's enough, you can face any hardship this world will throw at you and grow in grace and truth.