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How Can God Be Good, if He Allows Trials?

Gold Coins from everystockphoto by tao_zhynIs God Good?

Imagine that wicked people are spreading rumors about you.

Maybe it’s people at work saying you are dishonest, or moms at your daughter’s school who whisper that you abuse your children.

That’s the painful trial faced by the author of Psalm 119 —

The insolent smear me with lies … they have wronged me with falsehood (Psalm 119:69,78)

But he knows God is sovereign over everything.  Which means this trial is ultimately from God’s hand —

I know, O LORD, that … in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Psalm 119:75)

But even though God allowed him to experience this painful trial, he says God is good —

You have dealt well with your servant … you are good and do good (Psalm 119:65,68).

So how can God be good, if he allows us to experience painful trials?

The author gives two reasons —

God Uses Trials to Bring Us Back to His Word

That’s what the author had experienced —

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

Before these insolent men smeared him with lies, he had turned from God’s Word.

We don’t know the details.  Maybe he was jealous of his neighbor, or had started loving money.

But then God allowed this affliction, and insolent men started slandering him.  This woke him up to his sin, so he repented, turned back to the Word, and once again experienced the joys of walking with God.

That’s why this trial was part of God’s goodness, because it brought him back to communion with God in the Word.

A Tragic Loss

We can see an illustration of this in the life of William Carey, who was a missionary to India in the early 1800’s.

He was gifted in languages, and had spent years producing translations of the Bible into different languages, compiling a dictionary of the most common languages, and writing grammars for the Sikh and Telugu languages.

But one night when Carey was out of town, a fire broke out which destroyed the only copies of this work.

Here’s what he said about this —

In one short evening the labours of years are consumed.  How unsearchable are the ways of God! 

I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. 

The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him. (Mary Drewery, William Carey: A Biography, p.154)

This does not mean every trial shows we have turned from God’s Word.

But sometimes this is God’s reason for trials, and when it is, God will make that clear to us.

And when it is, this does not mean God is punishing us, because all the punishment believers deserve was already poured upon Christ (Romans 8:1).

So sometimes God brings us trials in order to bring us back to God’s Word.  This is a great goodness, because it’s through the Word that we have fellowship with the Living God, and nothing is more satisfying than him.

But the author mentions a second reason —

God Uses Trials to Teach Us More of His Word

That’s what he says in v.71 —

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

Sometimes God brings afflictions to BRING US BACK to God’s Word; other times God brings afflictions to TEACH US MORE of God’s Word

So how do trials teach us more of God’s Word?

Here’s how it works.  Trials are hard.  They are painful.  And so they drive us to the Word with more neediness, desperation, and hunger.

And when our hearts are needy, desperate, and hungry, they can receive God’s Word more deeply.

So we won’t just read about God’s love, faithfulness, and glory.  We will see and feel the truth of God’s love, faithfulness, and glory. 

Martin Luther

That’s what Martin Luther experienced.  John Piper says Luther had three rules for Bible study: prayer, meditation, and tribulation.  And Luther said the touchstone of all these was tribulation.

Here’s how Luther describes it —

As soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real theologian of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. 

For I myself … owe my [Catholic opponents] many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached.  (quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, pp.103f).

Through trials Luther learned God’s Word more deeply than he would have learned it without trials.

The Value of the Word

So there are at least two reasons why God allows afflictions to come to us.  He does this to BRING US BACK to God’s Word, and to TEACH US MORE of God’s Word.

But this is only good news if we see the value of God’s Word, which is how the author of Psalm 119 concludes this section —

The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Psalm 119:72)

Really?  THOUSANDS of gold and silver pieces?


Because it’s through God’s Word that we have the closest and sweetest fellowship with God.

And fellowship with God, through Jesus Christ, is infinitely more satisfying than anything else.

Which is why, when God uses afflictions to bring us back to God’s Word, and teach us more of God’s Word — he is good.

Questions?  Comments?

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(Picture is from by tao_zhyn.)

Category: Problems or Trials


5 Responses

  1. QingXiao Cui says:

    God, in His grace and love, has led me here to your blog, which has really helped my faith. It’s gone through, and is in the process of coming out of, a period of weakness which seemed to come out of nowhere in which my perfect and loving Creator showed me His strength and taught me to seek Him more earnestly. Just because humans don’t understand something with their limited humanness and fleshly minds, doesn’t mean it isn’t true- that’s a problem with us, not God. Thank You, Lord! And thank you for these posts- very helpful. I will continue praying that God uses the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with conviction.

  2. Roman says:

    Well done, Steve, and I especially liked your piece entitled “Is the trial from Satan or God?”
    Now, what do you think about how Jesus taught to pray “lead us not into temptation!”? That not only implies that God does lead us into temptation, (which fits with what you’ve shown from scriptures) but it also suggests we ask God not to fo what is good for us, in His wisdom, to go through.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Roman,

      Good question. I think you are right.

      It is appropriate for us to ask God to keep us from temptations and trials.

      At the same time, we know there will be times when God will choose not to answer those prayers, because he is going to bring us great good through the temptations or trials.

      May the lord richly bless you,

      Steve Fuller

  3. nan says:

    Thank you for the great message!
    So we won’t just read about God’s love, faithfulness, and glory. We will see and feel the truth of God’s love, faithfulness, and glory.
    My only thought to this is “feel” or “feelings”are fickle. In my opinion “feelings” are bad tools.
    I just felt like it…
    Thank you again for challenging your readers!

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