It Wasn’t Supposed To Be This Way

They hadn’t been to church for a while so I gave the husband a call.

“Hey Chuck, (not his name) how are you doing? Haven’t seen you guys for a while. Is everything okay?”

After a couple uncomfortable seconds, Chuck said, “we probably won’t be coming back to church.”

“Are you serious? Really? Why? Have I done something to offend you?”

“No. You see, Mark, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We did everything we were supposed to do. We taught our children the Bible. We took them to church. We told them about Jesus. We prayed for them. And then my son winds up getting a girl pregnant and having to get married. It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

I felt really sad for Chuck and his family. And I felt really sad that Chuck had the expectations of God he did and that he’d obeyed God for the reasons he did.

God doesn’t promise us trial-free lives if we obey him.

God doesn’t promise that if we keep his commands he’ll reward us with cruises and country club memberships. Tim Keller, in Prodigal God, talks about how the prodigal son’s elder brother had expectations of his father which tripped him up:

We see that the elder brother “became angry.” All of his words are dripping with resentment. The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe that if they live a good life they should get a good life, that God owes them a smooth road if they try very hard to live up to standards.

Not only does God not owe us easy lives, but he promises we’ll suffer:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:19

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials… 1 Peter 1:6

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.  James 1:2

We should not be amazed that suffer; we should be amazed we don’t suffer more than we do.

It helps me to remember that not only do I deserve any thing bad that happens to me, I deserve far worse – I deserve to burn in hell for eternity for my sins. Of course I’d never tell anyone in their sadness or suffering you deserve to be in hell so buck up, but it helps me keep things in perspective for myself when I’m tempted to complain.

So when is it appropriate to say “It wasn’t supposed to be this way?” Whenever something good happens to us! Whenever we are blessed! It wasn’t supposed to be this way – I sinned and rebelled against God – yet look how he has blessed me!

So don’t obey God thinking he’ll owe you, for God owes no one a thing. Serve him out of gratitude for all he’s done for you and because you love him. Serve him for his glory.

No, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. And aren’t you glad?

  • http://ratiochristi.ratiochristi.net/iup Robert Leonardo

    I will be the first…something that I don't see too much…I remember when I was in the Navy and traveling around, landing in different churches. Some seemed more focused on my natural flesh desires. I remember how "good" that felt. Anything was possible in God, so it was just a matter of praying about it, finding the right scripture verses, and living them out, and I would get those blessings….

    Wrong. I think I would reckon Gods New Testament life more like football camp. It is often difficult, uncomfortable, seemingly ceaseless difficulties, and at times people don't believe in your mission. In the end though, you are believing to be part of the team.

    Not to say, being a Christian is a torture chamber…lol. However, if you think your life gets easier with material and carnal pleasures, then indeed, your statement just might be, "It's not supposed to be this way"

    Nice to hear truth and clarity.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Thanks Bob! Good comment: "Anything was possible in God, so it was just a matter of praying about it, finding the right scripture verses, and living them out, and I would get those blessings…." It's sad that so much teaching is like this in the church. Thanks for adding your comments!

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for your very insightful post. I would disagree with only one point. You said " It helps me to remember that not only do I deserve any thing bad that happens to me, I deserve far worse ." I would disagree with this statement. I think there are many circumstances in which we do not deserve the bad things that happen to us. For example circumstances in which children are physically or sexually abused. Nobody deserves to be treated that way nor do the deserve worse.

    • Mark Altrogge

      You are absolutely right, Rebecca. Nobody "deserves" to be abused, especially children. If someone abuses me, in one sense I don't deserve it – no one does. But in another sense, I do, because of my sins. I deserve anything that happens to me. But I see your point and agree with it – no one "deserves" to be sexually abused. Thank you for adding your insightful comments!

  • Marge

    Mark, I agree that obedience to God is no guarantee of a rosy life and doing all the "right" religious things with the expectation of a certain outcome indicates a misunderstanding of grace. But, you said, "It helps me to remember that not only do I deserve any thing bad that happens to me, I deserve far worse." So, following that line of reasoning, a person shot and killed by a lunatic in a movie theatre, a child raped by a trusted adult, a wife deserted by her husband for another woman all deserve to have that happen to them? It's one thing to say that, yes, bad things will happen to us in this life, but do you mean to imply that God says we somehow deserve those things? Who could love or want to obey a God like that? The reason we should not be amazed that we suffer is that we live in a broken and fallen world where people make bad choices that hurt themselves and hurt others. I don't think we should automatically think all of our suffering is because of what we have done. I believe that God loves us and when bad things happen to us, He is grieving with us, not standing over us saying, "Well, you got what you deserved." Even a loving human parent doesn't treat his child that way. I hope I'm misinterpreting what you're saying, but that's how it comes across to me.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hi Marge, Thanks for adding your thoughts. They are similar to those of Rebecca, and I agree with you – I didn't intend them to be interpreted that every wicked act that people inflict on others are because they deserve them. Apparently I didn't convey what I intended very well. I definitely believe that our God is full of compassion and mercy and would never say to someone suffering, "See you got what you deserved." I just meant that for myself, in an ultimate sense, my sins deserve eternal punishment in hell – that's what I deserve. I never get what I deserve, even when suffering. But when I do suffer, I shouldn't grumble and complain and say, "I don't deserve this" as if by my goodness I've merited a suffering free life. At any rate, thank you for your comments and helping me clarify what I meant. I appreciate you taking the time to add your thoughts!

      • Eli

        Mark-Thank you for this clarifying paragraph! Very helpful. And thank you for your post, and many other posts that have been so very helpful to me and many others. Grateful for you, Mark!

  • Kim

    Grateful for this biblical approach to human suffering, Mark! Thank you for the reminder to trust a very big God in the midst of the hardest of circumstances. In a culture and society where, what we are constantly taught what we do and do not deserve should trump what the Creator and Owner of it all (Psalm 24:1) says about us as humans (Rom. 3), it is good, once again, to be reminded that God rules in human suffering and trial for the believer’s good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-29). As Job said in Job 1:21, **He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”** The Lord’s name is continually blessed even in human tragedy! Thanks for this much needed biblical reminder! Every evil deed and heinous crime should constantly remind us of just how much we are in need of a Savior and for believers, to look up in hope to a God Who rules all things.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Wonderful comments, Kim. Thank you for adding them in, and for adding the Scripture references!

  • Elaine

    Thanks for the post, Mark; I appreciate the encouragment.

    Sigh….sin has certainly corrupted this world and from our persprective, seemingly innocent people suffer incredible hurts and losses, from the youngest ones to the oldest ones, and that grieves our hearts and stirs up a cry for justice. But each and every one of us (yes, even those sweet little ones in the newborn nursery) stand guilty before a holy and righteous God and sinners deserve death.

    Sin is hard…I remember railing against God for allowing good people to suffer- allowing a child to have cancer, allowing a woman to be raped, seeing yet another child die because his mom's boyfriend couldn't bear listening to his crying for one more minute…..the list of atrocities goes on and on. And God seemed far away and indifferent to the suffering I saw around me every day. I know now that this is a lie, straight from the pit.

    But one day, every wrong will be righted; every hurt will be healed. Like the song says of Christ return, "Every knee will bow, sin will have no trace, In the glory of His amazing grace, there will come a day." Yes, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

    • Kim

      Yes, Elaine! Lord Jesus, come quickly! Sighing with you! :) :)

    • Mark Altrogge

      Amen, Elaine – "one day, every wrong will be righted; every hurt will be healed" – what a glorious day to look forward to! Thanks for adding your insightful comments!

  • Karen

    As the mother of a pregnant teenage daughter, I can totally understand how "Chuck" feels…sometimes I grieve the fact that I am going to OB/GYN appointments and counseling appointments rather than helping her plan her dorm room and class schedule. But then I am reminded that my plans for my life and my daughter's are not necessarily God's. This experience is just another means of sanctification and guess what…refining is not always fun…in fact it rarely is. I cannot condemn her or be angry with God…I am a sinner and He has given me so much better than I deserve. I pray that "Chuck" and his family will go back to church and that your church will be an instrument of grace in this family's life. Our church has amazed us with their love, encouragement and acceptance. Our daughter is experiencing the body of Christ exhibiting grace, forgiveness and comfort. I am not saying that I am glad that this pregnancy happened…she sinned, the consequences have been hard. But I will always be grateful for the humbling lessons in pride and forgiveness and futility of reliance on my own righteousness. And I thank God for a body of believers who don't "shoot their wounded" but recognize their own brokenness and love and minister to their little sister. "It wasn't supposed to be this way"…at least in my mind…but it is and I am looking forward to the beauty God will bring from the ashes of my daughter's sin and my pride and self righteousness. Only God can do this…He is so good!

    • Mark Altrogge

      Karen, what wonderful, wise, grace-filled comments! One of the challenges of writing a blog is that you don’t always cover every single aspect of subject. obviously, when someone goes through something like that, I would never give them any kind of lecture, assume they did something wrong, et cetera. what they need is definitely compassion, sympathy, acceptance, and love. I was simply trying to address the attitude that we can fall into that if we obey God he owes us. thanks for adding your comments! I really appreciate them.

  • emsolideogloria

    With Karen, I read this and thought that, yes, you are right that "Chuck's" views of Christianity have probably been distorted. Yet he, and others with him, who have placed hope in Christianity for an ideal parenting outcome, usually don't need a lecture on theology (there may be a time to discuss that later). They usually need for us to grieve with them and help them as they adjust to a new normal.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hi em, totally agree. I would not give someone a lecture but express compassion and sympathy. I probably should have included this in the post – thank you for adding your comments!

  • Judi

    I wonder where "Chuck" is in his relationship with God. The situation he is going through causes the same emotions that one faces when someone close to them dies. Chuck need support and love as he goes through them. I speak as the mother of a young adult who was brought up to know God through Bible reading, prayer, church etc it has broken my heart that she has turned around and said she no longer wants to believe in God, or believ that the Bible is true. She has gone out, like the prodigal son, and is living a rebellious life. She tells me that God did mean something to her previously, and that her belief was real.
    I did not expect this curve that life threw me…it's the worst thing that can happen to a parent, worse than pregnancy or a disabling accident because it's touching the soul of the child, not the body. Unlike "Chuck" I cling to God, because I have nothing else to hold onto. I know that God has a plan and purpose for each of us when we love Him, and I trust Him with my daughter's life/soul. After all He loves her more than I do, since He died for her sins. I look to Him to take her on her life's journey and I pray earnestly that He will bring her back to Himself. In the mean time I try to always respond to her with love, as God does with me.

    • Mark Altrogge

      Hi Judi, I'm so sad to hear about your daughter – I agree, there's nothing more heartbreaking for a parent than when their child doesn't follow the Lord. And I totally agree – the emotion feels like a death. I also totally agree that folks need support and love as they go through this situation. Thank you for all your comments – they are faith-filled and so God-honoring. And the way you are loving your daughter is wonderful.

      In my post I was trying to address the belief some have that if we do all the right things, God "owes" us a blessing. I wasn't so much trying to address how to respond to someone in that situation – but I really appreciate you and the others who brought it up.

  • Judi

    I wonder where "Chuck" is in his relationship with God. The situation he is going through causes the same emotions that one faces when someone close to them dies. Chuck need support and love as he goes through them. I speak as the mother of a young adult who was brought up to know God through Bible reading, prayer, church etc it has broken my heart that she has turned around and said she no longer wants to believe in God, or believ that the Bible is true. She has gone out, like the prodigal son, and is living a rebellious life. She tells me that God did mean something to her previously, and that her belief was real.

  • Pingback: When things don’t turn out the way you think « Strengthened by Grace