Trigger warning: The following post briefly mentions rape.
I felt closer to losing my faith than I ever had in my entire life.
Which may have seemed odd, to an outsider. I was attending church regularly. I even led one of the church’s ministry departments. No tragedy had recently happened. Nothing was obviously wrong.
It was just that God wasn’t answering my prayers.
And it wasn’t like I was praying for riches or fame. My prayer wasn’t selfish or silly. In fact, I knew without a doubt that God should answer my prayer with a hearty “yes”.
I was praying for victory over sin. And I just wasn’t getting it. It was like I was being ignored.
If the God who claimed to love me, who said He’d come to die on the cross specifically to save me from sin, wouldn’t help me overcome sin, then how could I believe in Him? How could He be real?
And if He was real, why was He doing this to me?
Thousands of years ago, God did the same thing to someone else.
The Israelites were suiting up for battle. Specifically, they were suiting up for a civil war.
Last chapter, a group of Benjamite men living in Gibeah had gang raped a young woman to death. Her (not so innocent, but still horrified) husband had dramatically cut her body into pieces and sent it to all the tribes of Israel, to shock them with the grisly violence committed by their own brothers in God. It worked, and all of the other tribes of Israel mustered thousands of soldiers to fight the Benjamites for their crimes.
The Israelites were on the right side. They were fighting for justice. They were fighting against evil, against sin! When they asked God for strength and for victory, they knew without a doubt that He would answer them with a hearty “yes!”.
They lost 22,000 men in the first round of battle.
Wounded, confused, and weeping; the non-Benjamite Israelites came back to God again. They prayed for a long time. They prayed with tears. They prayed with their whole hearts. Then they stepped out in faith a second time.
This time 18,000 men were killed in battle.
What would you do? How would you react?
I know what I would do.
I would be furious. I would drop my weapons and throw a temper tantrum. I would accuse God of being a fraud, a sadist, even. I would threaten to stop fighting sin, and just let it win for the rest of my life, because if God didn’t care, how could I be bothered to care?
I would come close to losing my faith.
For a people as fickle, as whiny, as flaky as the Israelites, it is very surprising that they did not do what I would have done.
Instead, they came back to God a third time.
They offered burnt offerings.
They gathered their faith one more time.
“The Lord responded, ‘Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.'”verse 28
And they defeated the Benjamites, killing over 25,000 of their men.
“You must trust Me even when I seem to let you down.”
The Bible doesn’t say that faith is the substance of things you already have or the evidence of things you clearly see.
If it did, then maybe we would be justified in throwing tantrums when God didn’t answer our prayers, in letting go of our faith when God allowed us to suffer.
But we aren’t. Because the Bible tells us that faith is having confidence in God in the midst of our lack. Faith is sure of God even when He seems to be absent.
Faith is trusting in God’s character even when He seems to be acting outside of it.
Because it is tempting to say that God is sadistic, thirsty for our praise, unfair, unrighteous, or manipulative for letting the Israelites lose twice, for not instantly giving me easy victory over my sin, or for not doing what we ask or what we expect.
But it is faith to decide to keep believing that God is loving and powerful and wise.
It is faith to remind ourselves that God will only do what’s best for us, even if what’s best is painful.
It is faith to ask God for patience and for understanding as we wait on Him.
It is faith to hold on just a little bit longer.
Why does God let us suffer? I don’t know.
But I have faith that He knows, and better still, that He knows best.
What do you think? Why do you think God didn’t give the Israelites victory sooner?