On September 12, 2020, my wife Barbara died of complications from COVID-19. After spending the hours after her death talking with doctors, nurses, friends, and family, I drove to the hotel where I had a reservation. The young clerk behind the counter couldn’t find my reservation on her first or second try, but finally, with the help of her manager, she found it and said to me with a smile, “I’m sorry, this is my first day.” Instead of expressing frustration with this first-day-on-the-job clerk, from the depths of my weariness I, too, managed a smile. “That’s okay,” I said. “Everyone has a first day on the job.”
As soon as I said that, I sensed God speak these words into my heart: “Very good, son. Your pain is not her problem.” I’ve since realized that when the Lord spoke to my heart in that hotel lobby after the death of my wife, He complimented my behavior, but He did not apologize for my pain.
I believe there are many Christians sitting in churches across our nation waiting for God to apologize for their suffering, and it’s driving a wedge between them and their Savior. They’re expecting God to make it up to them, to pay them back for all their misfortune, for all the pain, for all the wrongs. But that is not who God is, and He’s been reminding me of this as I’ve been working on a series of sermons called, “Not Forgotten.”
Sometimes people can feel like God has abandoned them, taken them out of the game, forgotten their name or just doesn’t know or care about the difficulty they are encountering. This can happen to the best people I know, and at Journey Church we will be looking at Job, Joseph, Hagar and the Apostles in order to remind us that God knows our name, sees our predicament, hears us our cry, remembers where we are and has not forgotten us. In fact, Jesus said He is preparing a place for us now and plans to come back, pick us up, and take us home to meet the Father. We are not forgotten.
However, as I was working on this week’s sermon about Joseph, I came to a crashing halt over one particular scene. This is the one where Potiphar throws Joseph into prison on trumped up charges by Mrs. Potiphar who, after Joseph refused her advances, accuses him of trying to rape her. What startled me was the idea that God didn’t apologize to Joseph for letting him spend two years in prison after being falsely accused of rape. Then I remembered God never apologized to Job for his troubles, either. He didn’t apologize to Ezekiel after his wife died, to Hosea for asking him to marry a prostitute, or to Hagar for her harsh treatment by Abraham and Sarah. God doesn’t even offer an apology to Daniel and his friends after they became eunuchs and slaves in Babylon (Isa.39:5-6).
Yes, Potiphar’s wife wrongfully accused Joseph of attempted rape, and he spends the next two years in prison (Gen. 41:1). However, where Joseph lands is exactly where God wanted him so He could use Joseph to save two nations from starvation. What appears to be a disaster is God’s delay of Joseph’s dreams so He could develop his character in order to fulfill his destiny. Why should God apologize for that?
In a lonely hotel lobby three hours after my wife’s passing, God didn’t say to me, “My son, I’m sorry you’re hurt.” He didn’t say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way,” or “I’m sorry I brought my daughter Barbara home and you don’t have her anymore.” Furthermore, in the midst of my pain, I never asked God why Barbara died. Of course, I knew she would die one day, as we all do, therefore my pain is not unique. I’m not the first man to lose his wife, so I never asked God, “Why?” But what I did learn, as do all those who suffer and continue to offer God a sacrifice of praise, is a deeper understanding of Who God is, because His purpose is restore our life back into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). Like Jesus, we learn obedience through our suffering (Heb. 5:8) so God can use us for His glory. Why should God apologize for that?
If your life is troubled today and you’ve suffered loss (think of Job, Daniel and Ezekiel), or experienced the injustice of false accusations (think of Joseph, Paul and Jesus), or even if you’re in the midst of righteous persecution for doing what you were asked to do (think of Hagar and Hosea), I encourage you to stop blaming God, and certainly abandon the idea that He owes you an apology.
Expecting an apology from God leads us down two unhealthy and unholy roads. First, it means we’ve concluded God doesn’t know what He is doing, so it brings an element of distrust into our relationship with our Savior. Second, expecting an apology from God means we believe something happened in our life for which God needs our forgiveness, which, if left unchecked, will develop in us a root of bitterness (Heb. 12:51) in our relationship with the Eternal God (Ps. 48:14).
If you’re breathing air you have, you are, or you will suffer (John 16:33). However, God reminds us we may be sowing with tears today but we will reap with shouts of joy (Ps. 126:5). He said He will take away our clothes of mourning and replace them with clothes of joy (Ps. 30:11), and for His children who mourn He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, “a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isa. 61:3a). For all we’ve been through, God says we will eventually grow into great oak trees that He has planted for His own glory (Isa. 61:3b).
Why would God apologize for that?
If you have recently lost a spouse, a parent, or a child, or know someone who has, I encourage you to read my book, Better with Every Breath. Written in the first sixty days after I lost Barbara, it shows you how I chose gratitude as my response to the inevitable in life: losing a loved one. I chose to thank God for the time we had and not be angry for the time we did not.