Where Is God When Life Doesn't Go as Planned?
By Jan Banks
Have you ever wished God would speak to you audibly? Especially in decision-making, wouldn’t you like to hear the actual voice of God say, “Go do this” or “It is time to ______________”?
As far as we know, Moses first heard God’s voice from a burning bush (Exodus 3). After that life changing experience, God and Moses often carried on discussions, recorded throughout the Deuteronomy narrative. But in that first verbal encounter, Moses heard God say He would be present through the unknown future (Exodus 3:12). Later, when seeking some clarification about the great mission to which he had been called, Moses asked God to teach him His ways. God answered by saying “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
I do not recall thinking specifically about God’s presence in January 2005 when my husband Jerry died suddenly in an automobile accident. For the first several hours after the state troopers broke the news to us, all I could say was “What are we going to do?” I did not pray, I did not scream, I just felt stunned, hurt, wondering how we would get by without Jerry.
Then, three weeks after losing Jerry, my sweet mama also died. Although we had expected her to pass in the not-so-distant future, I was not ready for that phone call from my brother telling me she only had a few hours left to live. I rushed home from work (my first full day after losing Jerry), threw clothes in a bag, and caught myself thinking out loud, “Where is Jerry?” I needed Jerry, as I’d needed him all of our 37 and a half years together, to help me get through a horribly difficult time. But Jerry wasn’t there.
When I think about unexpected and unwanted changes, I look back to that January when, within three short weeks, I lost both husband and mama. Shortly after that, I spoke with a minister about my feelings and questions related to life without these two, and this friend helped me understand the difference between believing in Christ as Savior—trusting God while leaning on someone else—and completely trusting God alone with myself, my future, my everything. I had understood and taught about God’s presence in the Old Testament, His presence in Jesus as Immanuel, the manifestation of His presence through His Church, His presence as the Holy Spirit, and His eternal presence, but I was being drawn to a deeper understanding and more complete trust.
THE TRUE I AM IS ALWAYS PRESENT, ALWAYS STRONG, ALWAYS GUIDING, ALWAYS COMFORTING, ALWAYS, ALWAYS PRESENT WITH ME. GRADUALLY, MY HEART BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND THAT.
I already knew in my head, He would always be with me, and I would never be alone.
I began to spend more time simply reading my Bible, listening to His inaudible voice speaking through His written Word and the movement of His Spirit into my mind and heart. In the quiet hours, I began to discover new meanings to His promises, improving clarity about His instructions, and more abiding peace in His presence. My quiet times took on new meaning in time. No longer did I read His Word primarily to prepare for a lesson or a speaking engagement. I no longer performed the “duty” of Bible reading that had compelled me since my youth. At last, His Word began to live for me, to me, and within me. I think my faith before loss was real, but my faith and trust began to grow because of loss.
When Moses embarked upon a mission he did not choose and for which he doubted his abilities, he discovered the God he had heard about—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—was the eternal God who loved, provided for, and abided with His chosen ones. When I entered my unchosen life as a widow, the only parent of my adult children, the caregiver for in-laws, and the sole “breadwinner” of my home, I needed to rest in God’s presence. He manifested His presence through His people, His Word, and His Spirit, showing me the meaning of trustful rest.
Resting in His presence, I have been able to walk with confidence into an unknown future. I confess I’m not always so confident, and at times my trust wavers, but He does not change. Almost 12 years after losing Jerry and Mama, I have retired and recently moved from Oklahoma to Texas, where I am starting again, new adventures into the unknown. Without assurance that God is always with me and always will keep His promises, I do not think I could live in peace and joy today.
A few months after Jerry’s death, someone asked how long it was after that loss until I regained my joy. I can’t remember how I responded then, but this I know: God is with me and He fills me with joy in His presence…always (Psalm 16:11). Wherever He leads, I can go, knowing I will never be alone.
About the Writer: Retired missionary and educator, Dr. Janice Banks is a member of the board of Free Will Baptist International Missions. This article first appeared in Treasure devotional guide, available from wnac.org.