Did you grow up hearing fairy tales read to you? Or did you play pretend games imagining you were a hero or heroine? Did you remember wondering if the invisible, mysterious God you heard about in church was just another myth—or was actually real?
I loved fairy tales and make-believe stories as a child. There were hints of truth in all of them, and I especially loved the “happily ever after” endings because that is what I longed for one day—a safe, secure, predictable world.
But somehow those stories became woven into the concepts I learned about God in church. I developed, years later, what I began to call “fairy-tale theology.” From those childhood tales I began to imagine God as a benevolent grandfather who loved me and waited to reward my desire and effort to do things the right way.
In college, I was introduced to the concept of inviting Christ into my heart and I immediately knew it was what I’d always longed for: a confidence that I belonged to Him. As the gospel was explained to me it was all about how much God loved me and that He had a plan for my life. It was music to my ears. And one of the first verses I heard was a quote by Jesus Himself: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Again I responded with an enthusiastic yes!
The problem was this promise of abundant life fit closely with my fairy-tale image of God as a benevolent grandfather and this assumption didn’t always line up with my real-world life. I couldn’t understand why I still experienced hardship. It didn’t seem to fit with my vision of this “abundant life.”
What about you? Have you too been confused about God and the way He works or doesn’t work?
I realize now that I believed a very common lie, that God never causes “bad things” to happen to us.
Many who believe in God assume He knows our hard world and knows we mean well. And like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, He wants to wave away our poor circumstances with His magic wand and show Himself miraculous. All with a happy ending, of course.
This issue touches on one of the most difficult theological questions in the Bible: the dilemma of a loving God who allows hard and painful things to happen, especially to those of us who, from our own perspectives, are trying to do right and be a good person. Delving into this question requires deep thinking and reading all of the Bible, not just select verses, to even begin to understand who Almighty God is and then to glean hints of why He allows difficulty, pain and loss. So let me focus on just one slice of this issue that I think is easier to grasp.
One night years ago my husband, Dennis, and I went out for a dinner date and left our youngest children, 15 and 14, with one simple instruction: Don’t watch TV and get your homework done. As I walked out the door I added a P.S.: “And if you finish your homework early, read a book. No TV.”
Pulling into the driveway several hours later, we saw the blue glow of the television screen through the window. To be sure we had the upper hand I stood in front of the window watching them glued to the screen while Dennis walked in the back door calling out, “We’re home!”
Instantly, they jumped into action, turned off the TV and hopped into chairs with books, like innocent angels.
“How was your evening?” Dennis asked
“It was great!”
“Watch any TV?”
“On no, Dad.”
“Ah … then I want you to look out that window and wave at your mom who was watching you before I came in the door.”
For one entire month, these two lost their media and friend privileges—no TV, no phones, no sleepovers. This was their penalty for boldly lying to us. From their perspective, our discipline was the worst—extreme and unfair! How could we do this to them? A whole month? None of their friends had parents so strict! They didn’t really mean to disobey, they said. Couldn’t we believe the best about them and give them grace?
But our decision stood because we valued their growing understanding of the nature of sin. If God hates lying—as He said He does in Proverbs 6:16-17, “There are six things the LORD hates, … haughty eyes, a lying tongue …”—then we as parents must also.
Our two teens thought we brought unnecessarily hard, painful circumstances into their lives. But as children, they couldn’t see our adult perspective—that our disciplinary actions were actually good and needed for their development in maturity.
A difficult passage
Just as we do with our children, God repeats Himself many times in the Bible to make sure we hear Him clearly. In chapter 45 of Isaiah, God repeats an authoritative phrase four times: “I am the Lord, there is no other.” God is reminding His children that He is their Maker and Creator and therefore that they owe Him respect and gratitude for all He’s given them as their Father. But what God saw in His children was idol worship and devotion to the popular beliefs of the day, instead of loyalty and gratitude to Him. And He knew they needed correction.
Also in the greater context of this chapter is the overall message God spoke through His prophet Isaiah. God was warning them as a concerned parent: If they continued to choose idol worship, practice injustice, and just go through the motions of “church,” then judgment or discipline would come. Why? Because Creator and Father knows their behavior needs to be corrected for their own well-being. The parenting reference is obvious.
Now the hard passage in this context. Isaiah 45:6-7 says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these” (NASB).
“Creating calamity?” How do those words make you feel? When I first read this passage I was shocked and felt confused, even anxious and fearful. It didn’t fit with my “fairy-tale theology” image of God as my benevolent rescuer.
So what is “calamity”? Simply put, it is anything that upsets our personal world order, like the discipline we gave our teens. To them, it was a calamity.
God made us to have a personal, one-to-one relationship with Him and He will pursue us relentlessly to win us back. John Eldridge coined the phrase “a sacred romance” to describe the relationship God desires to have with us.
And when His children become obsessed with endless distractions, God sometimes “creates calamity” to help us see all the petty things we thought so important are not. He is sovereign and is always orchestrating situations with the good and loving purpose of calling men and women and children to Himself.
Just as parents discipline their children to help them grow into righteousness, God brings calamity—things we may consider “bad”—into our world in the form of godly discipline to make us more like Christ. The writer of Hebrews said it this way, “… God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” And the author adds, “if you are without discipline … then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (12:7-8).
Deep down inside our teens knew we loved them when we delivered our discipline to them. And so we who are Christ followers can know, not necessarily feel, God’s fatherly love when we too encounter hardship from His hand.
May you too know your Father loves you even when He sends calamity to your world. May you reject fairy tale theology and embrace the hard truths of Scripture. And as a result may you know Him as He is and love Him more.
You may wonder, “Does that mean everything hard and difficult in life is a discipline from God?”
Because this post is already long I’m going to answer this follow-up question in another post that we’ll make available to our paid subscribers on Substack. Why, you may ask?
In the past, all our online content was free because we were funded by product sales and donations. Since we retired from FamilyLife five years ago, Ever Thine Home has grown in impact and in size (we have a team of six, five of whom are part-time). And we’ve been trying to figure out how to “float this boat” God has given.
Last fall we decided to try a new platform called Substack which offered many benefits and also gave us the option to offer paid subscriptions as a way to supplement our donations. We launched in January and are still working to figure out the best combo of free content vs. paid content.
So the answer to this question, “So does that mean that everything hard and difficult in life is a discipline from God” will be available tomorrow to paid subscribers because it’s an extra post that supplements the first one which is free.
I hope that makes sense and helps you understand why our content is not all free. We think $5 a month for more food for your soul, which will nurture your life in Christ, is well worth it. Hope you agree and I’d love to hear from you if you read the bonus post on Substack tomorrow!
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