The following is a guest post by Russell Pulliam, an Indianapolis Star columnist who directs the Pulliam Fellowship summer intern program for the Indianapolis Star and the Arizona Republic.
Why does God make life so hard?
Our recent men’s group at Second RP Church in Indianapolis tackled that question, pondering I Chronicles 12:32, “the children of Issachar, which were men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”
First, we considered American history since World War II, seeing the glass half-full.
Christian faith was supposed to die out after World War II. Nazi Germany was defeated along with Japan. We were helping rebuild their economies. More people were getting better educated. Health care was improving by leaps and bounds. Science was making great progress. Who needs God if we find the cure for cancer through science and medical research?
Not everyone accepted this consensus. Some were reading their Bibles and praying for spiritual revival. Then came the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles, with many listeners going forward. Campus ministries were starting to take off -- the Navigators, Campus Crusade, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. High school ministries such as Young Life, Youth for Christ, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were growing, often with Holy Spirit outpouring and times of awakening at summer camps. Many people were coming to faith or renewing childhood commitments.
Then came a reformation emphasis with ministries such as L’Abri and Francis Schaeffer; R.C. Sproul with Ligonier; James Boice at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and later, John Piper, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, and the Gospel Coalition. Some people were learning to think Christianly and to take every thought captive for Christ through Christian study centers, as Charles Cotherman has shown in his recent book, To Think Christianly. Others went into the movies, politics, business, or academic pursuits. They were trying to bring the Scriptures to every branch of life, as Michael Lindsay revealed in Faith in the Halls of Power.
Urban ministries were springing up. Teen Challenge and David Wilkerson showed how faith in Christ could help in the crisis of heroin addiction. Urban Young Life showed another side of faith in Christ in Bill Milliken’s New York City ministry, told in his book Tough Love. In Indianapolis, Percy Scruggs and the Community Outreach Center showed how a storefront ministry could tackle the problems of crime-ridden neighborhoods. Later, Purposeful Design would give formerly homeless men a work opportunity in making furniture. There were so many of these faith-based initiatives around the country that World magazine created national awards to honor faith-based innovation against poverty.
Meanwhile, in the Reformed Presbyterian church the doctrine of Christ’s kingdom was getting renewed emphasis, including William Symington’s character qualities that Christ showed us as king of kings: dignity; near relationship to His people; wisdom; power; right motives or moral excellence; love or mercy; authority. We were learning to assess political candidates through the doctrine of Christ’s kingdom.
Presidentially we were blessed with some excellent choices in terms of character and faith around the nation’s 200th birthday.
In 1976, Gerald Ford was a Republican who came to office through the Watergate scandal and resignation of President Nixon. Ford’s quiet Christian faith had been strengthened through his son Mike. Jimmy Carter was a born again Christian who had been governor of Georgia and a southern moderate Democrat. Both were Christians who read their Bibles and were trying to apply their faith to government.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter was seeking re-election. Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California, was running, along with a third-party candidate, John Anderson of Illinois. All 3 candidates had a Christian testimony and some desire to apply their faith to the office.
Fast forward to 2020. The presidential choices are different. We have the Covid-19 suffering. We have the crisis of police-community relations in our cities.
Could God have a larger plan in these trying circumstances?
Here are some possibilities.
Many are praying more deeply for our country and our state, for more revival or awakening or reformation. Study the history of revivals, and each time there seems to be small and large groups of prayer warriors. One example is Cotton Mather, an American Puritan who lived to 1728. He was discouraged at the end of his life. He worried that prosperity in America was making the next generation less intense in their focus on Christ. He starts praying. He dies and along comes the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield – a huge impact in American history.
Another purpose: To rouse us out of any temptation to spiritual complacency, as in Hosea 13:6: “When they fed they were satisfied. When they were satisfied they became proud. Therefore they forgot me.” This problem afflicts all of us at some point. Success and blessing can become the times of challenge.
A third purpose: To get us to focus prayerfully on lower offices and pray for God to raise up servants at the state or local level. One answer in Indiana: I cannot remember a time when we had such a concentration of believers serving in the Indiana General Assembly, praying together. The forerunner of the current prayer group came in the late 1970s when Reformed Presbyterian ruling elder Bill Long was serving in the Indiana General Assembly along with other prayer warriors. Their little group has multiplied.
Fourth purpose: To teach us Psalm 146:3. “Do not put your trust in princes.” Political elections won’t save us. Christ will save us, and His salvation and work in our hearts will lead some to serve in civil government. We pray for civil government, pray for elections, and for candidates. They are very important, even in Christ’s redemptive work, as Paul used his Roman citizenship for kingdom advancement. But we need to trust in Christ, not in mortal men who cannot save.
Fifth purpose: God can sanctify us through differences of political opinion. We see candidates differently due to age; spiritual maturity; our time of salvation; our family upbringing and geographic location. Here we can grow in Romans 15:7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” We are to accept one another or receive one another and Paul uses that same word when he tells Philemon to accept or receive as a brother his escaped slave, Onesimus.
Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.