How can we know, for starters, that this is the case? Because the Holy Spirit reveals to us the plans and thoughts of the Lord. He gives us the words to say in dire circumstances when we cannot be trusted to speak of our own volition. He is a good and perfect gift from God as his presence in our hearts, that we might be sealed for the day of salvation -- protected, guarded, comforted, and counseled. The way he moves into our hearts and delivers to us convictions as to how we should direct our steps is so intimate and amazing.
I just kind of forget how cool the Holy Spirit is sometimes is all.
Anyway, the way he is moving in my life cannot be questioned. Period. I could be wrestling with God and grappling with deep questions about his character -- because, uh, I actually have been -- and still I am in awe at how he moves in this world, in my world. The way things fall into place when I look at him and expectantly observe the way he is faithful to me and my prayers. Overcoming that struggle of knowing that he is good, and is actively doing good work around us, is painful. We all have memories and obstacles that we can point at and declare, "There it is, God! You said you loved me, get this out of my way! Why would you let this happen to me?"
One of the neat things that the Holy Spirit has done recently, as a matter of fact, is bring me to attending a church where this very topic is being preached, and the message is packing a real punch in my proud little gut. (Or big gut... but I just like nitpicking. Slap me if I do it again.) The pastor is going through the book of James, the first chapter being the focus for the past two Sundays. Can I just tell you that that little book is so chock full of wisdom and power that it'll blow your mind? I've read it more than a couple of times and it still breathes truth into my life with every fresh reading. We never truly embrace everything completely, and it takes that daily reminder of what is true to understand, and believe me, James will do it for you.
This is not a commercial endorsement for James, but I have to give him props for helping us out so much as the church two thousand years later.
Back on topic. The very beginning of this book deals with trials and tribulations. This is the preeminent fact of life, I imagine: we will face trials. We will suffer. If the reason you don't believe in God is because we suffer, I wonder how you can look at the thousands of years of people who follow this Yahweh and think that maybe it fits into the nature of God and his plan better than you preliminarily thought. It's a great equalizer; the rich and the poor suffer, in different and similar ways, and experience a want for something that is out of reach at the time. What James says about trials, though, is a bit contrary to the human perspective on how to deal with them:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:3-4
What the crap?
Not only joy, but pure joy about trials? This is where I think we can stand to differentiate between joy and happiness. Happy is now. I'm happy when I'm eating a chicken chimichanga with salsa verde. I'm happy when the weather is breezy and cool. I'm happy when I get an A on a test, or when I am having coffee with a friend. It passes. We either become just sort of emotionally neutral as we continue through our day, or something unpleasant comes along and just throws us 180 degrees away from where we were only moments before. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, on the other hand, is that deep and abiding satisfaction and hope that despite how we feel from day to day -- and if you're a girl, you understand exactly how much that fluctuates -- despite the fickleness of the chemicals in our brain, some things never change. We have a warm bed. We can put bread on the table. We have family. We have faith that this world is not home forever. Joy is found in these things.
With such a wide perspective on the unfolding of life, it may still be difficult to cling to joy in difficult circumstances rather than fall into despair, but rejoicing has its purpose:
"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:5
It leads me to ask this: how could wanting us to be complete and lacking nothing make God at all bad? It's a question I direct more toward myself when I find myself bemoaning the woes of my life (hint: sarcastic) and demanding that God tell me why it's okay for anything unpleasant to befall me. It just takes a bit of faith on my part, the belief that God is completing me and that what he offers is worthy of exultant, daring hope. He is a God who does not disappoint when we hang onto his robes even when the storms are ravaging the world around us.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." James 1:6
This is a logical claim on James' part. Think about it: let's go with the baseline that God is perfect and the ultimate source of wisdom. We must seek him to become wise ourselves. If he promises to give us wisdom if we ask, he is good, and goodness is in his character. If we believe he will give us this wisdom, we know his character and will therefore have access to his wisdom. If we do not believe he will give us wisdom, we do not know his character, and therefore that access will be closed off. Not knowing who he is makes us incapable of understanding how he thinks.
You see what I'm getting at? Where is our faith? I mean, where's mine? I believe that God is good; the proof lies in millenia of history, in the story playing out between God and the people he created. It is also abundantly clear that his thoughts are so, so far above mine, and that I will never wrap my little pea brain around the tiniest tip of his proverbial pinky finger. I so deeply desire to navigate the pitfalls of life through his eyes, because it is very difficult to argue that any kind of god, let alone the Creator and Almighty God, doesn't know better than a person how to deal with the petty little issues of this world.
It naturally takes a leap of faith to chase this source of understanding, including periods of time where we feel we are wandering in the desert to no good end and are crying out to God to show us the way to get out, this very instant, instead of trusting that he will use that sucky period of time to strengthen us and make us mature, complete, and lacking nothing. After all, just because he isn't magically yanking us out of the middle of all our problems doesn't mean he just isn't there. In fact:
"By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." Exodus 13:21-22
The Israelites screwed up even with freaking pillars of various forms of matter guiding them around, and food falling from the sky. We're bound to screw up, too. But I urge you: would you prefer to wander around in all directions, or follow a pillar of fire?
We are guaranteed the promised land in turn for our faith that the Lord will bring us through trying times, and that we will become more complete people for the journey.