Someone’s son recently started first grade, and he’s learning simple addition and subtraction. After the first week of school, he came home upset, calling his teacher “mean” and saying he didn’t want to go back to his class. His dad was understandably concerned and asked his son what had happened. The boy informed his dad that his teacher had asked him, “If you have six toys and I take away four toys, how many toys do you have left?”
Well, dad knew his boy was good at subtraction and could answer the math problem correctly. Confused, he asked, “Why did that upset you? Did you tell her the answer was two?”
His son jutted out his lip and his eyes filled with tears as he exclaimed, “No! I told her I didn’t want her to take ANY of my toys! I like when I get more added, Daddy, but I hate when they get taken away!”
We can all relate to that little guy on some level, can’t we? We like when good things get added to our lives, but it’s a different story when they get taken away. And when it comes to our relationship with God, we find it easy to praise Him in the “addition” – but it’s a different story in the “subtraction”.
In Scripture, Job understood the sharp contrast of gain and loss better than just about anybody. Known as a man who was “fearless and upright, feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), Job had ten children, as well as thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He was considered the greatest of people in the region. He had it all.
But one day the devil came to God and challenged Him, telling the Lord that Job was only faithful to Him because God protected him and his family. So God allowed Satan to put Job’s faith to the test by destroying anything and everything that mattered to him. He lost his animals. His servants were murdered. His children were killed by invaders and natural disasters. And he himself was afflicted by excruciatingly painful sores all over his body.
Job’s incredible response? “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
Don’t get me wrong, Job had his moments of doubt. In fact, we spend the next 40 chapters reading about his cries of desperation to the Lord. But at the end of it all, after his back-and-forth dialogue with God, Job ultimately declares, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (Job 42:2)
Job knew that in the best times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. And Job knew that in the worst times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. God’s goodness isn’t determined by our circumstances — it’s determined by His character. Even when the situation isn’t good, He always is.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my spiritual maturity, I don’t want to be a “first grader” who delights in the Lord when I’m experiencing blessing, but has a complete meltdown when it’s taken away. I want to be wise like Job, praising God as I journey through this life both on the mountaintops and in the valleys. At times Job questioned his situation, even wishing he was never born because the pain seemed too much for him to handle. In the end, though, he came back to the place where he started – the realization that the Father is still good.
It’s okay to question our suffering. God’s strong enough to handle our doubt. But when it’s all said and done, if we “do the math” correctly, we see time and time again that even in the seasons where it looks like God’s subtracting things from our life, He’s actually adding more, beyond what we can see or understand in our limited earthly perspective.
That first grader’s father had a heart-to-heart with his son that night, and the next day, the boy returned to school and apologized to his teacher for his outburst. He said to her in his cute little six year old way, “I shouldn’t have gotten so mad. You’re the teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”
In times of our adversity, when we question our circumstances, may we each have the wisdom and the spiritual maturity to look to our Heavenly Father and say, “You’re the Teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”