The Scriptures are filled with examples of things getting worse before getting better:
- Abraham received the promise of descendants as numerous as the stars, then went through years of childlessness, tried to take things into his own hands with Hagar, and finally at the ripe old age of 100 Isaac, the son of promise, was born to Sarah (Genesis 15-21).
- Joseph dreamt he would be a ruler, but then was sold into slavery by his own brothers, imprisoned on the basis of false charges, and left there for years before finally being elevated to the position of second-in-command in Egypt (Genesis 37-50).
- God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants, but first the people of Israel had to endure 400 years of slavery and 40 more of wilderness wandering before entering the promised land (Genesis 15; Exodus 1 - Joshua 3).
- Even the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John retell how God's own Son, Jesus Christ, was first rejected by the majority of the Jews, betrayed and crucified, and lay dead in a tomb for 3 days before finally rising victoriously.
Things often get worse for God's people before they get better. We frequently see the pattern in Scripture and life of promise, then pain, and finally fulfillment and victory. Why is that? Why not just skip over the pain part? Why not just go from "good" to "better" without "worse" in between?
The Scriptures are not silent on this point. Here are a few reasons God gives in His word:
- God purifies our faith through pain - It is easy to eagerly embrace a promise without a pure faith or right motives. We could simply like the idea of things getting better for us and be relying on ourselves, others, and circumstances rather than God. When things become more difficult before improving it causes us to re-evaluate what we are relying on and reconsider what we are hoping in. It helps us to see that too much of our hope is placed in something other than God. It serves to show us that too much of our desire is for something other than God. When we are brought to such a point we have only two alternatives, let go of God or cling more tightly to Him. For His true children there is only one real option - trust Him more. It is this process of purifying our faith that Peter points to when he writes, "you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- God matures us through trials - An infant will cry to be fed and then may cry harder if their parent leaves the room to grab a bottle of milk. A child who has matured will realize that that the departure of the parent isn't abandonment but preparation for addressing their need. Likewise, in our walk with God, we must grow up beyond infancy and realize that God never abandons His children. We may not understand what He is doing but we can trust that if He appears absent it is not because He has forsaken us, but rather because He is working things out for our greater good and His glory. Trials often function as tests to mature us. That is why James could write, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4; compare also Romans 5:3-5)
- God's faithfulness is demonstrated - God cannot lie and never breaks a promise (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19). That does not mean that every promise is fulfilled within the time-frame or manner we might expect. God kept His promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous of the stars of heaven and to return them to the land of Canaan. But, He did not do it during Abraham's lifetime, nor even during the lifetime of his sons and grandsons. While it may have appeared for 399 years (and many generations) as if God were not going to keep His promise and bring the Israelites out of Egypt and back to Canaan, He did. In the end, God is always shown to be faithful. The question isn't whether or not He is faithful to keep His promises, but whether or not we have faith in Him to keep His promises. Though things may get worse first, in the end they will get better, because God has promised to His people a final victory free from pain and sorrow - and He will show Himself faithful (Revelation 21:3-5).
- God is glorified - We frequently fail to see God's glory because we attribute a multitude of His works to chance, circumstance, or even "luck". But when things become difficult and we are hemmed in, we are more apt to recognize the exercise of His might, wisdom, and mercy on our behalf. Things grew worse for the Israelites after Moses delivered the promise of deliverance from Egypt, but this was not by accident (Exodus 4:29-5:23). God not only forewarned of this (Exodus 3:19; 4:21), but clearly declared that there was a greater purpose in it - that He might demonstrate His "power, so that [His] name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (Exodus 9:15-16; compare also Exodus 7:3-5). Problems provide a platform for the greater presentation and proclamation of God's excellence. While that may sound irrelevant to some, it is of greatest importance to the born again child of God. For us, there is no greater purpose than for God to be glorified, magnified, and exalted. That is why we exist. That is our heart's deepest desire. We can be gladly confident amidst even the greatest pain that when all is said and done, God will ensure that His glory has been magnified in greatest measure through the attainment of our everlasting good (Romans 8:28-39).
Things often do grow worse before they get better, but this is not without purpose. Knowing the purpose may not eliminate the pain or perplexity, but it can transform it. Trust Christ through life's trials and He will ensure that God is glorified and you are grown thereby.