As we deal — as we all must do — with troubles, affliction, difficulties and so on, the toughest thing to remember is that God is handstitching these problems for us, and He is doing this so that they will fit us perfectly.
We don’t grasp this because we are victims of a metaphor. When shoes fit us perfectly, it feels a particular way — it feels good. When a suit fits us perfectly, we can move in it with ease. But when troubles are designed and crafted just for us, it doesn’t feel that way at all. So a better example would be a perfectly designed weight-loss regimen, or a perfectly designed football practice.
Sometimes troubles come to a head. There is a drop-dead deadline. Think of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea. Things were going to break pretty soon, one way or the other. “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again” (Ex. 14:13, ESV). That was a cliffhanger.
Other times the affliction feels like a journey through the wilderness, with no apparent end in sight. The Israelites were going to encounter that kind of trial repeatedly, when they got to the other side of the Red Sea. They were going to have forty years worth of it. But while wilderness wanderings have no apparent deadline, God still expects people in the midst of them to harken back to deliverance at the cliff. There may be different kinds of trials, but it is always the same kind of God.
But the psalmist’s description of God’s interventions on their behalf moves seamlessly into his description of how God provided for them on a day-to-day basis. “He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; And he made the waters to stand as an heap” (Ps. 78:13). There was a spectacular deliverance on the shores of the Red Sea, and it was the same God who provided for them with a “just-in-time” delivery system with water from the rock and bread from heaven.
The trick is how to distinguish the two kinds of situation. When we are in a long grind, we are usually ready for it to all be done before God is ready for it to be done. We think we can’t go another step, like Shasta running into Archenland, but it turns out we can. But then there are the times when there really are no other options, and God tells us — through the story in Scripture about the Red Sea incident — that He will deliver us “today.”
Sometimes it is manna today and manna tomorrow, and manna next week. And other times God ‘will be honored upon Pharaoh.” It is our privilege to walk with God without murmuring, and to do so keeping the distinction between the two kinds of salvation in mind. Sometimes God gives deliverance, and helicopters us out of there. Other times He gives us endurance. Sometimes He gives us one while we are praying for the other, and other times He gives us what we were praying for. But He always gives us what we need. Just what we need — hand-stitched.
What we do not want to do is follow the poor example set by the grumblers of Israel. “For all this they sinned still, And believed not for his wondrous works” (Ps. 78:32). Present temptations have a way of banishing past deliverances from our minds, and that is what Puritan theologians used to call “no good.”
We pass through our trials, if we do pass through them, by faith (Heb. 11:29). This means, remember, that we cannot prove our seemingly “unwarranted” confidence beforehand. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). If we are to be faithful in our generation, this means that we are trusting God to deliver us from our particular circumstances. We are not just waiting in faith for the Eschaton — although we are doing that also. We are also trusting God for our financial dilemmas, for our medical challenges, for the state of our nation, and so on. If the only deliverances that God can muster are outside space and time, then maybe Marx was right about that opiate-of-the-masses business.
We cannot prove our confidence until afterward, when our women are dancing on the beach by the bodies of the Egyptian charioteers. Then we have proof enough, and the task before us is to remember that we have that proof in hand as we round the corner into our next trial.