When storms come into our lives, whether as a consequence of our wrongdoing or not, Christians have the promise that God will use them for their good (Romans 8:28).

When God wanted to make Abraham into a man of faith who could be the father of all the faithful on earth, he put him through years of wandering with apparently unfulfilled promises. When God wanted to turn Joseph from an arrogant, deeply spoiled teenager into a man of character, he put him through years of rough handling. He had to experience slavery and imprisonment before he could save his people. Moses had to become a fugitive and spend forty years in the lonely wilderness before he could lead.

The Bible does not say that every difficulty is the result of our sin—but it does teach that, for Christians, every difficulty can help reduce the power of sin over our hearts. Storms can wake us up to truths we would otherwise never see. Storms can develop faith, hope, love, patience, humility, and self-control in us that nothing else can. And innumerable people have testified that they found faith in Christ and eternal life only because some great storm drove them toward God.

Again, we must tread carefully. The first chapters of Genesis teach that God did not create the world and the human race for suffering, disease, natural disasters, aging, and death. Evil entered the world when we turned away from him. God has tied his heart to us such that when he sees the sin and suffering in the world his heart is filled with pain (Genesis 6:6) and “in all [our] affliction he too [is] afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).2 God is not like a chess player casually moving us pawns around on a board. Nor is it usually clear until years later, if ever in this life, what good God was accomplishing in the difficulties we suffered.

I have just completed a six session Bible study based on Tim Keller’s new book, The Prodigal Prophet (the book of Jonah). It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book. Sessions include:

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #1
Chapters 1, 2
Running from God / The World’s Storm

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #2
Chapters 3, 4
Who is My Neighbor?
Embracing the Other

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #3
Chapters 5, 6
The Pattern of Love
Running from Grace

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #4
Chapters 7, 8
Doing Justice, Preaching Wrath
Heart Storms

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #5
Chapters 9, 10
The Character of Compassion
Our Relationship with God’s Word

Prodigal Prophet, Lesson #6
Chapters 11, 12
Our Relationship with God’s World
Our Relationship with God’s Grace