I recently read a post from another blog which started like this: “I ask God, ‘Why are you taking me through troubled water?’ He replied ‘Because your enemies can’t swim.’” It’s a nice little catchphrase for sure. Heartwarming and reassuring. God’s definitely got your back, and none of your enemies stand a chance against the deep water you’re in. It’s a good thing you can swim! I guess enemies don’t take swimming lessons? I’m not sure what it means to have other people wading around in my problems either. And just who are my enemies? The guy who cut me off in traffic? Cars can’t drive in deep water, so that’s good.
Like many cute and surface-y phrases, a little thought breaks it down. While it might be fun to poke at these kinds of things, they are actually more dangerous than they seem. Somebody thought it was worth sharing something that a hypothetical “God” said, to make somebody feel better about themselves. The deep water is to save me from my enemies after all. They are the ones to blame for everything.
But what does the one true God actually say? If I ask God “Why are you taking me through troubled water?” what has he actually said in his Word?
The Scriptures speak a great deal about people being troubled, and many of them have one common theme: discipline. David, for example, wrote many of the psalms as he was pouring out his heart to God in his distress. Many times, he regarded his troubles as the discipline of the Lord.
In Psalm 38:1, David says “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”
Psalm 6:1 is largely the same. David cries out in anguish for God to abate his wrath. But notice why the wrath of God was on David in the first place. It was not because his enemies couldn’t swim, i.e. take the same discipline. His enemies were the ones doing the actions! The overall gist of the passage indicates that David’s enemies are the ones that were giving him trouble. “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.” (Psalm 38:18-19).
No, it would seem that David’s enemies are the tools for God’s discipline. Psalm 38:1 says his state is “because of my sin.” And “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.” David’s sinfulness is the reason for God’s discipline, and his enemies are the conduit. This is a far cry from our little phrase, which tells us that the trials given to us by God are for reasons outside of ourselves; to protect us from others who would do harm. But in reality, God uses others to purge sin from inside ourselves. The problem is with us, not others. Sure David’s immediate problems were with his enemies, but he was wise enough to see God’s hand in their actions. But this is only half of the story.
Interestingly, other Psalms of David give a great deal of praise for the discipline of the Lord. Psalm 94:12 says “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law…” And other places like Proverbs have similar language: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof…” (Proverbs 3:11).
David was actually blessed for being disciplined by God. This is another common theme in the scriptures discussing discipline. We are not to despise God’s instruction. Why would we despise something that is a blessing to us? Further, Hebrews 12:11 says “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
David certainly seemed pained by the discipline he was experiencing. But this truth is the reason he was able to sing God’s praises later. He knew the value of his lessons, so he repented of his sins, and asked God to forgive the iniquities.
So we can see how dangerous the first “feel-good” phrase actually is. Rather than our troubles being a tool from God, pushing us to repent of our sins, they are seen here as something you endure so your enemies can’t follow. Discipline is to push us closer to the God who made us, and further cleanse us of sin.
This topic is a large one, and more could be said, especially about how it might apply to how parents relate to their children. Stay tuned for more!