In the ensuing battle, Benjamin destroys 22,000 Israelites. The Israelites retreat, shaken and defeated, and ask God: “Shall we indeed battle against Benjamin?”
God answers: “Go up against Benjamin.”
The Israelites obey and, on this second day of battle, another 18,000 Israelites are slain. Weeping and confused, the Israelites return to the ark of the covenant. “Shall we go up to battle again, or shall we cease?”
The Lord answers: “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”
The Israelites concoct a devious plan to draw out the Benjamites and leave their city undefended against an ambush, and God gives them a thorough victory.
Could God's will require me to suffer?
So here’s the uncomfortable question that the story makes me ask: Can something clearly be God’s will—and still have unpleasant or hurtful consequences for me?
All my Christian life, I’ve understood that God’s will is to bless His children. If I fight His will, I’m denying myself the best possible life. When things go badly, I question: Am I truly in God’s will? When things go well, I assume that God is rewarding my faithfulness. Somehow, I’ve equated “being in God’s will” to “having a rewarding life.” But what if that’s not true?
Forty thousand Israelites died on a battlefield pursuing God’s will, never seeing the victory they deserved. From the context of the story, it’s clear they were 100% obedient in following God’s will. He wished for Benjamin to be punished for evil-doing, and wished for the Israelites to go to war against their brethren. But, for reasons I don’t understand, He did not give the obedient warriors a clean, easy victory. Many died claiming that victory.
God's will is always good...
I already feel that I know part of the answer. I have experienced times when doing God’s will results in blessing far deeper than doing my own will. I find Matthew 7:9-11 to be very true:
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
God gives good gifts and many blessings to those who ask. The generosity of His nature is unquestionable.
On the flip side...
Just because it's God's will doesn't mean it will turn out right for me.
I know this in my own life. I’ve ignored it, because I really don’t like the implications that God would ask me to do something that hurts so badly, or that takes away something I might never get back. It’s so much safer to assume that if it’s God’s will, it is good for me. But it might not be good for me. It will be good within the overall story, and the final chapter will reveal its goodness, but I might have to be the one who suffers to make that goodness possible for others.
What was the benefit for Job? God gave him twice as much as he had before his time of testing, but Job never really got an explanation and his lost children were not resurrected, though he had other children. I think the benefit was not so much for Job as it was for us: We needed to see what faithfulness looks like even when there seem to be no reasons left to be faithful.
What was the benefit for Jeremiah? God gave him an important mission of prophecy, which He warned Jeremiah would be rejected. So Jeremiah traipsed from prison to ditch, from rejection to loss. In the end, his people were taken captive and, though he was divinely protected, he lived the rest of his life as a prisoner to the Babylonians.
I may be a casualty of a lost battle and a won war.
The happy Christian in me protests strongly against the negativism in these stories, but the warrior Christian in me is nodding. Now this is more like the battle I know. While I’ve tried to convince myself that doing God’s will always spells happiness for me, I have, at times, experienced the opposite. For some, this realization is cause for doubt or even for apostasy. "What? If God won’t always protect me and won’t always do what is good for me, what’s the point?"
The warrior Christian in me laughs. The point? Good heavens, isn’t this a war? Since when does a captain tell you that, if you follow all his instructions, you won’t get hurt? No, he calls you to WAR. When he orders a charge on the enemy position, the goal is not to have zero casualties, but to take the hill. If I fight, I could be a casualty. So why fight? Because the cause is true and worth the price, and the Captain is worth following. Despite my intense desire for comfort and happiness, there is a part of me that revels in the idea that I am part of something so grand that even the sacrifice of my desires, health, and life would be worth the ultimate prize.
And the prize will be mine. Whatever is lost on Earth, Heaven shall restore a hundredfold. I’m not promised that God’s will shall result in good for this life, but I am promised that God’s will shall result in good for the next life, for my joy and His glory.
What if I am like one of those 40,000 Israelites who were stricken down before the war was won? To me, that’s irrelevant. The battle may be lost, but the war will be won.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.