Friday, June 22, 2012

Suffering and the Will of God

It is hard enough to deal with our painful and prolonged trials. However, we tend to complicate matters when we interpret our pain and frustration to mean that God doesn’t love us enough.

What makes matters worse it that we’ve been praying for years for something that is clearly consistent with God’s will – for instance, an emotional healing that would conform us more perfectly into Christ’s image. Consequently, we find ourselves struggling with two things:

  1. The painful trial and
  2. Our resulting doubts about God.
The first issue is complex. Even though it clearly is our God’s will to conform us into the likeness of His Son – and this He is always performing (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6) – He also uses our weaknesses and infirmities to accomplish this (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Surprisingly, He informs us that “when we are weak, it is then that we are strong [in Him].

Consequently, we don’t know if a particular healing is consistent with God’s will, and if it is, when He will do something about it. However, it is certain that we will all die without receiving all of our prayed-for healings. We will continue to struggle against sin until His return (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:25). Life isn’t supposed to be too comfortable here. If it was, we wouldn’t cry out, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

The answer to the second issue is more important and more straight-forward. Hardships, even the most intense forms, aren’t proof of God’s displeasure. If anything, they represent the opposite:

·        Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?...Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

(I know that you are aware of these things, but sometimes it is helpful to here them from someone else.) Job was the most righteous man on the entire earth, yet God subjected him to the greatest trials. Paul would become the greatest missionary the church has ever known, but God promised that he would have to suffer profoundly, saying:

·        “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (Acts 9:16)

Suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure. King David was arguably Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s own heart. Nevertheless, he suffered greatly. We need only to read the Psalms to see this.

For years, I experienced intense doubt about God’s love for me. I suspected that even if I did make it into heaven, God would only open the doors to me reluctantly. Therefore, I would become the heavenly street-sweeper. I felt as if I was displeasing to Him. I had become keenly aware of my own sins, and so it seemed very plausible to me that I couldn’t be one of His favorites. Clearly, I deserved nothing from Him. As a result, I resented those who I suspected were in His better graces.

What changed? I think that the real change came from God making the truths of His Word very real to me. And as these verses (and others) illuminate for me, I cried copious tears of joy and relief:

·        Galatians 2:20:  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

·        Romans 8:1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

·        John 6:37: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

·        Ephes. 3:17-19: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

There were also many other verses that spoke to through the tsunamis of depression. They assured me that our Savior is truly who He said He is, and that makes all the difference in the world. I trust that as you continue to seek Him, He will likewise deliver you.

Although knowing who God is is almost everything, it isn’t everything. There is the knowledge of God, but there is also God Himself. If knowledge alone could deliver, we would find little need for God! This would tend to create arrogance and self-sufficiency. Therefore, He requires that we wait patiently for deliverance:

·        I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

Waiting is a constant reminder that it’s not about us – not even merely about our faith and knowledge – it’s about our merciful Lord!   

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