The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, June 27, 2011

God is 4U- Even When You Suffer

Some people say, "God has abandoned you, that's why you're suffering." Or, "It's because you don't have enough faith that God hasn't healed you." Such comments are usually packaged in an authoritative tone such as, "The Lord gave me a word about you." But God does not contradict Himself. The Bible tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Furthermore, it is the faith that Jesus gives us that enables healing to occur (Mark 9:24; Acts 3:16). Faith is not something we manufacture from within, but a gift from God (Romans 10:17; 12:3,6; Ephesians 2:8-9). The witness of Scripture is that sometimes it is God's will for you to suffer, and in such cases God is still for you.

The issue of suffering and how it relates to the will of God is often misinterpreted. When such misinterpretations are applied to real life the result is compounded pain and suffering for the recipients. At the very least such careless counsel leads to frustrated faith and confusion about the nature of God. Such counselors should take note of God's reaction to those who misrepresent Him. Remember Moses, He misrepresented God to the people, and he was barred from the Promised Land (Numbers 20). It's important that we rightly divide the word as it was given by God (II Timothy 2:15).

The apostle Paul was a victim of such accusations. His detractors used his trials to attack his apostolic authority. When you read Paul's second letter to the Corinthians Paul is likely addressing such catcalls as, "Hey Paul, God is against you, that's why He's letting all these trials come to you. He's beating you through the whips and stoning you through the stones of men! If He's for you, why hasn't He healed your thorn?!" ( II Corinthians 11-12).

To interpret suffering as a rejection by God compounds pain and robs one of a possible blessing. God never guarantees a believer will be free from suffering. Quite the contrary, Jesus said we can expect trouble in this world (John 16:33). The apostle Peter stated there is a suffering that is according to the will of God (I Peter 4:19). Paul said those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12). Paul wrote personally of a "thorn in the flesh" that God chose to leave in place (II Corinthians 12:7-10). Trophimus was "left in Miletus sick" (II Timothy 4:20, emphasis mine). Whose faith was not enough in these situations? Was God judging people in these situations? These are only a few of the proof texts that indicate believers will suffer, either at the hands of men or even in physical illness.

But even though God wills or allows suffering in the lives of believers, we should not draw a conclusion which pictures God as enjoying the suffering inflicted on people. God takes no joy in the suffering of people. Through Jeremiah the Lord's feelings are stated, "For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men" (Lamentations 3:31-33. Emphasis mine.) The Living Bible translates verse 33, "For He does not enjoy afflicting men and causing sorrow."

If God dislikes suffering, why does He allow it, even will it? To answer that question we need to understand the root and result of suffering. First, the root of suffering is sin. Sin in it's most basic form is disobeying God. Suffering entered the Creation when Adam took Satan's alternative advice and disobeyed God (Genesis 3; Romans 5). Humankind became separated relationally, spiritually, from God by sin. But the material aspect of God's Creation was impacted too. Which leads secondly, to the result of suffering, death. The material Creation of God literally groans under the weight of sin's infection (Romans 8:18-25). Because our bodies are a part of God's Creation they groan too. Your body is growing from the point of birth to approximately age 25, but at age 25 your body turns a corner and begins the slow process of death. Your rate of cell replenishing is in the deficit from that point on.

But the good news is that in Christ, a glorious provision has been given! In chapter 15 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians Paul explains that sin and death have been dealt a fatal blow at the cross and resurrection of Christ. But it is important to recognize that Paul is speaking in terms of the future in regards to receiving our "immortal bodies" (15:54). We can be saved now by faith, but we will not receive our heavenly immortal bodies until later. While the outcome is secure, there still remains some time in the game to play. In Christ we have an insurmountable lead, but the game is not yet over. The victory is as good as ours, but we still have a few minutes to play out. And while we play, we need to keep these soiled uniforms on.

To understand this leads us to also understand that, we suffer because God loves us. "What?!" some of you are saying. You may even be adding, "That's ridiculous! You've lost me now." Well, hear me out. When a game ends, the statistics go into the books and the result is permanent. In the same way, when death is literally "swallowed up in victory" and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15) there will be no more opportunity for salvation. God's love for humankind is such that He desires none to perish (II Peter 3:9). He offers salvation to all (John 3:16) and His love for us is unmatched (Romans 5:8; 8:32). The price of God's loving, patient prolonging of the final judgment is the temporary continuation of a world, as is, wracked with the painful effects of sin. If we have to encounter suffering temporarily because God is waiting on the eternal salvation of others, then that is the price that must be paid.

The life of Joseph illustrates this in Genesis 37-50. Joseph was a favored son envied by his brothers. Envy birthed treachery and Joseph found himself narrowly escaping murder, thrown in a dark pit, and then sold into slavery. Years later the Divine plan moved Joseph to a prominent position in an Egyptian jailer's home. But when Joseph resisted the adulterous advances of the jailer's wife, her false accusations compounded Joseph's suffering by imprisonment. Patiently Joseph trusted in the Lord and faithfully God exalted this humble servant. Established as pharaoh's head man, Joseph found himself in just the right position to save his entire family. In the larger picture the messianic line was preserved through the long-suffering of Joseph. Joseph endured emotional and physical hardship in this scenario. His comforting words to his once jealous and now repentant brothers capture the purpose behind suffering, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (50:20).

But you say, "I'm suffering and I can't take it anymore. I'm at the end of myself." In a way, that's right where God wants you to be. Someone has said, "Man's extremities are God's opportunities." God has not left us alone, but He allows us to get to the end of ourselves. He picks us up where we leave off. And the sooner we leave off, the sooner He'll pick up. To learn this is to be blessed. This is the "good" God brings from all things (Romans 8:28). One of the most important spiritual lessons in our walk with the Lord is , "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25: Galatians 2:20). Suffering seen in this light brings great profits. Suffering helps us to trust God more ( I Peter 4:19). Suffering can actually increase and purify our faith (James 1:2-8). Suffering can help us have a deeper understanding of Jesus ( John 16:33; I Peter 2:21-25). Suffering can provide an opportunity to witness about God's hope ( I Peter 3:14-17). Suffering helps us realize the sufficiency of God's grace (II Corinthians 12:9-10). Suffering helps us to look forward to the coming of Christ (I Corinthians 16:22). Suffering makes our future glory with the Lord that much sweeter (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Yes, sometimes God will heal the afflicted, but sometimes He will not. In both cases He will always pour out His love and grace on the trusting soul. Whatever God chooses, understand that God is for you, even when you suffer.

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (II Corinthians 4:17-18)

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