While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.
As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.
No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1 ).
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.
Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).
We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalms 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).
Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).
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