Recently my understanding of the terms “good” and “evil” in the light of the afflictions we face every day have been challenged by statements and teachings of Christian leaders (past and present) that I deeply respect. When I say something like this I know the knee-jerk reaction by many full Gospel believers is to respond “Just go to the Word and put the teachings of man on the shelf.” The problem is, if the Bible always provided incontrovertible guidance regarding every human condition or issue, would there be so many denominational and non-denominational churches? I think not. I think most doctrinal divisions resulted from the circumstances men and women faced over the centuries and their attempts to glean from Holy Scripture God’s purpose in allowing them to face those challenges and what their response to each challenge should be.
So that you know where I’m coming from, let me take you to July 2010. That’s when a doctor diagnosed me with severe arterial blockage and told me I needed triple by-pass surgery immediately. The surgery went very well – so well in fact that I had only a miniscule degree of physical pain afterward, and healed and recovered my strength amazingly quickly. Within sixteen days I was attending my company’s office picnic at the zoo and walking a mile a day. I attribute that strictly to God’s grace. Though I prayed for physical healing before the surgery, I have little doubt why I had to endure the surgery – for I had neglected my health (diet and exercise) for a couple years previously.
A friend of mine has had similar physical challenges, some more serious than my own. On one occasion medical professionals diagnosed a similar arterial blockage and scheduled by-pass surgery. Another time he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his lung, and received a prognosis that he’d require chemo, radiation and/or surgery. In both situations he turned to God’s promises of healing, faithfully speaking healing scriptures hour after hour, day after day between doctor’s appointments. When he went back to the physician he received a clean bill of health. Clearly God had intervened miraculously on his behalf. Yet that friend has had other challenges in life, in personal and work relationships and in financial situations, challenges which God has left him to patiently endure over the years. In contrast, I have been “graced” with freedom from the likes of these.
Why does God “allow” human affliction of multiple sorts to affect nearly every one of His followers? What conceivable purpose could there be for such trials and tribulations? I know the scriptures that say “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” If something is not good, then it obviously doesn’t come from Him. Others argue that since there is no physical or emotional pain, or relational issues or financial problems in heaven, then it must not be God’s will that His people endure such on earth.
But man’s view of God and His Kingdom is so limited. It’s like we’re looking at Him and the supernatural realm in which He resides through a periscope. We persist in defining what is “good” and what is “evil” – and we do so from our own limited perspective. But who’s to say that every human affliction, every trial, every tribulation is evil. This is where my “understanding” has been deeply challenged recently.
Can a human affliction, a trial, a tribulation be “Good”?
At this past weekend’s People for Jesus meeting, Reverend Kathy spoke much along the same line. Kathy is one of the strongest “faith” people that I’ve ever known. She (and her husband who is now with the Lord) prayed for literally thousands of people: for healing, for salvation, for deliverance from addictions and demonic attack, for freedom from bad behaviors, even for the raising of the dead. And she’s often been privileged to witness God’s signs and wonders when she’s prayed. Yet she spoke of a recent physical attack upon her person that her prayers, and even medical help failed to alleviate the pain – to the point that the constant pain threatened even her sanity. Following a lengthy period, the pain was lifted – after which she noted a degree of compassion for others who suffer physically or emotionally that she’d never experienced before. Could one of the purposes of affliction be to make us more sensitive to the needs and hurts of others?
It’s interesting that just this morning I read on FaceBook a quote from the well-known author and preacher John Piper that addresses his opinion as to the purpose of affliction: “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.” I always like to get the proper and complete context of a statement before I decide if I agree or disagree with it. I found his original quote in an on-line devotional: http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/christ-s-sufferings-in-us . It was based on Paul’s declaration in Colossians 1:24: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. There’s that word “afflictions” again. Piper went on to explain that God’s answer to this ‘lack’ is to call the people of Christ (people like Paul and you and I) to make a personal presentation of the afflictions of Christ to the world. In doing this, we “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” We “finish” what Christ’s afflictions were designed for, namely, a personal presentation to the people who do not know about their infinite worth. In other words: by the church experiencing some of the suffering Jesus experienced, when we proclaim the Cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the Cross in us and feel the love of the Cross from us.
C. S. Lewis spoke similarly on the purpose of affliction. He had watched his wife endure years of tremendous pain before her death. He acknowledged that this heartbreaking experience, in concert with his study of Holy Scripture formulated much of his beliefs on the goodness of affliction. “What matters in life, is not what you achieve, but rather what you willingly endure. We will all achieve various heights of achievement in life. In a very real sense it is irrelevant to God how much we achieve. This is vitally important to remember. We are saved purely by grace. There is nothing we can do to gain more favor with God. No, the more interesting thing to God is our willingness to submit and to endure hard times. Just as we will all achieve different successes in life, we will all be handed different degrees of trials in life. It is not helpful or useful to compare what others are given to endure. Rather, what we each need to do is to submit our will, even when it means walking through a dark period in life. What matters is our willingness to endure.” Lewis has said much more on this topic, but this quote I found the most profound.”
The great 19th Century English minister and evangelist Charles Spurgeon experienced severe pain and recurring depression all his life. Yet listen to what he says about his trials: “I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”
The great minister believed in the healing power of God. He prayed often to be relieved of his physical pain, and sometimes was. Yet, he often quoted James 1:2-4, for he recognized that each Christian must go through some form of trial if he is to mature in the faith. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” He stated it is “our duty to see that none of our brethren despond, much less despair” (when faced with affliction). He cites four purposes of affliction: (1) it “proves” to the enemy that we are believers when we trust God in the face of trials the devil thrusts upon us; (2) it “proves” to ourselves that we truly trust God [e.g.: the way to try whether a ship is well built is to send her to sea and face a storm;] (3) it produces patience, [enabling one to submit to the will of the Lord, to bear ill-treatment without resentment, and to act without undue haste;] and (4) it leads to spiritual completeness.
Things to remember in facing Affliction
As an outline for Reverend Kathy’s message, she used some extracts from the writings of Charles Spurgeon and interwove them with the written Word. These are points we all need to remember as we face various afflictions, trials, and tribulations.
- God cares about me and will move mountains for me. His is an immortal and unchanging love for me.
- The enemy wants us to see a trial as our fault. He puts so much effort in condemning us because of the power God has given each of His followers. We each can put 1,000 to flight. and two 10,000.
- While I only see the immediate problem, God sees the end. He sees me completely fulfilled.
- It’s never just about me. God is moved by the broken-hearted. Jesus was tempted in all things – therefore He (and His Father with Him) has empathy for everyone. You have a part in this too. As a believer, you are called to meet the need at the level of the need of whoever God puts in front of you. Affliction makes you more sensitive to those needs.
- We are constrained by a time dimension. We want things to improve “now.” God’s viewpoint is outside of time. He looks at everything. If He acted too quickly (as we tend to demand) we would miss out on some of His blessings.
- God is always faithful. He will provide comfort in proportion to your trial. God looks at trials as benefits for us for tomorrow. Good will come out of the trial that we submit to and turn to God for help with. Great trials always bring great promises.
- Don’t give up.