Summary: When you undergo afflictions, go over your convictions.
JOSEPH BAYLY ONCE SAID, “Never doubt in the dark what you learned in the light.” But we do, don’t we? When we go through times of trial, we lose sight of what we believe. We have a tendency to see only the bad our afflictions.
For example, when the heat’s on, we may assume right off that God is punishing us in some way. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that our suffering indicates divine displeasure.
Do you remember the incident when Jesus and his disciples encountered “a man blind from birth” (Jn 9:1)? Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Do you remember what Jesus said? “Neither.” Neither! Affliction is not always the sign that God is angry with us. Sometimes, in fact, we suffer “for righteousness’ sake.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you” – in other words, you have God’s blessing – “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt 5:11).
So, what do we do when we suffer? How do we cope with what the book of James calls “trials of any kind” (Jas 1:2)? Here’s what I want to suggest: When you undergo afflictions, go over your convictions. That is, rehearse what you believe. Go over what you firmly hold on to in your faith. Or, to quote Bayly again, “Never doubt in the dark what you learned in the light.” So, while we have a tendency to see only the bad in our adversity, we need to see also the good. And what I mean is: We need to see God’s purpose in our suffering.
And the first thing we see is that, in our suffering, God reveals the awful consequences of the Fall. Let’s go back to 2 Corinthians. The truth is, Paul and his companions hadn’t done anything wrong. They didn’t deserve to suffer. And yet, they did – to the point, Paul says, that they “despaired of life itself…. [They] felt that [they] had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8, 9a).
We know what that’s like. When we go through unwarranted suffering – or, when we see someone else suffer – we find ourselves asking why God lets bad things happen to good people. That question – as natural a thing as it is to ask it – reveals a problem with our understanding. The fact is that we live in a fallen world. And we forget that. The reason innocent people suffer is that this is not the world God created it to be. When our first parents sinned, they did not just incur guilt on themselves. Their rebellion affected the whole created order. It created a fault line in every aspect of life. If you look, you can see the effects of the Fall in our relationship to each other, you can see it in our relationship to ourselves, and you can see it even in our relationship to nature. We must never be surprised that so-called “good” people suffer. The fact is, we live in a fractured, fallen world, and because of that, all people suffer.
Even Paul. Even you.
And knowing that, we will not be surprised or perplexed by suffering. As we grow in Christian maturity, we come to realize that the world is out of sync with the way God created it to be. And that’s not all. We will also shout out all God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ to restore his fallen world. If we lived in a perfect world, there would be no need for a message of salvation, but because the world is broken, people need to hear about the One, the only One, who can repair things – who can repair us! – and make everything whole again. That’s one way God show us his purpose in the time of trial.
Another way our afflictions show us God’s purpose is that, in them, God shows us his design for our lives. He wants us to depend not on circumstances but rather on him. We read how Paul says that he and those with him “despaired of life itself” and “felt that [they] had received the sentence of death.” And then he tells us why. And it’s the same for us as it was for him. It is “so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (1 Cor 1:9b). This is God’s design for our lives. He wants us to rely on him, not on what we might consider favorable circumstance.
There is a third sign of God’s good purpose in our afflictions, and it is that, through them, God strengthens our faith in him. I quoted a few words from the book of James a moment ago. Let me give you the full context. James 1, verses 2 through 4, reads like this: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Notice that James says, “You know” this. “You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” It’s one of the convictions you have – one of your settled beliefs. That’s why I say: When you undergo afflictions, go over your convictions. Rehearse what you believe. That’s what Paul did. His faith in God found expression in verse 10, where he says, “He…rescued us from so deadly a peril….” Then he goes on to say, “On him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again.” He was strengthened in his faith. That’s one of the purposes God has in our afflictions. And that’s a good thing.