Summary: No one in their right mind enjoys pain and hardship, but do they hold a redeptive purpose?

--Nietzche said, "Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger."

--Illus: Kia Jurgenson was a student at a Christian University. A gifted high school basketball player (she was all state), she received a full-ride scholarship and started as a freshmen on the University team. During those college years, Jurgenson contracted a virulent form of meningitis with the result being that to save her life, the Drs had to amputate both of her legs and most of her right hand. Needless to say, basketball is out. Life has been unfair and cruel to her. Nevertheless, after a lengthy and arduous rehab, she was back at school the following fall. And you can just imagine what it was like when at a chapel service, she stepped up on the stage and up to the podium (on her prosthetic limbs) and thanked all the people for their prayers and support, but most of all God for his steadfast love. Amazing, isn’t it?

--Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. Does adversity make us stronger? Should it?

I--Passage One

--One unfortunate in dealing with our first text (Rom. 8:28-30) is that we are almost too familiar with it. It is used and cited all most too often and regularly in just about any and every context. As a result, it has become almost cliche.

--And because it is so often used, it is very often misused. You ask how so? It can become a religious ’happy pill.’ You ask, ’what exactly do you mean?’ We used pills to take away pain, give brief respite, even provide a momentary euphoria. Sometimes they are needed and helpful, but all too often they become crutches. Why? Because the peace, respite and euphoria are temporary and fleeting.

--I’ll be you’ve seen it; I know I have. Someone hurting or in hardship will have a well-meaning person apporach them and try to soothe them with those words, "well, you know, ’all things work together for good...’" Their attempt all too often fails miserably. Why? They are words. They don’t provide the real relief. In fact, sometimes they actually make us feel guilty about our pain.

--Let’s say this for the record. Tragedy is not good. It is not good when a child dies, a marriage ends, when cancer hits, when you lose a job or have a financial crisis. These things aren’t ’good.’

--Furthermore, we do people and faith a disservice when we attempt to nullify very real pain and heartache. We can even take matters a step further. This nullify/denial route is almost a knee-jerk reaction~~even from the actual sufferers.

--Illust: A preacher friend of mine tells me about a time when he and his wife lost the baby she was carrying. Miscarriage is always tragic, especially when you had hopes and dreams for that child. The result of this tragedy was that, in his own words, he was simply going thru the motions. As a minister, it took all his strenght to simply walk almost aimlessly. In talking to an older mentor about his experience, the older minister told him, "Sounds like you are mad at God, and I think you should tell him." At first, it sounded unorthodox, maybe even blasphemous. But he trusted his mentor, so he (again in his own words) ’just poured out his soul and let God have it.’ The result? A catharsis that helped him turn a huge corner. For the first time, he was honest with God about his doubt, fear, anger, and bewilderment. From this honesty sprang hope and faith. The scary part? It didn’t come naturally. He almost had to ’get permission’ to do what he did.

--Many think that approach is faithless and heretical. Really? Read the Psalms! Over and over, the psalmist admits (this is the CJ paraphrase), "I’m ticked off, God, and you aren’t making sense to me. Do you hear me?" But note that they take it TO God; they address God, and from this they get a sense of peace. The pain doesn’t leave, but there is a resolve and a wholeness that comes from such honesty.

--Tragedies aren’t good, and this text doesn’t say that they are. The KJV is really not the best rendition of this passage. I do like the newer versions (read passage and emph "In all things God works...)

--What does it affirm? That a sovereign God can use heartache, tragedy and trial redemptively! Since he is bigger than our hurts and sufferings, he can use them to better us and mold us. Look at vs 29. How are we ’conformed into the likeness of his son?’ Does he use trial and hardship to do it? I don’t know what you think, but I tend to think that God does his best work in and thru adversity.

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Timothy Smith

commented on Oct 7, 2006

It's ironic that Nietszche, an atheist whose opinions I rarely appreciate (I know his thoughts well as a former philosophy major), has given me one of my favorite maxims in life. I've been through so many tough times in my ministry--but it's true: what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. I think of it like snake poison. There are people in this world who can be bitten by one or more of the deadliest snakes in the world but will survive it because they've built up antibodies from previous bites. In time, the snake should fear the man, instead of vice-versa.

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