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Glory in Suffering



 

For the past two years, a dear friend of our family has been struggling with the advanced stages of breast cancer. Miraculously, she has survived a year longer than her physicians anticipated without surgical intervention or chemotherapy. The faith that she constantly exhibits is a witness to everyone she meets. She is convinced from the depths of her soul that Jesus will heal her and that ultimately she will be able to testify to His goodness and His ability to restore her to wellness.

The Bible is filled with examples of people who exhibited great faith which led to astonishing miracles that God performed on their behalf. Noah, Moses, Abraham, Elijah, and Elisha are just a few of the great heroes of faith. These examples illustrate the call for each Christian to exercise greater faith in their Christian walk. In several situations, Jesus Christ admonished His disciples to have greater faith and when they were not able to drive a demon out of a little boy He replied,"Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ĎMove from here to thereí and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."(Mat 17:20) We are counseled to ask, believe, and claim, and then the Lord will answer our prayers.

Sometimes, we learn about people who are spontaneously healed or other improbable events that could only be classified as miracles. When we find ourselves struggling under the load of adversity, we may consider the disciplesí lack of faith and conclude that we must have the same low level of faith, because the Lord does not appear to be exhibiting His miracle-working power in our lives. This could lead us into depression, causing us to question our spiritual walk and why we cannot achieve the obvious faith walk of the Bible heroes. Of even more concern, may be a perception that the sin in our life is separating us from Jesus and not allowing miracles to happen. It stands to reason that even in the Christian community, many people are diagnosed with terminal illnesses and not miraculously healed. Does this mean that God is only blessing the few people who have had amazing recoveries? Unfortunately, many people conclude that if God has not intervened with a miracle, then that personís faith must not be strong.

Obviously, to maintain an appropriate perspective about miracles and faith we need to consider what the Bible reveals about this subject. While the following points are not all-inclusive, they have helped me to understand the relationship between miracles and faith:

1. God is in control.

God is the all-powerful Master of the universe. The Bible states that He is the end and the beginning (Rev 22:13); the eyes of the Lord go throughout the Earth (2 Chr 16:9); Christ is the head of every power (Col 2:9) and is sovereign over the kingdoms of men (Dan 4:17); God holds our lives in His hands (Dan 5:23); and He is the Creator who does not get tired or weak (Isa 40:28). It is impossible for created beings to understand all that God has done. (Ecc 3:11) If I accept that God is in control of the universe, then He must also be in control of my life. If He controls my life, then I must trust that my physical status is also in His hands.

2. God knows the big picture.

The ultimate goal of the entire plan of salvation is to provide life throughout eternity to as many members of the human race as possible. God cares enough about us to number the hairs on our head. (Mat 10:30) If our ultimate destiny is at stake, we need to accept that Godís will may allow us to have physical or emotional pain. God understands our needs and desires, but if we are truly living by faith, we will accept what He has in store for us. The Lord may choose to answer our prayers based on our desires, but pressing to place our personal will above Godís will for us can be a risky choice. Remember, King Hezekiah prayed for longer life and the Lord answered his prayer, giving him an additional fifteen years of life. However, the pain and suffering that Hezekiah caused for himself, his children and his country by his disobedience during those fifteen years could have been avoided if Hezekiah had completely accepted Godís plan for his life. God knows the end from the beginning and His primary goal is to have each individual accept His offer of eternal life. Even more, after an individualís salvation is secure, God will use that individual in every possible way to lead others to salvation. I call this concept the "salvation quantity rule." As Christians, we should strive in life or death, to be used as His instruments to illuminate the way for people to know and walk with Christ daily.

For me, this concept addresses the question of what happens at the time of a fatal airline crash. An atheist friend of mine cannot understand why people may testify about Godís grace in allowing them to miss that fatal flight. His question is "Where was God for all the people that died in the crash?" Using the "salvation quantity rule," at the time of the crash, the highest percentage of people possible on the airplane had an opportunity to receive eternal life when it crashed. For the individual missing the flight, the "salvation quantity rule" allowed that person to witness Godís protection in his or her own life and use the witness to provide salvation to other people.

3. He is well acquainted with human suffering.

We do not have the capacity to understand what Christ experienced when accepting the burdens of sinful humanity. (A poor example illustrating the gulf between divinity and humanity could be likened to a human being assuming the body and mentality of a pesky insect like a housefly.) Even more, Christ accepted physical and mental anguish far beyond what we will ever experience on Earth. The Bible says He was a "man of sorrows" and "familiar with suffering. (Isa 53:3) I take comfort in the fact that I am not asked to bear burdens or pain beyond what Christ bore while on this Earth. Christ knows our pain and His empathy for us cannot be measured in earthly terms. He calls us to know Him and if we are truly called by Him, we will be willing participants in the "fellowship of His sufferings." (See Phi 1:29; 3:10; and 1 Pet 4:12)

4. Bad things happen to good people.

Christians are not given an exemption from the results of 6,000 years of sin at baptism. We live in a world where accidents happen, pain abounds, stress increases, and temptations are constantly accosting us. Individuals, through no choice of their own, are genetically susceptible to life threatening diseases and we should not expect to be sheltered from these conditions because we chose to follow Christ. The story of Job provides a Biblical example of what can happen to the most saintly of Godís followers. A genuine hero of faith will testify to Christís goodness, even in the midst of adversity.

5. Satan attacks those that are living closest to Godís will.

Logically consider for a moment how you would manage your resources if you were Satan. Where would you direct your greatest temptations? Who would you choose to afflict with the greatest misery you could create? Where would you strategically place your strongest attacks? Personally, I believe Satan saves the most powerful weapons in his arsenal for the people who are doing their best to exercise Godís will in their lives. These attacks are conducted for two reasons. If Satan can cause spiritual leaders to lose faith or succumb to temptation, then he has achieved the opposite of what God wanted to accomplish. He has removed the leaders from the path of salvation and has also provided a greater potential for failure in the individuals who chose to follow the leaders. Even more self-serving, if Satan can cause a saint to lose their faith, that person will receive the consequences of their sinful life, instead of those sins being transferred to himself. Satan will use any lie, ruse, or trick to draw people away from God. His goal Ė to humiliate and cause God great suffering. He is not beyond using serious medical situations to discourage us and limit our faith, if they serve to further his diabolical goals. Nearly every temptation that Satan can throw at a child of God is meant to reduce that childís faith. However, we can take comfort in the promise that"God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."(1 Cor 10:13)

6. Death is not the end, it is the beginning.

For God, Earthís short period of sin is just a blip on the entire spectrum of eternity. From an eternal view of the battle, He is willing to end a few individualís lives prematurely to guarantee their salvation and eternal life. We tend to understand life on Earth because it is the only environment to which we have been exposed. Death is perceived to be the final termination of our existence with no future which can be reached. The reality is much different for a person who has accepted salvation. When that person dies, the next instant for him or her will be the beginning of eternal life. The new beginning for each individual who has passed over the threshold from this earthly existence to an eternity with Jesus Christ will be incredible to experience.

7. During the potholes of life, works and faith are unrelated.

Most Christians would dispute this concept as not scriptural. For example, James wrote"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."(Jam 2:26) Obviously, the exercise of faith is not complete without deeds. However, this expansive relationship between faith and deeds, as well as Paulís connection of the two elements in a Christianís walk, do not provide a complete picture. Christians often have a tendency to think "I did everything right, so why is God punishing me now." In other words, because they thought they were doing what God wanted them to, they believed they would be sheltered from the rough spots of life. How can this concept be true if Satan is throwing every trial he can at the Christian to bring him or her down. Satan does not play fair and you can be sure that previous deeds will not make a bit of difference in the downtrodden Christianís life. The only element that will provide sustaining power for a Christian is complete faith and the hope that God is going to use the situation to save the most people possible. This is the faith that the martyrs embraced when they were killed for their beliefs. It is the same type of faith that supports the Christian when it appears there is no way out of a dreadful situation.

8. Miracles and faith are not necessarily related the way we think they are.

Many "faith healers" claim that God can heal individuals of incurable diseases. Of course He has that power, but the temptation for Christians is to believe that if they have enough faith, either in their personal walk with God or in a "faith healers" ability to use Holy Spirit power to heal them, then God will honor their faith and they will be healed. To be sure, the Bible illustrates many occasions when a person was healed due to the strong faith of either the healer or the person that was healed. There is no doubt that faith was a requirement for many of the miracles performed in New Testament times. However, I believe miracles were often used as a faith-building exercise for baby Christians rather than to demonstrate strong faith in mature Christians. I would submit that it takes greater faith for a Christian to continue praising God and believe in His power during the worsening stages of a terminal illness, than to be immediately healed when the disease is diagnosed. God uses the salvation quantity rule in all His works on Earth, ensuring that the largest amount of people will turn to Him. That is why miracles are more common in missionary environments than they are in the modern Western Christian environment. In addition, a true miracle (or healing) may not contribute to another personís faith in advanced cultures because more often than not, the credit is rarely given to the Master of the universe. Therefore, I believe it is safe to conclude that even through a Christianís faith may rival that of the Bible heroes, they may not receive a miracle. On the other hand, a baby Christian of limited faith may be subject to a miraculous event making their faith more secure.

9. God gives us the strength we need, one day at a time.

Faith in God is composed of many elements, but one component of faith in God transcends miracles, healings and other visible evidences of Godís work on Earth. Not everyone needs physical evidence that God is working a miracle in their lives. The basic element of living by faith is a unequivocal knowledge that God is ever present and ever able to work within each individual to promote salvation. He has called us to"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."(Mat 11:28-30) This is one of my favorite promises in the entire Bible. He calls us to place our burdens on Him and He will give us rest. One of the most simple, yet profound, elements of faith is that each person, no matter what their lot in life, whether they are well or sick, rich or poor, wise or foolish, can, by faith, transfer their burdens to Christ. In return, we receive the Holy Spiritís peace (and power), giving us the strength to deal with the smallest to the largest of lifeís challenging circumstances.

The challenge for followers of Christ is not to focus on miracles, but instead concentrate our efforts to go where He wants us to go, be what He wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do (GOBEDO) Ė the walk of faith. In this manner, our relationship with Christ will grow and He will be by our side in times of struggle, pain, and temptation. My prayer is that we will be witnesses for Christ, even in the midst of suffering. In the final analysis, my hope is that, like Job, if asked to suffer more, that I will do it with grace and in the process, give God greater glory. Glory in suffering Ė is there a more noble calling?