Monday, February 14, 2005

Does Suffering Come from God?

I was thinking about “good works” this morning and how we erroneously think that God’s love and acceptance upon us fluctuates according to our own deeds. And then the thought twisted and I realize that we evaluate God the same way. We look at our life and we use our comfort level as a thermometer to determine God’s favor with us.

This brought to mind 1 Peter 1. It begins in verse 3 by praising God for his great mercy through Jesus. Verse 5 says, “who trough faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Wow, how much better does it get than that? Having God’s own power shielding us until the end of our lives? But, then, verse 6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Wait, back up! First he promises that he will shield us with His power, and the very next sentence he is saying that we will suffer all kinds of trials? Is this a contradiction? A broken promise? If he is going to shield us with his power, but we are still going to suffer, then what in the world is he shielding us from anyway?

Verse 4 may hold that key. “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you.” His power shields us from losing our inheritance. We know that our inheritance is of greater value than earthly comfort because 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.”

So, if suffering is a part of life, does that make God cruel and sadistic, or is there a purpose in our sorrow? Yes, 1 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Going back to 1 Peter 1, verse 7 says, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

So, we see that sorrow leads to increased faith, lack of regrets, repentance, salvation, and the most incredible of all – increased glory when Christ returns.

But what does that mean? How can seeing Christ return to earth to rescue us from our sinful nature and corrupt bodies and ushering us to paradise…how do you increase the joy of that?!

A simple analogy: you live in a comfortable mansion full of servants, loaded with cash, good looks, and everything your heart desires. A salesman comes to your door and says, “Hey I’d like to hire you to work for me. You’ll make $10 an hour and when you retire, I’ll give you a lifeboat.”

Now imagine that you are not lounging comfortably in your mansion when the salesman approaches you, but instead you are out in the middle of the Indian Ocean during a raging tsunami, you cannot swim, and you have just fallen off of your yacht.

Likewise, one can genuinely long for Christ’s return in the midst of prosperity. But how much more deep and genuine and passionate and desperate and grateful will the gift be if when he comes, he doesn’t just rescue us from our sin, but from painful circumstances and relief from our sorrows. One of the few details Scripture gives about Heaven is that there will be no more tears. Who exactly is the Scripture writer appealing to as he describes Heaven? What does the writer assume about his audience to leave out zillions of details of such a place and mention only that we will no longer have tears?

I am not saying one should enjoy suffering. Nor am I saying one who is enjoying a phase of life now that offers much joy and contentment should go out and find sorrow. I am saying that God is sovereign and no matter where you are in your life, he is, as always, on his throne.

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