Something Painful This Way Comes2 Corinthians 1:2-4Theme: Comfort in suffering.This week’s lessons encourage us to better understand and endure hardship.
LessonIt seems to me that there are a variety of reasons why hardships and suffering come into our lives. One reason is that such things are just common to humanity. Job wrote about this and spoke wisely when he said, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). He was simply saying it is part and parcel of life to have troubles. You are going to get sick. Eventually you are going to suffer the loss of members of your family and others by death. There is no particular reason. There does not have to be any deep explanation. These things are part of life. Of course, in most cases, it goes beyond that. I think there are answers. There are things specifically that God is doing with us. But the first answer we find is that some of these things just come. It is part and parcel of what it means to live in a fallen, imperfect world.
The second reason why troubles come is that God sends periods of suffering into our lives in order to refine and polish us. If you just drift along in life and do not have any troubles, you do not always grow a great deal. I saw an advertisement relating to exercise that said, “No pain, no gain.” I think a little bit of pain is healthy. Painful things do make us grow.
When you look at some of the things that the Bible characters underwent, you see that that was certainly the case. Think of David. What a man of integrity he was. What a great king he was. He was a man who was able to endure in all kinds of hardships under the pressure of leading the nation of Israel as a righteous king. How did he learn that? He learned that in his youth as he experienced one persecution after another from Saul and from other enemies. There was also Abraham. He experienced great inner anguish when God required him to take his son and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. But Abraham grew by that experience. And at the end of it Abraham was praised for his obedience. He becomes a model of the faith of obedience for Christians in all generations. So growth is the second reason for suffering.
As I read Scripture I find that the third purpose of suffering is that it comes into our lives for no other reason than it is a way in which God is glorified. That seems absolutely absurd that God should allow one of his children to suffer in order that he might be glorified. Christians more or less can understand that. It is not always easy, but we can kind of understand it.
There are two great examples of that – one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The one in the Old Testament is the story of Job. There was a day when Satan came into the presence of God, and God called attention to Job, a righteous man. Satan said that the only reason that Job acted righteously was because God had blessed him. Satan said that if God were to take away those blessings, Job would curse him to his face.
God, we notice from the story, had called attention to Job. God allowed Satan to attack Job in the area of his possessions and his family because God wanted to show that Job did not love him just because of the things God did for him. Later on in the midst of Satan’s second assault, when Satan had inflicted Job with boils, we are told that Job sat in dust and ashes, a picture of abject misery. Yet, you never find Job cursing God. It is a great story of glory being given to God even in the midst of such suffering.
In the New Testament there is a parallel story, although it is shorter. Found in the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, it concerns a man who had been born blind. The disciples saw this man who had been begging by the gate. Everybody knew who he was. He was there all the time. The disciples asked whether this man was suffering for sin, and if so, whose. Was it this man’s sin or was it his parents’ sin? Jesus replied in a very profound way. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). Then he healed the man, and glory was given to God.
What the story teaches is that God allowed that man to be born blind and to sit there in darkness all his life in order that on this occasion, Jesus might come and heal him so that the power of God might be seen. That is a difficult thing for many people to understand. And yet, that is the teaching of the Bible. As we grow in grace, we begin, in part, to understand.
Study QuestionWhat three purposes of suffering are mentioned in today’s lesson?
ReflectionDo you long to see God glorify himself in your life, even if that means suffering for his sake?