Suffering and the People of God
by Dennis Michelson
The health and wealth gospel has produced a lot of disillusioned and depressed Christians. Despite what they say, Christians get old, wrinkled, and die. God does intervene at times but not always. We cannot totally escape participation in the evil and suffering of this present world.
If you doubt this then you are ignorant of what many Christians (around the world) endure every day; not old enough yet; kidding yourself; or a combination of the above. Some accounts tell us that there were more Christians martyrs in the 20th century than in the first 19 centuries combined. Perhaps the most dominant form of suffering peculiar to the people of God is discipline.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
What do these verses mean as they relate to the suffering of God's people?
1. This Discipline is Designed to Help Believers Combat Sin.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:4)
2. This Discipline is Given to Provide Encouragement for Those Who Really Want to Please God.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in the infirmities, the the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Corinthians 12:7-9)
3. This Discipline is for Our Good (Hebrews 3:6-19 and Hebrews 12:10)
4. This Discipline Provides Assurance.
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8)
Some often ask the question, "Does this come from God or the Devil? The answer is - it does not matter. (II Corinthians 12:7) If we are not careful then we will become as those who say that God must remove anything in response to the prayer of faith. If the evil does not disappear, then they either become disappointed with God or crushed because they feel their faith is so weak.
We can never escape the absolute sovereignty of God! Living by faith means we learn to trust him even when we do not understand what we perceive as evil. We need to learn that some of God's discipline - all designed for our good - can simultaneously be seen as calamitous evil. It is the uncertainty of not knowing what is actually going on that leads to our pain. Do we always have a real need to "figure eveything out?" What did Joseph say in Genesis 50:19-20?
5. No Discipline Seems Pleasant
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. See also Psalm 6:1-3.
Ou faith is not supposed to be like the dry-eyed stoic. Our faith needs to be so robust that it wrestles with God when we are slipping down the backside of a question mark. We do not pursue a purely intellectual theodicy or a fatalistic resignation.
We need to grow in grace so we can be satisfied with God even when we are dissatisfied with our suffering.
Read Psalm 63:1-5.