Christians go through trials and sufferings of all kinds in this life. This fact is the cause of confusion and indeed alarm to some. They've been told that Christians can live a life of health and wealth. Others have been told that life is overflowing with happiness, is filled with good things, and is basically care-free once a person comes to faith in Christ. So what does it mean when a Christian suffers? Some wonder if their faith is real; others come to the conclusion that God is punishing them for their sin; and still others figure God Himself is the problem -- either He's a liar or He's not real.
The truth is that the Bible never promises that Christians won't suffer. On the contrary, not only do all people suffer in this life, but Christians may suffer even more simply because they are Christians. In 2 Tim. 3:12, Paul says that all who are godly in Christ will suffer (persecution). James says that trials are merely a part of life (Jas. 1:2). Beyond that, God says He even brings us into trials (Zech. 13:9). But there is still an open question isn't there? Why does God bring trials into the lives of those who have been redeemed? We can understand why unbelievers might suffer; but why does God allow His children to suffer?
There are a number of reasons why God takes His people through the fire. One of those reasons has to do with His glory. In Jn. 2:1-7, we're given an informative account concerning this question.
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
Here's a man who was born blind; he's suffered a great deal. The disciples ask an interesting question of Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" You can see that their thoughts concerning why people suffer are not unlike some of the thoughts that we might have. They simply assumed that this man had committed some horrible sin or he wouldn't be suffering this way. He is no doubt being punished for sinning against God. If he's not being punished, then the fault must lie with his parents; they must be the ones who committed some atrocity or else he would be able to see.
Don't overlook Jesus' first statement: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned." It is true that all human beings are born spiritually dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3) as the result of Adam's sin and that all suffering in this world is related to that original sin (Rom. 5:12; 8:20-22). But a person is not born disabled because of personal sin. In other words, God doesn't punish sin that way. Someone can be born disabled if her mother takes drugs during pregnancy. But that is the result of a destructive and sinful action that has physical consequences in a fallen world. That kind of thing relates to human sin, namely Adam's and the universal affects of it. But God is not punishing a mother for drug use when her child is born disabled. Another mom could take drugs and her baby be born with no disabilities at all.
In the case before us, Jesus went on to say the man was born blind so "that the works of God could be revealed in him." God was going to perform a miracle in this man's life through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the blind man to demonstrate the reality of who He is: the Light of the World.
And that's the primary reason God takes His people through tough times: to show the world through them who He is. He may show people who He is in your life by enabling you to suffer with confidence and peace before others. I know a woman in her twenties who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was expecting her first child. Her prayer was that she would live long enough to deliver the baby. She actually died before full term, but the baby was saved. That's a sad and painful story to be sure. But the glorious thing about it had to do with her faith and the faith of her husband. While in the hospital, they were a confident testimony to the grace and power of God at work in the lives of His people. After her death, a man told the husband he'd been watching them. He was about to divorce his wife whom he couldn't stand. He came to realize he needed Christ in his life. He placed his faith in the Lord, committed to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and asked for God's help to do so; and God brought it about. This man is not perfect, but He's a new man in Christ and is lovingly committed to his wife. The works of God were revealed in and through the suffering of that precious young couple.
Who knows how God might display His grace and power in your life when you suffer? It's so important because everyone needs to see who God is. There are people who need the Lord and may see Him through your ordeal. God could heal you for His glory or He could give you an opportunity to talk to others about Him because of your suffering. He could give you opportunity to serve Him, with joy, in a way you had not thought of prior to your trial. I suffered terrible back pain for over a year even getting to a point of paralysis. I couldn't sleep much at all. Because my family was sleeping quite well at the time, I had nothing to do in the middle of the night. So, I took to writing a little more. In fact, my productivity level soared! Ultimately, I had surgery and can walk just fine now. But I wouldn't trade that year for anything. God was so gracious to show His power in me in so many ways during that time.
Just remember: your suffering is not pointless. There are many things God is doing in your life through your hardship. But the most fundamental is that He is working in and through you in such a way as to make known to others just how real He is. And just perhaps, He is doing the same thing for you.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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