Our Current Affliction
Do you remember the television show from the 80s, “Family Ties”? There was an episode in which the young man, Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael Fox) grieves so terribly at the sudden death of a close friend that his parents send him to a therapist. Early on in the counseling, the therapist asks Alex, “Alex, do you believe in God?” Like any consistent non-Christian, Alex tosses off the question as irrelevant. But much further on into the therapy, the counselor repeats the question. This time Alex replies, “I know why you are asking that. If there’s a god, then all this makes sense. Even my friend’s death makes sense.”
How’s that insight for a sitcom? Our suffering would be far harder to bear if it really was senseless, if it did not have a purpose. But it does. Paul reminds us that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
Our sufferings last only a little while from the perspective of eternity. How small they will seem when we are in the New Jerusalem! And while we endure trials, they serve a purpose, and that purpose is to prepare us for the very eternity which is reserved for us.
Peter says, "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).
When you first become a Christian you are far from “arrived.” One of God’s ordained methods to bring us to full maturity in Christ is through suffering. Certainly, this is not God’s only purpose in the trials and tragedies that come into our lives, for our God is big enough to work one event to many purposes, but it is certainly one purpose. This is a frequent theme in Scripture, the scripture above and James 1:2-8 or Rom 5:3-4 are other examples. Suffering serves to purify us and makes us more fit for the kingdom of heaven.
Experience also bears this out. How many of you are familiar with the story of Corrie Ten Boom, or have seen the movie based on her autobiography, The Hiding Place? For 40 years she was self-consciously a Christian prior to the Nazi invasion. She describes her life as a mediocre one filled with petty concerns. Then she ended up in a prison camp.
The contrast with her life after her prison camp experience is astounding. She learned total dependence, total trust in the Lord. The dross was melted away and she became one who touched the lives of many thousands with her story and the message of the Gospel.
Suffering teaches us of the sovereignty of God, how God is in control of every detail. Through experience this doctrine moves beyond a dry and dusty academic statement on the pages of a theology text, becoming a living hope which sustains us. It is a dynamic truth which makes sense out of all we face.
What we face now is part of God’s purpose for us. But if you love your Lord and Savior, then you have the power to face that suffering. You have the power because God is behind the suffering, working out your salvation in the present. You have the power because your life rests on what Christ has accomplished. And you have the power because you will live with him and reign with him in eternity, in that time when every tear will be wiped away, and every laughter fulfilled.