Human nature hates pain, confusion, death. That is natural. It is understandable. Does the God we serve play a part in any of that? Is He totally absent in our pain? Is He in the midst of our pain? Does He cause it or does He just allow it? We have so many questions regarding this issue especially when we are in the middle of struggling and probably just as many when we are not. It appears that this will be a topic that will be debated and has been debated for centuries with few scholars agreeing on the answers. For what it’s worth, here are my two cents.
Many years ago, a friend asked me why his friend who had been such a godly man was so angry at God for the trials he was in the midst of. His friend couldn’t see that the trials were making him stronger; stronger physically and emotionally but much weaker spiritually. His friend was cursing the enemy and demanding that he leave him alone and he was mad at God for not removing the trial and for not protecting him from the enemy. As I was praying about how to answer, the Holy Spirit flooded my mind with many Scriptures that seemed to answer that very question. It wasn’t the enemy that was causing the torment and the pain, although you could occasionally see his hand in the midst. It was God that was bringing his friend through this trial to accomplish that strengthening, plus, I am sure, much more that he won’t see this side of heaven. He was actually cursing God. First off, it is not always the enemy that is the cause of these issues. If you read Job 1:6-12, you will see that even he had to ask permission to torment Job. Nothing gets past God and God knew that Job could be trusted not to fall. I Peter 4:12-13 states that we are not to be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering as if it were something strange happening to us. In other words, trials are to be expected. Does he blame the devil? Not at all. I Peter 1:6-7 tells us that we are to rejoice in these trials because our faith is being refined by fire and will result in praise, glory and honor when Christ will be revealed. I am sure that most of you have felt that fire Peter was talking about at one time or another. Even James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds. He too states that it is a testing of our faith. This is a command not just from James but directly from the Lord. We are to be obedient in rejoicing in the midst of our trials. At this point, I am sure that you are thinking I have absolutely lost my mind and I appreciate that. I have been in that place. You are probably thinking “Well, easy for you to say… you are not dealing with what I am dealing with. Even God wouldn’t expect me to rejoice in this!!” But that is exactly what God is saying. Look at what these apostles dealt with in their own personal lives and yet continued to rejoice. We see Paul in prison, chained to Silas, feet in stocks and yet singing hymns. By the end of his life, Paul had been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, attacked and thrown in prison and yet you never hear him cursing God for his circumstances. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down and chose that willingly. God doesn’t just use our troubles for our own strengthening while we are here on earth. He uses our trials to strengthen others (II Cor. 1:3-4). As you walked through one of these valleys and learned some valuable lessons, have you ever noticed that oftentimes someone comes your way with a similar struggle? What happens? You get to share how God walked you through the pain and someone else was given hope. And God was glorified. Have you ever looked back on your trial months or even years later and saw how God used it in a totally unexpected way? Jer. 10:23-“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for a man to direct his steps.” In Isaiah 43:1-3, God reminds us that He will be there with us in the midst of our pain, as we pass through the waters, when we walk through the fire. He promises that we will not be burned. You can sense Paul’s confidence in that promise while he is preparing for death. He knew that no matter what he was going to endure, Christ had suffered more. There is no one who suffered more than Christ and He did it without a curse or retaliation, without bitterness or even anger. In light of what Christ suffered for us, we are asked to consider our troubles as light and momentary because they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (II Cor. 4:16-18). That’s a goal that is worth suffering for. So what is God asking of us? God is asking us to change our mindset on how we view the trials we are experiencing. He is not asking us to say, “Praise God my spouse just died” but possibly “This really hurts and I hate it! Lord, show me your mercy and grace in the midst of my pain” or “Lord, help me to continue to be a light to others in the midst of my suffering. Let others see You in me”. As we seek to be obedient to these exceptionally difficult commands, He is faithful to help us in our weakness.
So how does the enemy play into all this? How do I know that it is the Lord and not the enemy? Personally, I would much rather praise God in the midst of my pain or struggle and to look for what He is trying to do in my life than to curse the One who brought it on. God can use any circumstance, good or bad, and use it for His glory (Rom. 8:28). The story of Joseph is a prime example (Gen.37-50). I am sure that if we were Joseph and endured what he did, we would be cursing someone. But knowing how God used it puts a different slant on it. We can see the ending but unfortunately, we can’t do that in everyday life. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes while it was happening and it takes on a whole new meaning. What would the enemy try to accomplish through what he was enduring? He would be playing on Joseph’s mind, trying to get him to rebel or to hate his brothers. He’d probably tell Joseph that he was unworthy of God’s love and that God had caused this to happen. Would he try to get Joseph to try to get revenge on his family instead of promoting reconciliation? Absolutely! Will he try to do that to you? Absolutely! How is the enemy playing on your mind? Is he trying to tell you that you are not loved by God; that you are not even saved? Is he telling you that you are too fat or too thin, not smart enough, not rich enough, not good enough? These are the tricks and lies of the enemy. He is the father of lies (John 8:44). Do not believe him. What should we do instead? If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Know his tricks. Know Who you belong to. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and know that God is your refuge and strength. Yoke yourself to Him and He will help carry your burden. He will walk with you, comfort you in your distress and will strengthen you in the midst of the fire. Count on His promises and look for His hand at work in your life. He is there. Jer. 29:13-“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart”.