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Purity 101

When Believers Face Hard Times

     When I think of believers whose sufferings are recorded in God's Word, I think of Adam, Eve, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Job, Samson, Abigail, Isaiah, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Naomi, Mordecai, Daniel, David, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Jacob, Joseph, Hannah, Paul, Silas, Mary, Martha…all the way to Christ Himself.
     My point is that suffering is not the exception--it's the rule. In my study, I found that believers have suffered from sickness, death, violence, loneliness, loss, poverty, persecution, stress, pain, and even guilt. Sometimes the source of the problem was concrete (for example, a famine or war), while other times the problem was abstract (such as feelings of shame or sorrow).
     Examples of people whose sufferings were concrete are Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, and Christ, who was brutally beaten and crucified in our place.
     Abstract suffering is exemplified by Adam and Eve, who tried to cover their shame with fig leaves and lived with the realization that their own disobedience had unleashed sin on the world, later resulting in the murder of their son, Abel, by their other son, Cain.
     Did you know that even God feels abstract pain? Genesis 6:6-7 reveals that it distresses God to see the sin of mankind. In Noah's day, this sin became so prevalent that "it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart."
     God, who witnesses every murder, abuse, abduction, rape, and bullying that occurs on earth every day, suffers pain as a result of our sin. He feels the rejection of every unbeliever who hatefully uses His name as a curse word, but He also feels unloved by each believer who has time for everything--except fellowship with God.
     He who allowed His friend Lazarus to die, and later wept at His graveside, also feels sadness for us when we are sick. The One who sees the sparrow fall, also hears the panicked cry of pain from the unborn child, as its death is being caused by the very mother God designed to nurture and protect it. How amazing to realize that God, the Creator, suffers pain because of these and other sins.
     Knowing that God suffers and that Jesus His Son took on human form to suffer in our place, gives us the confidence that God knows exactly how we feel--He truly "feels our pain"! The apostle Paul, often imprisoned and beaten for the cause of Christ, put it this way: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
     So, if God knows how it feels when we suffer, why doesn't He keep it from occurring? Well, for one thing, God has an eternal perspective. Remember how He wished, in Noah's day, that He never would have made man? Yet He had anticipated that very feeling on the sixth day of creation, when he spoke man into existence. Why did He make us, knowing that our sin would bring Him grief and eventually cause the death of His Son? The answer is that God was willing to put Himself through suffering because of the eternal benefit. His desire to spend forever with us in heaven motivated Him to endure the temporary pain. (Hebrews 12:2)
     Another reason God allows suffering is to show His


power and glory. This may be why God allows the Hitlers and Husseins of this world to commit multiplicities of murder and violence. "What if God, willing…to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction…that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy" (Romans 9:22-23).
     A Bible example of this would be wicked Pharaoh, who relentlessly enslaved and persecuted the Jews, even throwing their male babies into the Nile. His sin unleashed God's power through plagues which confiscated the Egyptians' firstborn sons. Afterward, when Pharaoh pursued and cornered the terrified Jews at the banks of the Red Sea, God revealed His glory by opening up a pathway for His people and closing it again to trap Pharaoh in the watery grave to which he had doomed so many helpless infants.
     A third reason that God allows bad things to happen to believers is to reveal His glory within us. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). God's ultimate goal for us is that we become more like Jesus Christ. Job, during his time of intense testing, promised, "when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).
     A fourth reason for difficult times in the life of a Christian is so that we can help others. Just as Rae's mother in the story, "A Rae of Sonshine," became a shining example of Philippians 4:13, our experiences of faith in difficult times can often be the most powerful and convincing testimony we could ever give. Because Rae had experienced feelings of deep sadness and loss, she was enabled to comfort another who felt isolated by his grief (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).
     The fifth reason that Christians may suffer is the chastisement of God. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yeildeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). The apostle Paul assures us that God will chasten every child of His. When problems arise, the first response of each Christian should be to carefully examine her own life and repent of any sin that could be causing God's chastisement (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
     However, since the Bible contains many examples of hard times that were not a result of unconfessed sin, we should be careful never to assume that someone else's problems are a result of God's punishment. Matthew 7:1-5 warns us that we are only to judge ourselves, not one another (unless God has put us in a position of authority to do so).
     The important thing to remember when you're in the middle of a difficult time is that God is in there with you and He will bring you out the other side. Each Bible story shows us that those who remained faithful to God during the difficult times were rewarded with earthly possessions, the increased presence and power of God, and/or eternal rewards laid up in heaven.
     Sometime later we will understand why God allowed each circumstance in our lives, and how each one was used as a tool to work His plan for ourselves and others. Like Joseph, we may be able to see in our lifetime that "God meant it unto good" (Genesis 50:20), or it may not be until we reach heaven that we fully understand His promise that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

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