The Apostle Paul – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food;
I have been cold and naked.”
No One Is Immune
Don’t you think Paul, the greatest evangelist that ever lived and one of the most pleasing servants that ever followed Christ, must have asked this very question many many times.
It’s an age-old question, and among the most difficult to answer. We have all thought about it, tried to explain it, and struggled with it. We all wonder exactly how God can be all-loving and still allow such immense pain. It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t seem fair, and it is probably the biggest stumbling block that keeps us from truly trusting in God. Yet in a strange way, the pain we experience in life may be the best sign that he truly is good and that through pain we see his love for us.
What is Good and What is Bad?
To answer this question, we have to start by defining what makes a thing good or bad. Some of these answers seem easy: cancer is bad, violence is bad, death of a loved one is bad, the Holocaust was bad. Most people would agree on this definition of ‘bad things’. These are things that leave us in shock and in pain. These are things that can leave us questioning not only whether God is good, but whether he even exists.
And if God is good, what exactly is ‘good’? Is goodness having things that make us happy? Is goodness peace, quiet, rest and joy? Is goodness found in the absence of pain, or in the absence of fear? Or does goodness go deeper than these things?
A Time to Mourn
“A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
It is clear throughout Scripture that God is good, but it is also clear that we will endure pain, fear, and heartache. Even though God is immensely good, bad things will happen.
So then why doesn’t God guard us from the weeping and mourning and just give us the laughing and dancing?
One thing that this verse confirms is that throughout the course of a human life, we will experience the full spectrum of human emotion. This verse confirms that there is a time for each of those emotions, even the bad ones, the ones we don’t want to experience. We may never know how God is working through our pain and mourning, but even in the midst of excruciating, unspeakable pain we can be confident that he is present and active.
We can know this because Christ himself endured such pain. In fact, the word ‘excruciating’ literally means, ‘the pain of crucifixion’. When we see the unjust, the unfair, the painful, and the excruciating, we can know that Jesus himself experienced that same pain on our behalf out of his deep love for us.
A Time to Die
1 Corinthians 15:55
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
On Easter Sunday of 2019, this rhetorical question written out by the Apostle Paul became extraordinarily relevant. As many of us were getting ready in our Sunday best to head to church and celebrate the Resurrection, we heard news that churches in Sri Lanka had been attacked. Nearly 300 people died as a result. We were once again presented with the strange contrast of Christianity: as we celebrate life, we simultaneously mourn death.
Yet this is what brings us comfort, that although we mourn, we do not mourn as those with no hope. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we grieve with hope, and we can say to even the most horrific death, ‘where is your sting’? Paul says in Philippians 1:3, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. In the deepest struggles of life, and even in death, Paul’s joy and desire is for Christ to be glorified.
When we see the world through the lens of eternal life, we are given a new perspective.
This is why James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).
A Time for Joy
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come”
In a piece by Al Mohler, we learn that this classic Christmas carol is not really about Christmas, but about the future. Mohler writes, “ ‘Joy to the World’ is based upon Psalm 98, which declares creation’s joy when the Lord comes to rule and to judge. When we sing ‘Joy to the World, the Lord is Come,’ it applies when we talk about Bethlehem and when we rejoice in the gift of the infant Christ. But the song also reminds us that Christmas isn’t over; the promises of Christmas are not yet fulfilled. Earth will fully receive her King when Christ comes again, “to reign and to rule.”
Our only true good, and our only true joy in this world is found in Christ. Because of what Christ has done, we see a picture of what Christ will do, and this is why we have joy. This is how we can know God is good, and this is why we are able to face suffering with joy.
The New Testament book that speaks most about joy is the book of Philippians. The irony of this book is that it is written by Paul while he is in prison, arrested for the crime of believing in Christ. This makes the theme of joy all the more extraordinary: prior to accepting and following Christ Paul had all the things one would seem to want from life. He was educated, respected, admired, and successful. This new found faith in Christ led him away from that type of security, and instead brought him beatings, imprisonment, and ultimately death. Yet it is in this new life that Paul finds true joy, and it is there that we find it as well.
A Future Without Suffering
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
There is no answer to our question without looking to the future, and without seeing through the prism of God’s kingdom. Jesus puts it this way, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus himself never answers the question of why bad things happen in this world, other than to confirm that they will continue to happen. He confirms that the world is fallen because we are out of the relationship with God that we are meant to live in. The hope and peace we so desperately seek is not found in stopping every bad thing from happening, because we simply can’t do it. Jesus even tells us that.
The good we seek lies in the confidence that he has overcome the world, and that through his redemptive work he will one day bring all things back into order. It is only then that every tear will be wiped away, and all that is ‘bad’ will be forgotten. We can’t keep every evil and every injustice from happening, but we can know that God is good, he is working even when we can’t see it, and that one day all that is good and true will be fully restored.
Every Affliction Is Someone’s Blessing
I recently preached a sweet lady’s funeral earlier this year. She had served The Lord her entire life. She was only 86 and was still going strong. She had years left in a pretty strong body but she was taken home to heaven with a sudden and major stroke. Her family asked over and over – just how can God use this for the good?
Every service I preach I always make sure everyone leaves knowing how they can go to heaven. At the end of the service but before we went to the cemetery, this lady’s sister came up to me and asked how could God use her sister’s death for something good? All I could say was that my faith teaches me He will but we may never be privy to just how until we get to Heaven.
After the graveside service I had two people come up and say that after hearing me tell how they could go to heaven to be with this dear lady, they had trusted Jesus for their salvation! If the sweet lady we were honoring had not had a stroke and died we would not have had that service and those two individuals might not ever have heard the gospel and really made their decision to trust Christ for their salvation. What do you think was more important to God – the lady living a few more years in this tough old world or those two souls living forever in heaven with him???
You need to remember…Your Affliction MIght Or Might Not Be A Blessing To You But It Will Be A Blessing To Someone…Nothing happens that God does not let happen and then only if it happens for a good reason!!!