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Maybe we do not believe that God created evil, but we might wonder about God's motives in allowing His own people to suffer.
There is no doubt that this statement can raise up a number of specific situations in our minds which we might not understand. We might wonder why God would allow such and such situation. We should first accept the fact that we can not always get a specific explanation. If we really believed in His goodness, we wouldn't need an explanation. However, the Lord does give us a general understanding on how He uses suffering so that He might build up our faith and protect us from temptation. Romans 5:3-5 says,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations,
knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and
perseverance, proven character; and
proven character, hope; and
hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
From tribulations come perseverance, proven character and hope. In other words, God is creating a greater good by the suffering. We have written about this in different places, but for now let us think about gaining a sufficient degree of confidence of God's goodness that we will never again question God's goodness during severe trials.
We can only do this if we can trust God. The Apostle Paul had weathered so many trials that he very clearly had thought through the pattern he gave in Romans 5. Talk about troubles! Listen to his and you won't think so much about yours!
... In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Paul had a special understanding of God that enabled him not to doubt God's goodness through the great difficulties he met during his ministry. Unless we to some degree gain this confidence, we cannot be godly. These trials are the very means boys are made into men. Only those who have been able to learn and trust God's Word will be able to live by faith rather than by feeling. They will be able to trust how God in His goodness incorporates difficult experiences into our lives.
Paul calls his special ability to endure such hardships a secret. Do you want to know what it is? Let's look closely at Philippians 4:11-13.
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
One would normally question God's motives as to why He would have His children go through times of deprivation. My wife once asked me, "Would I do this to my children?" I pointed out in her life how she herself does this but only when there is a very important reason to. We might have to clean a wound in spite of the child's protests. If we are truly good parents, we cannot be concerned with their protests and their crying. As to deprivation, some things can only be well learned when we go without.
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Normally we associate goodness with bounty and abundance. The apostle appreciated these 'good' times just as we would. He says he has learned to live in prosperity. Prosperity has its own temptations to conquer. Paul also learned how to be content during times of hunger, during times of suffering need. Contentment shows a true trust in God's good provision. The secret is to trust God for every thing that is needed in a particular situation. If He doesn't give it when or how we think we need it, then He has a better plan. Paul summarizes this approach by verse 13.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul can handle any situation that God brings him to face. He can also be confident that anything he faces is by God's hand. Nothing can sneak into his life without God's notice, whether good or bad. He doesn't need to fear a thing. This trust brings a great degree of contentment. Paul determined that he would be fully satisfied no matter what the Lord gave to him in any situation. He would trust His heavenly Daddy to know and do best for him. Paul not only grew in understanding God's purpose and mission, but also on the way God would carry this mission out.
Some have a very difficult time associating 'suffering needs' with God's will. If after reading the above passages and one still feels this way, it is more than likely because he has allowed bitterness to come into his heart. Many of our spiritual problems in the end question whether God is really good. These people need first to go through the door of confession. They might pray something like this.
My dear Father in heaven, I have not been able to trust you for taking care of me. Every time I hear about possible layoffs, I freeze up. I panic. I get everyone upset at home. In the end, Lord, I just do not trust in your goodness. I say I believe you are good and loving, but when it gets down to tough circumstances, I show I don't.
Please forgive me for thinking you are not good. You are totally good. Your love comes at me nonstop. Right now, I want to give this whole work situation to you. I want to start trusting you rather than my job for providing for my family needs. I sense you also need to get rid of some bitterness about not having things when I was small too. I give you that whole area of my life, but please bring me to be like Paul. Whether I have abundance or suffer need, may I trust in your goodness to care for all my needs. In Christ's Name I pray, Amen.
God is too good to miss trusting His care for us. Yes, we will need to make adjustments in our expectations. Paul oftentimes ran into things that worked out differently than he expected. He was robbed on a missionary journey. But all of this is in His good will and it needs to be okay for us. We need to change our expectations to meet yours. This is the secret we have to learn.
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Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988