Afflicted But Not Crushed

pexels-photo-262140.jpeg

“Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.” – Charles Spurgeon

Righteous and Bruised

Suffering is real for the believer, just as for the reprobate. It comes just as often and hits just as hard in the span of a Christian’s life as in the life of any sinner. This reality is part in parcel to why our theological and doctrinal convictions matter. What we believe the scriptures to teach directly impacts how we live and think. I have a deep-rooted conviction that every Christian should have a sound and expansive theology of suffering.  The scriptures don’t shy away from addressing suffering as a Christian, and neither should we. The child of God is not exempt from suffering, in fact a true Child of God should expect suffering and embrace it as a gift from God! Paul says it this way in Philippians 1:29:

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake”.

When’s the last time you offered thanks and praise to God for granting you to suffer for Christ’s sake? I don’t mean to seem condescending with that question. I just know it’s not how we’re groomed to think here in the west. As Christians in America we’re by and large, conditioned to view pain and suffering in one of several ways; as retribution for hidden sins, as satanic opposition (probably the most widely held view), or as a foreign anomaly to the christian life. There may be certain aspects of truth within each of these views of suffering, but to view all suffering through any one of those lenses exclusively is to do yourself a great disservice. However, what I don’t want you to hear me saying is that suffering is pleasant or is to be sought, no need to seek suffering it will doubtless find you. Neither am I saying that your suffering is in and of itself the gift or good. No. The gift and goodness of suffering is in the outcome that God will bring about through the suffering He is working in your life. If you currently view suffering through any of the lenses I just mentioned above, I’d like you to please hear me out as I continue.

I believe that being lovers of TRUTH requires us to bear the responsibility of weighing every subjective assumption and conclusion we hold against the Objective Truth of Scripture, and where proven wrong be willing to repent and change our thinking.

In other words, we should care more about lining our thinking up with God’s unchanging Word, then we do about maintaining our subjective biases. For the believer, suffering becomes a gift given by God and not a curse. It is right to view it this way because the Scriptures call us to view it this way. All our suffering, severe as it may be, is light and momentary compared to the glory we are to receive in eternity. More than that, our suffering is analogous to the sufferings of Christ who is the spotless Lamb of God. There are at least two glaring implications for the believer’s life in those two statements:

  1. Our suffering has intrinsic purpose and meaning in the light of eternity.
  2. Christ being sinless, suffered for us to leave us an example for how we ought to suffer.

As believers, we have this sure and steadfast hope to cling to; our God is Sovereign and works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). This is of great comfort to the suffering soul, because we can know with certainty that God is at work in our suffering to bring about His Divine will. There is an invaluable purpose in our suffering and that purpose, chiefly, is to further conform us to the image of Christ. Being righteous and bruised is the pattern of life we should expect, not because we’re sadistic or morbid, but because we’re following Christ’s pattern of life. Jesus himself told us in John 15:18-20, that we will be hated because he himself was hated first, and we will be persecuted because He himself was persecuted. He left us an example to follow, so this becomes part of our calling, to endure hardship and suffering because we are not greater than our Master. Peter says it this way in 1 Peter 2:20,21:

20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

So I submit to you that your suffering, Christian, is not in vain and is not placed on you in spite by God. Rather I encourage you to look gratefully at your hardship and thank God that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ. Your bruises are meaningful and should remind you that you have a pierced and wounded Savior who bids you join him in overcoming the world. Think often and deeply of Christ’s promise to you:

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

A Blessing And Not A Curse

My hope in this article is to encourage some, and by God’s grace help correct others. I’d seek to encourage those currently facing deep affliction and hardship be it what it may! Are you facing hardships in marriage or family? Perhaps in health ailments or disease? Maybe verbal or physical abuse? Are you being defamed or ostracized by others? Are you nearing almost daily the verge of falling beyond being able to rise back up? Then take courage, and realize that you are blessed in your sufferings! Consider that your present sufferings, are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us (Rom 8:18).

I would by God’s grace correct others who may be facing similar difficulties and would consider that they are cursed, or at minimum being punished for some undisclosed sin. Consider that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). The curse of our sins was taken upon the body of Christ on His cross. You can now rest assured beloved, that there remains no more wrath or curse for we who are hidden in Christ.

Yet we still suffer and the pain is still real, but where once our suffering testified against us that we were fully in Adam. Now our sufferings testify to the reality that we are united with Christ. Where once we were alienated from God without hope in this world. Now we have an abiding and unfading hope, that our present suffering is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). Our Unity with Christ is only further confirmed through our suffering not refuted by it. Paul would persuade us in this way:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:16–18

Left to ourselves, we would never choose that which God would choose for us. We do well to know with full assurance that any affliction or hardship that reaches us as children of God, comes directly through the hand of God and by the will of God. When hardship reaches us God is faithful and true to see us through it, and to bring us out on the other side more radiant and further conformed to the image of His Son.

I’m especially comforted by this truth in this season of my life. My wife and I recently discovered through a diagnosis that our 2nd daughter, Faith (still in the womb), will need major open heart surgery in May 2018 and possibly a heart transplant due to serious heart abnormalities in her development. What a sobering blow it was to hear this devastating news. What a deep discomfort to see the pain on my wife’s face. Oh how easy it would be on any given day to fall victim to despair, if not only for the truth that God himself has bestowed this gift upon us. Oh what comfort sound theology has offered us, what joy to know him from whom all blessings flow. What solace to drink deeply from the well of God’s sovereignty, and know full well that this trial is from He who works all things according to the counsel of His will. What depression and instability would be our lot if we believed that our sin could bring upon us something that our God hasn’t himself ordained for us. What an insult to the grandeur and omnipotence of God if we thought Satan could afflict us with something that God himself did not allow. What degree of pity would we invite should we believe that some uncontrolled calamity could harm us without our God himself directing and working all things together for our greatest good and His greatest Glory!

In all of this let us be reminded that suffering is profoundly meaningful for the believer, and it is intended to remind us from where our help comes. Let your hardships bring to mind that this world is not our home. In all affliction whether trivial or severe remember the words of the Apostle:

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead2 Corinthians 1:9

Look to God, He is an ever-present help in a time of need! Let your sufferings resound in praise and let your pain help you identify with Christ. So though we are deeply afflicted in every way, by God’s Grace we will never be crushed! Think deeply and often of these words by our beloved brother Paul when you find yourself afflicted:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:7–10

Steps For Application

Dear brother or sister, I don’t know what trial you may currently be suffering. Know this however, if you be in Christ, your trials are a tool in the hand of God to better equip you to enjoy and glorify Christ! Don’t lose hope but look to God; I’d only seek to spur you on toward some practical application of this deep Truth. Consider the following:

  1. Make daily journal entries of your hardships. (We can often express our sorrows more fully in writing then in speech, allowing us an avenue of relief from the mental/emotional anguish)
  2. Find hymns either classic or modern and sing them often. (Hymns are deep Biblical truths in song form, they do wonders in driving your thoughts and affections toward Christ. I recommend starting with Sovereign Grace Music as a gateway to other deep hymns if you’re new to hymns)
  3. Seek out an older Saint who’s well versed in Biblical Truth and ask them to walk with you in your trial. (Hardships are not meant to be endured alone, older Saints have often been through what you’re experiencing and can speak with conviction into your hardships)
  4. Pray fervently. (Prayer can seem ineffective when suffering, but the opposite is true. Go to God in prayer and He will grant you supernatural Peace)
  5. Read Dead Saints and Meditate on the Psalms. (We have over 2,000 years of Church history to glean from, you’ll do well to avail yourself to the writings of dead Saints (not in the Roman Catholic sense) who can speak into your trials. Also, the Psalms are filled with countless rich prayers and songs of deliverance.)

I know these are by no means the answers to your suffering, but I’ll assure you they will help to equip you to suffer well and graciously to the Glory of God! Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters!

Song for Reflection