There is a false version of Christianity which affects a vast amount of the professing church. This version presents us with a Christianity where there are no problems and everything goes along smoothly in our lives. God is like a kindly Father Christmas who only gives us the good things that we want, so that we have nice lives, and everything works out sweetly. This is a false version of Christianity. It is very attractive and therefore a lot of people buy into it, but it is a lie. We can state this because this representation of Christianity is not true to life’s experiences and most importantly it does not conform to what we find in scripture.
In scripture we find suffering and we find a lot of it. In the Bible, we find many people going through a wide variety of difficulties. Just start to think about some of the great individuals of scripture. Think of Joseph who was a servant in Potiphar’s house and then a prisoner in Pharaohs jail. In these realms much hardship was suffered What about David who spent much time as a fugitive from an angry King Saul? Then think of Job and ponder upon the terrible ordeal that he went through, with his family and good health all removed by God. These examples could be multiplied as we consider that, as Eliphaz correctly observes in speaking to Job, man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards (Job 5:7).
The greatest example of a man who suffered in this world is that of Jesus Christ. When we start to think of our Saviour we are given the greatest example of the man who suffered in this world. Prophetically, Isaiah says of Him that He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Is. 53:3a). And then we think about His cross; such suffering in the body. And yet the suffering in His spirit and soul was so much more as we read: And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’(which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’) (Mark15:34).
So let us “get real” and realise that to be for God and to live for Him does not exempt us from the difficulties of life. In fact when we come to Christ we add a further level of difficulties to our situation, in that we now have the flesh, the world and the devil against us. Life is tough. Mental, physical, emotional and perhaps worst of all spiritual afflictions will come upon us.
So how are we to respond:
- Remember God is in control. We believe in the One who is the creator and sustainer of all things. We believe in the One who sovereignly arranges all things so that they are to be for the glory of His Name and the benefit of us, His people.
- He is the God who is the God of our Salvation. It is useful here to stop and introduce Psalm 88 which is surely the bleakest of all the Psalms. In fact in many ways it is a hopeless Psalm. It finishes (in the original Hebrew) with “darkness”. And yet it is an encouraging Psalm because here is a man dealing with the hardships of life and still hanging on to God. That all flows out from him knowing the LORD as the God who saves me (Ps. 88:1b). Let us similarly never forget that through all the hardships of life we know the God who saves
- God is working good into our lives through suffering. In Psalm 119:67 we read Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. The most glorious good that He is working is to make us to be more like our LORD Jesus. This is the outcome of knowing that all things are working for good in Romans 8:28, and it is so that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)
- God is preparing us for usefulness through our suffering. Paul writes to the Corinthians who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Cor. 1:4). Through suffering we are equipped to be able to help others in their suffering.
- God is with us. In Isaiah 43:2 we read these words from the LORD: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. In times of hardship we so easily think that God has left us. Hence these words should be of great importance to us.
So life is tough, and we are doing ourselves and others a disservice when we pretend that things are otherwise. But remember this word from Psalm 104:20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. Times of darkness and night in our lives seem useless times when we are going through them. But when we observe the analogous situation revealed in this verse, of what is going on in the forest at night we are led to conclude that so much is happening which is beneficial under the cover of darkness. In fact, many of the beasts only operate at night when it is dark. How that true is that is for us. So often in the darkness God is the most active; He is working lessons into our lives which can only be learnt when it is dark
The response of the psalmist in Psalm 88 then becomes the apposite. In this psalm he sees no hope; he has no word from God to encourage Him, and yet we are encouraged to know that he boldly and firmly hangs on to the God who he knows is the covenant keeping LORD, who will not let him go. He is not in denial, he is honest about what he is going through. He is overwhelmed with troubles (v3a), his friends have all gone (v8a), his eyes are dim with grief (v9a). This is not just an episode in his life, he goes back this youth and observes that since then “I have suffered and been close to death” (v15a), And yet he does not turn away from God, but turns to Him and that is always the best thing to do.
Let us not have a sugar-coated Christianity then. Let us be real. Life is tough, but God meets us in the toughness of life and glorifies His name.
(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of June 2015)