"If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?" (Judg. 6:13). This wonderment was expressed by the Old Testament warrior Gideon to the angel of the Lord over 3000 years ago. The Psalmist at times also wondered if God had ceased to be concerned about His people (77:1-9). The prophets openly complained to God because they did not understand the ways of the Lord when His people were in difficulty.
The suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ, the most godly person who ever walked this earth, is a mystery to millions. Why did this wonderful person need to go through His death on the cross and all its associated troubles? How was it that He had to endure poverty, hunger, betrayal, mockery, sorrow, and difficulty in His path of obedience to the Father (Heb. 5:8)? Why was such a path to be an example for all His followers (1 Pet. 2:21; 4:1)?
In the early church Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:54-60). James was also murdered (Acts 12:2). Others were imprisoned. Difficulties and testings have been the common lot of believers (1 Pet. 5:9). The Lord Jesus predicted, "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul reminded the believers, "We told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass" (1 Thess. 3:4). Peter counseled the Lord's people: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Pet. 4:12).
Sources and Purposes of Trials
The recurring question is "Why? How could God let such things happen to good people?" There is always an element of mystery in God's dealings (Rom. 11:33). His thoughts and ways are not ours (Isa. 55:8-9). The origin of trials is a complex matter. Prayerful thought and consideration of many Scriptures is required in order to think rightly about what is happening to believers.
Consequences Of Man's Fall. Such things as sickness, handicaps, and death are a part of human life since the fall of man (Gen. 3). At that time sin and death entered into the world (Rom. 5:12). The whole creation groans under the continuing results (Rom. 8:20-22). Believers are not immune from the human predicament. Evil, with all its associated baggage, is an effect of sin.
Consequences Of Personal Sin. Some afflictions are a judgment for misconduct (1 Cor. 11:29-30; Jas. 5:15). We bring this into our lives by doing foolish things, making unwise decisions (Psa. 106:14-15), neglecting responsibilities and speaking without caution. At times men blame God, the devil, or others for what is their own fault. Man is responsible for personal choices (Gen. 3:12-13).
Temptation From Satan. This mighty spiritual personage of evil is a fallen angel. He is permitted by God for a season to oppose the divine purpose. Satan was the instigator of Job's troubles (Job 1). He has continuously plagued man (1 Pet. 5:8; Luke 22:31). He acts as the tempter (Matt. 4:3). He brings physical affliction to men (2 Cor. 12:7), as well as doubt and discouragement. He instigates persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).
Testing From God. In a general way, the hand of God overrules all of life. He permits things without being the author of them. At times He may directly test the faith of someone, as in the classic instances of Abraham being commanded to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:2). At other times, He may work good in spite of others' evil actions, as in the instance of Jesus at the cross. These actions are part of what is called the
providence of God. He orders circumstances for our ultimate good. Often these dealings are a mystery even to devout believers. However, trials are not uncontrolled happenings without meaning. Testing demonstrates the quality of our faith in God. The Scriptures speak of "the trying of your faith" (Jas. 1:3). It is like the purifying of gold in a refiner's fire (1 Pet. 1:7; Mai. 3:3). There can be a sharing in the afflictions of Christ in the flesh for His body's sake (Col. 1:24). There is the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil. 3:10). As His sufferings abound in us, so does our consolation (2 Cor. 1:5). This is not to say that the purpose is to gain merit since we already have a perfect standing with God through Christ's finished work. Rather, it is an opportunity to glorify God (1 Pet. 4:16).
Types of Trials
How are we tested? In almost every way. The forms of crises are varied. Famines, droughts, and hardships tested the children of Israel in the wilderness. At times they grumbled and even openly rebelled against the hand of their Deliverer. Persecution, torture, and death came against Old Testament giants of the faith (Heb. 11:35-37) and was strong against believers in the Apostolic period of the church. This continued afterward. Sickness and physical handicaps touched even the servants of God (Phil. 2:25-27; 2 Tim. 4:20; 1 Tim. 5:23). They have afflicted millions of God's people. Pain can be a great trial, especially when it is chronic. Sorrows of many kinds, especially the loss of a dear one, have brought many tears. Hard times and poverty are common in many parts of the world. Disappointments in life can overturn faith. We can be forsaken and even betrayed by so-called friends. Many have been falsely accused or slandered. Great difficulties in Christian endeavors are heart breaking.
There are subtle and invisible testings. The Lord said, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:31-32 NASB). One can hardly imagine a more difficult test than the one which came upon Abraham when commanded to offer up his son as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2). The simple discipline of having to wait upon God for guidance or answers to prayer is difficult for most believers.
These brief illustrations should be enough to alert us to the fact that life experiences should never be attributed to passing or meaningless misfortunes. They are part of the great spiritual warfare that is constantly being waged, often by unseen forces. We need to pray, to have others pray, and to look to the prayers of our Great Intercessor (Heb. 7:25).
Perspective on Trials
A positive response to trials is dependent on our focus. Victory over suffering requires the long or eternal view (Heb. 11:10, 26; 2 Cor. 4:17). Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, was able to look back and see the hand of God working in his early life. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, imprisoned, and falsely accused while seeking to live righteously. He might have been bitter and vengeful. Instead, he saw it all as part of God's long-term plan for good (Gen. 45:5-8). He was able to rule over Egypt and save the lives of his own family members. We may think that God is indifferent or insensitive to our troubles until we consider the character or attributes of God.
God Is All-Knowing. He knows when His people are suffering (Exod. 3:7).
God Is Wise. What is hidden from us is clear to Him (Rom. 11:33).
God Is Compassionate. He suffers with His people and pities them (Isa. 63:9). He comforts His people in trials, teaching them to comfort others (Isa. 40:1; 2 Cor. 1:3-4).
God Is Just. He will reward us in time (2 Cor. 4:17).
God Is All-Powerful. He will be a refuge in trouble (Psa. 46:1; 9:9-10).
The immediate outcome of trials may or may not be what we desire. He sometimes delivers us promptly (Psa. 34:6, 19) but oftentimes only after delay and suffering. Such was the case of the prophet cast into a dungeon (Jer. 38:6, 28; 39:14). We may cry earnestly to God and
not be delivered (2 Cor. 12:8-9). It is glorifying to God when we are prepared to accept God's will, whatever it is, as the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace did (Dan. 3:17-18).
Response to Trials
The benefits of testing are often related to our response (Heb. 12:11). It is possible to drift into bitterness, resentment, self-pity, and despair. Some have denied the faith and turned away from the Lord Jesus. Those professing faith in Christ are frequently exhorted to be on guard against such attitudes. One may interpret severe trials as a sign of God's disapproval. This was the theory of Job's friends, but plainly they were mistaken (Job 42:7). If Paul had interpreted his sufferings in this manner he would have given up the ministry (2 Cor. 11:23-27). There is, of course, earthly judgment for sin (1 Cor. 11:29-31; Acts 5:3-5), but the misconduct should be obvious in these cases and not something for which we need to search our souls endlessly. Such introspection often ends up with a wrong explanation. He may doubt his sure standing with God (Eph. 1:2-6).
Godly men have often misinterpreted their problems. Jeremiah thought that God was punishing him (Lam. 3:1-12). The disciples thought that the man born blind was afflicted because of either his parents' sin or some supposed sin while in the womb. Neither was true (John 9:1-3). Believers are sometimes overwhelmed with doubt and fear. The Lord's disciples were terror-stricken when a fierce storm struck their little boat. Jesus asked, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:24-25). The opposite reaction is seen among the Thessalonian saints when persecution did not shake their strong faith (1 Thess. 3:3-6). What can we do when attacked by doubt, fear, and confusion?
Meditate On God's Character. God is in control. Trust Him. Be still and know that He is God (Psa. 46:10). Love Him. Praise Him at all times (Psa. 34:1). Praise glorifies God, especially in adversity. Paul and Silas sang when imprisoned, to the amazement of others (Acts 16:25). Spirits are lifted beyond the present trials when we consider the dependable character of our wonderful Savior.
Seek The Mind Of God. Go deeply into the Word. The Bible can give encouragement to your soul (Psa. 119:28, 50, 147). Difficulty can be a marvelous opportunity for fresh insights into God's character and dealings with us. Prayer is particularly in season during times of affliction (Jas. 5:13). Thank the Lord in every circumstance (1 Thess. 5:18). Devotedness when things are not going well is purer than love which is only in the sunshine. Refuse the emotion of fear (Psa. 34:4-5). Over 100 times in the Bible believers are told "be not afraid." By faith God can replace trembling and dismay with strength and courage (Josh. 1:9). Panic makes anything worse. Keep your poise. This inspires and encourages others.
Glory In Your Weakness (2 Cor. 11:30)
. Our weakness is an opportunity to display His strength and power through us (2 Cor. 12:9). Helplessness forces us to depend upon God alone and turns us from self-sufficiency. See trials as a means of building character (1 Pet. 5:10; Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:2-3). Face difficulty triumphantly (Heb. 11:33-34). It is particularly helpful if we are patient (1 Pet. 2:20). Rejoice in it, rather than just endure it (2 Cor. 8:2; Acts 5:41).
Utilize Opportunities. Trials can be used to advance the gospel. Because Paul was in prison he was able to share the knowledge of the Lord Jesus with the whole palace guard (Phil. 1:13). Believers who saw Paul's example were encouraged to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly (Phil. 1:14). Personal conflicts can be building blocks in ministering to others. God comforts us in troubles so we can comfort others in times of trial (2 Cor. 1:4).
Focus On The Future. Look ahead. Present sufferings are nothing when compared to future glory (Rom. 8:18). Light affliction is for a brief time and is then followed by the reward of eternal glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Great persecution will bring great reward to the sufferer (Matt. 5:11-12). The Lord Jesus says, "Rejoice!"
Trials And Suffering
1. Identify the
origins of trials and suffering in each of the following verses:
Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12
John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 11:29-30
Luke 22:31; 1 Peter 5:8
Genesis 22:1; Hebrews 12:6
2. How does God use trials and suffering in a believer's life (John 15:2; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Heb. 12:10; 1 Pet. 5:10)?
The Bible teaches that a believer is called to suffer with Christ and for His sake. How does Paul's life manifest this (Acts 9:15-16; Rom. 9:1-3; 1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 4:11; Col. 1:24)?
3. What quality in a believer's life does God test (Jas. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:6-7)? How do trials and suffering actually test this quality? Why is it important (Heb. 11:6)?
4. What are some
ways that a Christian may be tried?
2 Corinthians 11:26 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4
2 Corinthians 12:7 1 Timothy 6:9-10
Philippians 2:27 2 Timothy 3:12
5. Identify some of the
benefits of trials and suffering
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Hebrews 12:11
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 James 1:3-4
Which of these benefits motivates you the most to endure testing? Why?
6. The Book of Job addresses the problem of suffering and gives us instruction on the proper response to suffering. What kind of man was Job (1:1, 8; 2:3)? What does Satan's challenge indicate about the reason Job was tested (1:9-11; 2:4-6)?
Identify the trials Job faced and his response.
The greatest attack was on his trust in God. What attitude did he have (13:14-15)?
7. What should be a believer's response when facing trials and suffering?
Psalm 46:10 Ephesians 5:20
Psalm 119:71-72 1 Thessalonians 5:18
2 Corinthians 12:9 James 1:2
Why is a proper view of God's character important during these times? List the attributes of God that you might meditate on in times of testing.
8. Describe the response toward trials and suffering of the following: Christ (Heb. 12:2):
Stephen (Acts 7:54-60):
Paul (2 Cor. 4:17-18; Rom. 8:18):
What common factor is present in the outlook toward trials?
9. Read 1 Peter 4:12—5:10. List key steps to take during times of trials and suffering.
10. Cite an experience in your life in which you underwent a trial or suffering. What helped you endure it? How did you benefit from the experience?