Suffering and God's Grace06/27/16 02:45:pm
Is human suffering God’s wrath or His grace? Suffering comes to Christians for a variety of different reasons. 1) God’s Discipline for sin 2) Testing 3) Strengthening our faith 4) Part of God's overall plan for redemptive history. Israel was warned and then disciplined (or judged) by God numerous times. It the Old Testament we see a pattern in the book of Judges (and in other books) where there is a cycle of disobedience, judgment, repentance, and covenant renewal. In the New Testament, we are told in Hebrews 12:3-17 that God disciplines us as children because He loves us. He doesn’t’ discipline us out of anger or wrath, but rather, out of loving grace. The goal of all discipline is to teach us and help us become more holy (Hebrews 12:11). So, God doesn't penalize us for sin as a punishment. Instead, He is allowing suffering to come to us as discipline to teach and mold us into the image of Christ. Remember, Jesus took the punishment for our sin on the cross: the wrath of God poured out on Christ for our sin (Colossians 2:13-14). God doesn't punish us because Jesus is our penal substitute. However, those who haven't repented and turned to Christ will be punished after Jesus returns and they stand before God on the day of judgement (Romans 1:18; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
What about Job and his suffering? As for Job, he wasn’t being punished or disciplined. Job was being tested to show that God meant more to him than any possession or relationship. Job had done nothing to be disciplined for and had been, and continued to be, faithful to God. Job is the oldest book in the Bible, probably written during the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), to show that God should be the most important aspect of our life (James 5:11). Things come and go, but fidelity to God is what's most important. Our relationship with Him transcends all other things. Sometimes, suffering helps us to see what’s truly most valuable in life.
What about Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)? Paul’s thorn wasn’t for discipline or testing, it was given as a grace in Paul’s life. Paul struggled with the thorn and asked God to remove it several times, but God had allowed it be in his life to keep him humble and close to God’s heart. God’s grace was sufficient for the pain and came only with the pain. It wasn’t fun, but it kept him strong in Christ. Paul understood that to be weak in his own strength meant that he had to rely heavily on God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:10). What a beautifully Christ-centered view of suffering! The presence of pain does not mean God’s love has left us (Romans 8:28; 31-39). Even in pain we can still trust Him. Suffering can produce growth and love for God in a way that an easy life never could. We should always seek to discern what God is trying to do in us though every circumstance, including suffering. It may be that He is disciplining us or that He is just testing us. For Christians, suffering is always a product of God's grace. Don’t ever think that God doesn’t care about your pain or that His love has left you. God cares about us with deep compassion and His mercy abounds for His people, especially when we suffer. Chances are that you are either going through a time of suffering or one is just on the horizon for you. Don’t be afraid of it, know that God is going to lead you through and His grace will be with you every step on the way.
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. James 5:11 (ESV)