“And thus whenever God wants to make people godly and strong that He gives them everything they ever wanted, lots of money, all the Cheetos they could ever eat, and keeps them from any difficulty, illness, or disappointment. God knows this is the best way to create people of patience, perseverance, and integrity…” – 1st Opinions 5:24. FYI: 1st Opinions is actually not a book of the Bible.
I wish that verse was true though, unfortunately it’s quite the opposite. In the Bible whenever you see men and women of greatness, they are inevitably people who have suffered disappointment, failure, weakness, and pain. God promised Abraham he’d have a son and be a great nation, and then let him wander around the desert without his own child for 25 years. Moses felt called to lead Israel out of bondage, (Acts 7:25), so God put him out in the desert for 40 years. (Huh?) David was anointed to be king as a young boy, then God let Saul throw spears at him and forced him to hide in the wilderness. What about the prophets, God’s messengers to Israel? Do you think they got a pass from this sort of treatment? Think again:
God: “Hey Elijah. I need you to help bring Israel’s hearts back to me.”
God: “Yeah, but king is going to hate you and his wife will try to kill you so you’re going to have to live in the desert all alone and suffer for years.”
Elijah: “Wait, what?”
Legendary non-Biblical individuals were also characterized by pain and difficulty. Abraham Lincoln, possibly America’s greatest president, suffered from depression. William Wilberforce, who led the fight to end slavery in Great Britain, had colitis, a debilitating stomach ailment. The Kool-Aid man, who brought joy and refreshment to children everywhere, couldn’t keep himself from running through people’s walls, (okay, maybe that’s a stretch). Bottomline: Greatness of character parallels suffering and heartache.
Personally I’m not a big fan of difficulty, (I’d much rather have all the Cheetos I could stand), but at the same time I can’t deny how God uses pain, disappointment, failure, and suffering to humble, refine, strengthen, soften, and shape individuals into his image. The men and women I respect and admire the most are folks who have at some point in their lives been broken and wounded and had their faith in God severely tested. I am sure you would say the same.
I was prompted to write this blog after seeing several of my close friends be wounded in their faith, struggle with disappointment with God, and be overwhelmed with difficult circumstances. Inevitably, as I looked at their lives and my own stresses, I asked God “why?”
We usually don’t get the answer to “why” this side of heaven, but I was gently reminded how God has sovereignly used pain and heartache to mold men and women into people of honor and strength. It seems so unpleasant, (and it is), and unnecessary, but his ways are not our ways. Maybe it is necessary. Maybe greatness doesn’t exist without unpleasantness, pain, and struggle. Maybe the one who thought up DNA, the complexity of the human eye, and put the constellations in place knows a tad more about how to make godly people than I do…dang it.
So what? Does that make disappointment any less disappointing? No. Does it make illness, depression, or suffering any less painful? No. Does this mean tomorrow I’m going to wake up and say, “O God, please drop a rock on me?” Nope.
Boy I’m doing a great job encouraging you, aren’t I?
I guess the takeaway is that God uses and redeems pain and difficulty. Those things which break our heart most and even cause us to doubt God’s goodness can be the very things he is using to draw us closer to him and make us more like Jesus…dang it. Speaking of Jesus, even the Son of God, in order to save sinners from hell, died a gruesome death on a cross. So maybe pain isn’t totally useless. God consistently uses it to make his people and accomplish his will in their lives…
“In all this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6-7).