I have a huge problem with seeing the bad and neglecting to acknowledge the simultaneous occurrence of much good in my life. It’s a common problem for human beings, and I’m far from unique in this regard.
The vast majority of us come into this world as seeing life in black and white. It’s a consequence of our human finiteness and being able to reflect only upon our past (because, honestly, as soon as we start to reflect on the present, it’s already become a part of the past).
But, what would we see if we could see with God’s eyes?
I think we would see our lives as lived moving across our own stippled masterpiece. What appears to us in time and space as alternating black dots (spiritual valleys) and white space (spiritual mountain tops), is seen from an Eternal perspective as a finished portrait made up of dynamic shades of gray. The more vivid the final image, the more black dots we may encounter.
So, what are we to do when we find ourselves languishing over the ‘black dots’– the times of trials and suffering– in our lives?
Well, I think our (authentic) humility before a Soveriegn God can take us far (2 Corinthians 7:1)….But that seems to come only as a final result. Human beings tend to be, by default, pretty arrogant and faithless. To our own hurt!
We may try to mitigate our experience of suffering by denying who we are in Christ (St. Peter did this not once, but three times), or try to distract from our own weakness/shortcomings (through rejecting God’s grace in bringing about our own ‘righteousness’, then oppressing others with it; i.e. The Pharisees), or even try to run away from God because we fear His exceeding goodness in light of our inherent selfishness (I’m sure you’ve heard about Jonah…).
Not a one of these strategies will help us out of our pain. (Because I’ve tried them all already… Trust me. No Bueno)
The only way out of our experience of pain and suffering is through. (1 Peter 1:6-7).
I hate this! I really do! I wish we could just bypass hardships and sufferings. But, Jesus kind of warned us that we would have a rough road ahead of us:
“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.”
Matthew 24:9-14 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
Yikes. I’m not being tortured and put to death for my faith. The fact is though, that many Christians before us have been.
I can hardly imagine such suffering.
Now, of course, I’m talking here specifically about the suffering experienced by those already found in Christ. There is a suffering that afflicts all of humanity, the prison of disbelief (Romans 11:32). We are delivered from this type of suffering through faith in Christ– and deemed righteous by God–justification or positional sanctification. But we are still quite capable of sin, as we are still fully in our humanity. Deliverance from that comes only through the painstaking process of progressive sanctification.
Basically, if you think that the experience of suffering is only for unbelievers, or only comes to pass because of one’s own sin, you may want to read 2 Corinthians.
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from 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; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NRSV, italics mine)
When we have claimed our identity in Christ, continually seeking out the righteousness of God, and submitting ourselves to His will, we should expect to encounter the flames of the refining fire. As precious metal is purified, so are the children of God.
“See, I have refined you, but not like silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.”
Isaiah 48:10 (NRSV)
I know what you may be thinking here– Christ took away our burden of sin. So, peace and joy and victory are ‘rightfully’ ours!
I’m sorry that you have been so misled. Prosperity theology wants you to believe that Christ suffered so we don’t have to. It’s only partly true. The cross of Christ bridges the gap between God and humanity. But… Christ Himself tells us:
““If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
This slow and painstaking process of progressive sanctification comes after accepting the gift of God’s Grace that is our Eternal Salvation (positional sanctification) . Yup, there are two kinds of sanctification. Big bummer, right?
I believe God seeks to redeem the rest of our human lives in calling us into the process of Progressive Sanctification. And this process requires our continual, focused attention on God in Christ. It’s not imputed to us as is our baptism and initial entering into the life of the Spirit. This particular process takes all of our effort plus God’s.
If we find ourselves in a black dot–amidst trials and suffering– I need you to know, we aren’t suffering alone.
The Spirit is with ever with us:
“ For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
2 Corinthians 5:4-5 (NRSV)
The best we can do in our personal trials is to hold on ever tighter to our hope in Christ. It is not easy, nor is it fun, but what we toil for here, we will reap as rewards that cannot be stolen from us, nor lost or destroyed (Matthew 6:20). It may not seem to be worth the price in the midst of trials, but we can rest assured ,by our faith in Christ:
“…that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28 (NRSV)