Understanding Adversity

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!”

Haven’t you felt the sting of those words when they are directed at you?  Maybe you even hear them come at you in your own voice.

Whether spoken or implied, the meaning is the same:  “You are the reason for your own suffering.”

While there are many times that we do bring pain and hurt on ourselves when we ignore clear biblical commands, that’s not always the case.  If the Bible hadn’t revealed the celestial back story explaining the reason behind Job’s suffering and pain, (Job 1:13-2:8) it might be easy to agree with the conclusion of his three companions who persisted in assuming that unrepentant sin was at the root of his condition.

On the surface, their beliefs weren’t in opposition to what would later be codified in the Law of Moses since those who were rightly related to God were told to expect his blessing and those who rejected his ways should anticipate calamity. (Deut. 27-28) Solomon affirmed a similar truth when he connected the pursuit of righteousness with life, prosperity and honor (Prov. 21:21) while paralleling wickedness with sin and death. (Prov. 10:16) Even the New Testament promises that sowing to the Spirit results in eternal life and while sowing to the flesh reaps destruction. (Gal 6:8)

While it’s true that righteous living invites the blessing of God, and sin results in suffering, a rigid mindset that embraces this as an unyielding dynamic fails to factor in the grace and mercy of God. When believers enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, a great exchange results. He takes the punishment for sin and in its place, He gives His righteousness. (2 Cor. 5:21) As a result, even when wrongdoing rightly deserves discipline, He often delights in giving mercy instead.

And then there are those other times that adversity comes to even the most righteous and dedicated people. In those cases, we must remember that God’s best work of developing maturity and strength of character is often accomplished through difficulty, need and distress. (Rom. 5:3-5) Paul, God’s greatest apostle and church planter, endured the persistent assaults of Satan. He prayed earnestly for relief from what he described as a ‘thorn in his flesh’, however, in place of deliverance, the Lord gave him insight into the plan that the painful situation was accomplishing. With that spiritual understanding, he ceased petitioning for its removal and instead, embraced the work God was doing in him. (2 Cor. 12:7-10) Like Job, people are often in the dark about what Jesus want to accomplish through difficult situations.  However, an attitude similar to the one expressed by Paul encourages us to pray for relief from desperate circumstances while still confidently trusting that in “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

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