James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (NKJV)
Tough times, trials, suffering, hardship, adversity… a very real part of life. And no amount of positive confession, denial, or wishing thinking can change that fact.
So we’re left to try and understand God’s viewpoint. Does He condone suffering? Does He allow it? Does He have a purpose in it? Is there any benefit to us? Are tough times in life just part of our existence, something we just grin-n-bear holding out for a better future in heaven?
I want start by laying some groundwork that will provide an overall framework for this entire series. Let’s start with some general truth that applies across-the-board to adversity:
- We suffer because we live in a fallen world.
- We suffer because of the consequence of our own sin.
- The Bible contains ALL the answers we need concerning adversity.
Each of the reasons, responses and benefits that we will study in this series will be subsets of these three general principles. As we filter all of the ideas and details about hardships through these three basic truths, we will discover that the major theme concerning suffering and this life is:
It is mankind’s own fault that life is hard
and God has mercifully turned it into a blessing.
Life is tough, that is a fact. And it is OUR fault, and that is also fact. But God in His loving kindness, His infinite wisdom, and His tender mercy has once again taken what we have messed up and has made the hardships of life a source of blessing.
We Suffer Because We Live a Fallen World
In Genesis 3 we find that mankind, through our perfect representative (Adam), chose to forgo faultless, holy fellowship with Creator God and exchanged it for an existence of self dependence and self will. Through our own choice we gave up Paradise for imprisonment in a cursed world of hardship.
We find in the opening verses that we decided we were smarter than God, and that He was keeping something from us that we deserved (ironic considering Adam and Eve lived in a state of perfection). And so we willingly choice to sin, to violate God’s instructions, and elevate our own will over the Lord God’s.
Let me pause here for a moment and explain why I keep saying “we” and “our”. Many people claim “it’s not MY fault that Adam sinned. I was never given a chance. How can God hold me accountable for Adam’s sin?“.
That opinion is either pure self-deception or ignorance. Consider this: Adam was the perfect man, created in a perfect environment, with a perfect unpolluted mind, living in a perfect world and enjoying direct, untainted fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. He was a perfect man in a perfect situation with perfect holiness. And yet, he still fell to the temptation of pride.
Now tell me, acknowledging Adam’s circumstance, which one of us wants to stand up and say “I would not have fallen to the temptation”. Just the very fact that a person could proclaim such a thing immediately proves the opposite.
In God’s infinite and merciful wisdom, He gave man the perfect opportunity to live in sinless perfection. He created him perfectly, gave him everything he needed, and walked with him in continous empowering fellowship. He gave us the very best chance we could ever ask for. And yet Adam (we) fell. He was mankind’s perfect representative, given the absolutely perfect, perfect, perfect chance to succeed at being sinless… and yet he fell. That is why Scripture is correct in stating:
Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (NKJV)
Suffering is a logical result of a sin cursed world. Continuing on in Genesis Chapter three we find starting in verse 16 that sorrow and pain was introduced, that conflict and self will would be a part of our personalities, that the very ground will suffer, our work suffers, and life in general will produce suffering.
So one overarching principle is that adversity and hardship is simply a natural and logical part of a creation that is cursed because of our own collective choice to sin.
We Suffer from the Consequence of Our Own Personal Sin
A lot of our personal suffering is due to our own personal sin. This may come in the form of consequences or in the form of discipline. It is easy for us to understand this principle when we think of our children but we conveniently play stupid when it comes to us sinning against God.
- If our child disobeys us (sin) and willfully touches a hot stove despite being warned and told not to (the Law), then the child gets burned (suffers). Life is now tough for him because of the consequence of his own personal choice to disobey.
- If the same child continues to make the same sinful choice we made decide as his parents to make his life tougher by administering discipline. This discipline will most certainly make him suffer even more, but we do it out of love to cause him to recognize his sin and change his behavior.
- So the child is now suffering because of consequences and because of discipline… both brought on by a self-willed choice to disobey (sin).
Easy to understand, right? Then why is it so hard for us to accept the same principle in our own lives when God deals with our sin? We are exponentially more childish, willful and sinful towards God than any child is towards their parent (in comparison).
Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (NKJV)
We very often suffer because of our own sinful choices.
The Bible Contains All the Answers for Tough Times
We live in a day and age when even conservative evangelical churches believe (at least in practice) that the Bible is only PART of the answer to life’s problems. The Church has become infiltrated and inundated with the world’s ideas of wisdom, counseling and therapy. This is in direct contrast to plain scripture that clearly indicates that all of life’s problems and trials can be addressed by the word of God (emphasis mine):
2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NKJV)
2 Peter 1:2-4 – Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (NKJV)
Psalm 19:7-11 – The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (NKJV)
Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that it contains not only every answer we need, but it is the sole source true wisdom. Does this mean there are no useful books or profitable resources outside of the Bible? Not at all. But what it does mean is that those books and resources are only as good as the degree in which they explain, emphasize and clarify the foundational principles in the Bible.
In any area of counseling/discipling where man’s “wisdom” contradicts God’s word, or introduces concepts and ideas NOT FOUND in God’s word, that counseling becomes at best suspect and at worst harmful. The answers in the Bible “that pertain to life and godliness” start from the same point of origin:
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (NKJV)
There is a reason I am emphasizing this point is because we have to quit making excuses for our sin if we are to ever understand suffering and adversity. We have been conditioned to blame our problems (and the resulting consequences) on anything and everything except the primary cause: sinful hearts.
We suffer because we live in a sinful world. We suffer because we are individually sinful. The Bible contains everything needed to deal with both. That is the foundation that we will begin with as we look over the next few days at how to respond to the tough times in life.
Lord God, help us to understand adversity from Your perspective. Grant us grace in our hour of trial, wisdom to know how to respond, and discernment to recognize the blessing you are trying to give us. In Jesus name, Amen.
Contemplation: Is your first response to tough times an all out effort to get out of it? Do you ask God “why me”? Have you ever considered, or believed that hardships are a blessing from God?
Application: Suffering and adversity are only as bad as the degree of our ignorance about what God has to say about it. Is it fun? NO! It is a blessing? Yes. Do you believe it?.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?