Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have suffered and those who will suffer. When sin entered the world through the rebellion of man, it fractured everything. Our relationship with God. Our relationship with the earth. Our relationship with man. And thus, when we remain in this broken world for any period of time, we will endure hardship. When you put your faith in Christ, he does not evaporate your troubles. Now a life obedient to God's Word is certainly a life set up for flourishing, but we must consider what flourishing actually looks like. For the early church, flourishing meant a vibrant faith lived out in hard times. Many of the early builders of the church were executed for their faith. Some were boiled alive in oil, others crucified, and still others stoned. Stephen, who was stoned, worshiped as rocks pelted him to death. You would think those closest to Jesus would have had it pretty good. You would think he would have changed their lives and protected them from oppression and torture and ridicule. But he didn't. This is important. Here is the deal. God is sovereign, and he knows all things. That being the case, when we suffer — be it cancer, marital strife, job loss, betrayal, or any other hard time — it is not surprising to God. In fact, given that he is intimately involved in our lives such that he knows the number of hairs on our heads, it means God is well aware of our suffering. And yet sometimes he doesn't end it. What must this mean? I see three options: 1. God is evil. 2. God is hands-off. 3. God uses suffering for our good. We are so focused on the here and now that we tend to think our current circumstances are everything.
Our unbelieving hearts do not grasp that this life — and yes, these momentary sufferings — is but a vapor when compared to eternity. And furthermore, we entitled children think we are owed health, wealth, and happiness. Suffering does many things for us, some of which we do not comprehend, but one major benefit to suffering is that it wakes us up. No longer are we fooled by the temporary veneer of a rosy life. When the clouds come, we are forced to take refuge somewhere. And if we have truly put our faith in Christ, we will find he is the only refuge. Suffering also produces hope. Do you believe that? Consider this: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope... (Romans 5:3-4)Jesus suffered so that we would inherit eternal life and a restored relationship with God the Father. Jesus suffered to secure our eternal hope. And thus when we suffer, we do not have a Lord who cannot comprehend what we're going through. He endured the deepest hell of human suffering. So back to the topic of flourishing. Flourishing is not an overflowing bank account and six pack abs and a supermodel spouse. Flourishing is the nearness of God, his very presence. And because God is omnipresent for us (always there), those of us who call ourselves Christians lead lives of invincible flourishing by this definition. This flourishing yields joy which cannot be killed as we consider a hope which has been bought with the blood of Christ. I don't know about you, but the hardest times in my life have been the most intimate with the Lord. When we wake up to the fact that he is our only hope, we seek him more earnestly — you might even say desperately. And if suffering means we draw nearer to the Lord, suffering is a great gift worth the pain. If we want to understand God's character, we need to look no further than the cross. Our salvation was purchased through immense pain. Our God came to earth to die for us. But he did not stay dead. He rose, and his rising means those of us in Christ will also rise. And this means it's only up from here. WOULD YOU PRAY THIS PRAYER WITH ME? God, this life is hard. I struggle. And sometimes I struggle to remember your goodness when all looks dark around me. Remind me, Father. By the power of your Spirit illuminate the cross so I can remember what Christ has done for me. So I can remember I have a hope which nothing can take away. You are wise beyond my understanding and loving beyond my imagination. I trust you. In Jesus' name, amen.