Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What is the Point of Suffering? Extracting the precious from the worthless

I like Job. This man was righteous and good. Job was a superstar in the God-loving world, and he was one of God's favorites. 

Then, adversity came, as it does to us all, and he didn't feel like a favorite at all. Job got a whopping big dose of trouble, and it was far more trouble than most of us will ever see.

In the span of a few hours, Job lost his wealth and his family in one fell swoop. 

I can't imagine surviving that kind of adversity. I'm not sure I'd want to survive it.

Job had much loss to grieve, but, at the very beginning of his journey, he submitted his will to God's and worshipped Him. (We looked at this yesterday. The link is below, in case you missed it.)

Before he had a chance to recover from his personal losses, another disaster struck in the form of tormenting illness and chronic pain. To make matters worse, his wife was no help at all. "Curse God and die" is not the godly recommendation of a loving wife. 

Do you get the picture? 

Job lost almost everything he cared about. He was left with a disease-ridden body and a bitter wife.

This much stress has a marked physiologic effect and frequently causes depression. Was Job depressed? Probably. In his despair, however, he asked a very good question. It's one we would do well to consider.

What is the point of suffering?

That's not how he said it, of course, but I believe it was the question behind his question. "Why is life given to him who suffers?" (Job 3:20 nasb)  Jeremiah asked the same question, as have many over the years.

God's response to Jeremiah was an interesting one:

Extract the precious from the worthless... (Jer. 15:19)

Not every situation seems favorable, but there is something precious in every situation. Jeremiah said people looked at the adversity he faced and waited for his fall. They expected to overcome him when that fall finally came. That won't happen, Jeremiah predicted.

But the Lord is with me like a dread champion... (Jer.20:11)

Jeremiah was in the midst of a terrible situation, but he was not alone in his trial. God was with him and God was his champion. In a way, those who sought to overcome Jeremiah would have to go through God (his champion) to do it.

Jesus spoke about this very subject. "In this world, you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world," (John 16:33 nasb)

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote about the trials of life. 

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
James 1:2-4 nasb

At last, we come to the "precious from the worthless". Much of our sin and our ungodliness are burned away in the fires of our trials. 

Suffering is never wasted, because it works in us to make us stronger and more mature. 

Suffering removes the chaff and leaves the good behind. In the midst of it all, God Himself walks through our suffering with us. 

I know this from experience. In my own trials, I have experienced both the presence and the cleansing of God. My suffering was not wasted. Unbelievably, I can look back now and say, "It was worth it." I don't want another refining fire, but what I gained through it was worth the heat, the sorrow, and the pain.

Suffering leaves us closer to our Lord and more like Him. 

No one loves having a trial, but being more like Jesus and knowing Him better is an outcome that makes our suffering worthwhile.

Have you faced a terrible time of testing? Are you there now? Take courage. You are not alone. God goes through it with you and, on the other side, you will emerge closer to Him and more like Him.

One fact make Jeremiah's journey easier, and it will ours, as well, so let's post this truth on the walls of our heart:

Our God is with us like a dread champion.

He is with us and He will see us through.

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