Why Does God Allow Christians to Suffer?

Have you ever wondered why those who are called into the family of God have to suffer so much? We have a dear brother in Christ who came to the Lord about ten years ago and George Davis and I got to baptize him in the local river after he knew he was ready to fully surrender all to Jesus. After that his life was constantly under attack by the enemy, even in his own home. Yet, in all this he drew ever closer to Christ. The Spirit would speak to him about a certain thing in the Bible and he would lock onto it until taught him what He wanted him to do in that matter. The last on of these was prayer. Bob became a “prayer warrior.” He would call me daily wanting to know what he could pray with me for. About two years ago he came down with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through much chemo-therapy and lost all his hair and was often in weakness and pain. The chemo stripped his body of being able fight of sickness and he ended up in a long term care hospital where he caught Covid 19 and recently died. We miss you, Bob, and will see you again on the other side, my brother. ❤

We have another friend who has gone through a few misfortunes in his life. He came from a broken home and his mother had to work to support the family, so he about raised himself, yet this made him stronger in that he also had to work as a child to help support the family. Even the recent loss of his dear wife he took in stride. He is like a cat, always landing on his feet. Most of these “misfortunes” (except the loss of his dear wife) have made him richer and more prosperous in the long run. He says he believes the Ten Commandments and has done a pretty good job of keeping them all and gives credit to that being part of why God has prospered him. This is interesting, but that is not how God has shown His love to me and of thousands of other suffering saints (see Hebrews 12:5-11). It is also interesting that this man cannot understand “how a loving Father could allow his Son to be tortured and die in such a bloody way as Jesus did.” The message of the gospel is foolish and offensive to him. This man is intellectual and spends hours each day reading scientific magazines and such, seeking the truth, but will not read the Bible “because it was written by fallible men and has many flaws in it,” as if scientific journals weren’t written by fallible men! Science is constantly having to go “back to the drawing board” when new discoveries prove their older theories false. The one thing lacking in our friend’s life is life changing faith in Jesus Christ, which is a gift that comes from the Father. This is what we are praying will happen, and he seems to be more and more open when the Spirit speaks through me as we visit.

As Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44, AKJV)

Paul stood before King Agrippa and laid out his whole story about his encounter with the living Christ, how the law and the prophets foretold of Him as the Savior of the world and all that He suffered and did. Paul knew that this king had a knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. But what was Agrippa’s reply? “Almost you convinced me to be a Christian.” The God-given gift of faith was still missing in him and no intellectual argument could save him. In Hebrews we read:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, AKJV)

Paul wrote:

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, AKJV)

My wife once told me after we met that I was different from all the Christian boys she had met (She was raised in a Bible church atmosphere and even graduated from a Christian college). When we met I had a hunger for God but knew nothing about the Bible. My wife and her mother and my father’s parents were praying for me to come to Christ. Things got totally miserable for me and I later found out why. The “hound of heaven,” the Holy Spirit, was after me! I know exactly when this life changing gift of faith came in. It was the evening of June 12, 1970 after I heard the full plan of salvation and that God required an unconditional surrender if there was to be any change in my life. That night I went through a deep repentance and gave Him total authority over my life. What made me this desperate to do such a thing with this God that I didn’t know? Unlike our friend, when I got dropped I never “landed on my feet.” Everything in my life was a struggle and everything that I touched got worse, not better, and this included what I was doing in the lives of my wife and children. I was full of bitterness and self. You see, I grew up in a totally dysfunctional family. So after I graduated from high school I joined the Navy and ended up in the Vietnam War. I came home from the war to a lot of rejection and also had what was later called “post traumatic stress disorder.” These things affected everything in my life in a negative way. Yet, our Father had a plan in all this, and I came to see that this world is not my home, but God’s spiritual house is. Through all this He got me to look elsewhere and to seek the one that is to come. The love that my earthly father did no show me came through my heavenly Father instead. The forsaking of the one for the other brought about not only my salvation, but an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus said:

He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor. (John 12:25-26, AKJV)

From the very moment of my salvation I wanted nothing more of what this world had to offer and that is how it should be if we are followers of Jesus Christ. You see, I lost nothing by the time I came to Christ and counted all that I once had as so much refuse. From that night when I surrendered onward, I wanted to be wherever Jesus was. If He was where two or three were gathered in His name, I wanted to be one of them. I had a honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months because I could feel His presence all day long. I soon found out, though, that following Jesus was not going to be all “puppy dogs and roses.” The world–and even worldly Christians–reject those who are no longer of this world. And Jesus said that if we are to be one of His disciples, we have to take up our own crosses and follow Him. Hmmm.

We know that Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered, and in that suffering, He purchased our salvation. The scripture even says He was made perfect through suffering and we share in His perfection.

For it was fitting that he [Jesus], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:10-11, ESV2011)

Satan tried to get Him to bolt out of the Father’s plan (see Matthew 16:21-23). But Jesus knew that there was a lot more at stake than His popularity among the Jews. In Romans we read, “…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:19, AKJV) and Jesus was obedient to the Father even to the suffering of the cross.

Suffering is integral to the overall plan of God. Consider this passage from Romans:

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:1-6, AKJV)

Salvation is a process. Yes, we are justified in the eyes of God by our faith in Jesus and the work done for us on the cross, but there is more to the Father’s calling upon us than simple salvation from our sin-filled lives. God is after many sons and daughters who walk not only free from sin, but in the grace and glory of His Son. Jesus is the forerunner for us all in the overall plan of God. His life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father was to lead the way for everyone God has called into sonship with Him as our Father. The above passage from Romans speaks of our earthly process that brings forth the fruition of what it means to be “saved.”

[1] We are justified by faith in what Christ’s obedience has purchased for us.

[2] Through this gift of faith from the Father we have access to the riches of His grace.

[3] Walking in His grace, we have hope that we might stand upright in the glory of God.

Here is where our part in the purification process begins. God puts a high value on our experience when it comes to salvation that we might grow up into the perfection of Christ.

[1] “We glory in tribulation.” How can this be?

[2] The tribulations we suffer work the patience of God into us just as it did in Job of old.

[3] And as we patiently endure our suffering and overcome by His grace, we gain experience. That experience gives us hope that whatever comes our way in the future, God is there with us to see us through just as He has done before.

In the book of James we read:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (Jas 1:2-4, HCSB)

Jesus walked in the perfection of steadfast faith toward God on this earth. Our Father is after that same faith in us that we might “be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” in His eyes.

I would like to share the following excerpt from T. Austin- Sparks regarding Romans 5:1-6 and how important experience is to God:

In the New Testament, not only in statements but in many ways, experience has a very high place indeed in the work of God… The Lord places such great importance upon experience, and shows that there is nothing that can be a substitute for it, and that He Himself is prepared to take very great and serious risks with lives in order to work experience into them.

It does sometimes seem that the Lord is experimenting with us. Whether that is a right way to put it or not, what I mean is right. Because of its very great value and importance, the Lord is prepared to put us into situations in which the most serious consequences may develop, in order to get this one thing; for here is the heart of usefulness and value to Him – experience. [Note: Remember the parable of the four kinds of ground on which the seeds of the Sower fell. Not all took root and were able to deal with the trying times and offenses that came]

Experience with God is much more than knowledge. We may be very greatly informed, and have a great deal of knowledge, but, lacking experience, our knowledge will remain purely technical information. Experience is more than knowledge. It is also far more than human cleverness. Clever people may be able to do a lot of things and seem to be successful. The absence of this quality of experience will find that their structures will sooner or later come crashing down, for there is no body [substance] there. Experience is something that we can never inherit, nor can it be transferred from one to another in any other way; it has to be bought. It is therefore the sole possession and property of the individual who has it. It is something very personal. If it had been possible for the Father to bring His own Son, the Lord Jesus, to the designed and determined end in any other way, He would have done it. The only way was experience: “…yet learned (he) obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb.5:8); He was made “perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). Even Jesus Christ (and I speak in a certain sense) had to buy His experience. He had to come to the full end, or the end of fulness, to be made perfect, made complete, by the way of experience.

The Holy Spirit, with all that the gift of the Spirit means of enduement and endowment and instruction and strengthening, is not a substitute for experience. We are very often found asking that certain things shall be done for us by the Holy Spirit which the Holy Spirit will never do. He has to lead us into experience. It is the only way in which He can answer our prayers. Many prayers are answered through experience. You ask the Lord to do something, and He takes you through experience, and you arrive at the answer in that way. You had not meant that, of course: you wanted the Lord to do the thing there and then as a gift, as an act; but that would have been merely objective, something given, whereas He wants to make it a part of yourself, and so He answers prayer by some experience. ‘Stedfastness worketh experience’, and if there is no experience, what is the good of anybody or anything?

So then, experience is of greater importance than being delivered from tribulation. ‘Tribulation worketh experience’. Oh, how often we have asked the Lord why He allowed this and that, or why He did not do this or that. Why did He not hinder Adam from sinning? Why has He not stopped the world in so many things that have had most terrible results? Experience is very largely the answer.

Experience is very important because, after all, it is the very quality of service. When we come to real life, and we are really up against things and the issues are of the greatest consequence, we do not want just information, we want experience, and we go where experience can help us. Is that not so? Thus experience is the very body and quality of service and usefulness to the Lord. [1]

Sparks brings up a good point here. Would you rather have a man fresh out of medical school do open heart surgery on you, or one who has years of practical experience in this field and a long track record of successful operations? This is the meaning of true eldership in the body of Christ–those who have experience in the ways of God and the ways of the devil, and have overcome in their own lives by the grace of God. True elders are not given that position as a reward, because they gave a lot of money to the church, or have worldly influence in the community. EXPERIENCE! Without it there is no eldership. The world is lacking leaders who have experienced and overcome all manner of trials in their own lives by the hand of God, and this is the same lack is in most churches today. Because of this the church and the world is in chaos where men deceive and are being deceived.

Father, do whatever it takes to make us your faithful stewards over all you would give us. Give us life changing experiences that You know we need. Take us through these necessary and trying experiences by your overcoming grace into the full maturity and measure you have for us in your Son. Amen.

[1] https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001978.html

Note: all these pictorial quotes from T. Austin-Sparks can be found here: https://www.austin-sparks.net/quotes.html

 

 

Bearing in Our Bodies His Death, But Oh the Glory!

Photo from https://unsplash.com/@jae462

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him… (Romans 6:5-6, KJV)

“We have been planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you ever given much thought to what that means? Lately, with all the suffering of the saints I have encountered, including the pains of my own aging process, Christ’s death has, by His mercy, been brought more into focus than ever.

As I contemplated the above passage, all of a sudden I saw myself literally inside of Christ’s body on the cross and it was even in color! There was light in there! There was a glow and warmth and even a since of love, forgiveness, acceptance and peace. Yes, all hell had broken loose on Him outside, but it was a glorious experience as I was tucked safely inside Him through it all. Amazing! I had often tried to imagine what it meant to be “crucified with Christ” with no luck… just a blank. But with this experience a whole raft of scriptures opened up to me. Paul wrote:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God… (Gal 2:20, KJ2000)

Those hours on the cross were the focal point of all of God’s creation and His purpose for it! We were literally placed IN Him with all our sins and sufferings. In that moment we were made pure and complete IN Him so that Christ could live in us by the power of His resurrection life.

So, why all this suffering that we must go through? Think of it. If we have been “planted in the likeness of His death,” what was that like? All hell was going on outside of Him. He was not only made to suffer physically, but emotionally as well, so much so that He cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not only had all men forsaken Him, but He couldn’t even feel His Father’s loving care and pleasure any longer. And the demons! They were mocking and spitting on Him for His faithfulness to the Father. They even tried to make Him doubt who He was, “If you are truly the Son of God, come down off that cross. Spare yourself!” Yet, He did not cave. He was bearing our sins on that cross, not His own. We and all that we are were IN Him as God’s chosen ones (See Galatians 2:20). Isaiah saw this focal point in the eternity of time and wrote,

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa 53:10-11, ESV2011)

In Satan’s hate and jealousy Jesus was being attacked for never having sinned and being the perfect obedient Son of His Father, but it was God who was in control to fulfill His will for us all. Satan had given the temptation of Christ his best shot and failed. Oh, the wrath of hell! Here was his chance to get even with Jesus for all He had done to upset his worldly kingdom, but God won the battle by what seemed the weakness of Christ. For in this final blow against Christ he lost the keys to hell’s prison and enabled our release into God’s kingdom. This why Paul who walked in Christ could say, “When am weak, then I am strong.”

Don’t you think that our being IN Christ in this life also stirs up Satan’s anger? Most of us as worldly people had never known the suffering that we have gone through since we were born from above in Christ. The enemy hates Christ and he hates those He lives and manifests Himself in. T. Austin-Sparks wrote about this fact so well.

May I remind you that the nature of this planting is just that with which we are so familiar. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” That is the word of the Apostle, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The enemy is the instrument so often, of planting us more deeply into the death of Christ. His assaults, his attacks, his accusations, everything – yes. The Lord is not the source of evil, but the Lord allows it. So often our hearts cry out: “Why did the Lord ever allow that in our lives?” That thing which has meant such a deep, dark passage. Why did the Lord allow it? He could have prevented it. Well, we were planted by it into the death of the Lord Jesus. We were brought more than ever to an end of ourselves. Yes, and therefore, to know the Lord in a larger measure than we have ever known Him, and to be brought to a place where it will not be so easy for the Devil to shake us next time.

That is the sovereign way of God in deeper death experiences. “Planted together in the likeness of His death.” Have you been planted there initially? Have you been planted in Christ crucified? Or are you one of those attachments to something? Are you planted? And when a deeper planting comes, remember it is the roots being driven downwards, and the issue is going to be most surely endurance, stability, and ability to stand; but, oh, there is going to be greater fruitfulness. [1]

Yes, most of our suffering since we were planted in Christ has been at the hands of the demons of hell. But it is also true that God said, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and chasten…” and He does this to get us back on the right path again when we wander. Yet, we often suffer when we have not sinned or done anything to deserve it. As in Christ, in all this suffering God has a purpose–that we might live “also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Have you ever met dear older saint who has a sweetness about them that draws you? They seem to radiate God’s love no matter what comes their way. When you do you just want to sit there in silence and hold their hand and soak it up, especially if you have been going through a time of suffering yourself. Words in a moment like this can only take away from what God is doing. True fellowship in the Spirit goes so much deeper than words. When God makes it happen it is like experiencing heaven itself. Oh, the glory that is our in the unity of the Father and the Son!

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23, ESV2011)

Our lives on this earth as God’s children are all about death and resurrection and every moment is in His hands as He conforms us into the image of His Son. Satan never has the authority to do anything to us that is not in our Father’s designed outcome–that He might have many sons and daughters who manifest HIS glory and the glory of His Son. My dear brothers and sisters it is all worth it!

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11, ESV2011)

Remember, dear brothers and sisters,

…Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2Cor 4:16-17, ESV2011)

Dear Daddy, please give these dear saints who suffer a brief moment of experiencing that glory that they might be strengthened and push on for the goal that they might share the glory of your Son. Amen.

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002932.html

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, but the Sword

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

The first thing this morning I got up and prayed that the Lord would speak to me regarding the struggle I have been having as I watch the upheaval in the American government. I know I’m not alone. It seems that all over the internet on Christian sites, people both liberal and conservative are writing and preaching about how their side is “God’s side.” If we have eyes to see, this should show us how much the flesh is still in control of our hearts. Dear saints, our only salvation and hope is in the deep working of the cross within each one of us. Jesus prophesied of these times we are in that are splitting governments, churches and yes, even families.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:34-39, ESV2011)

This has been quite literal for many of us, sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law. Even our worst enemies being of our own households? Why is this so? Is it because of ethnic or political divisions or is it something much deeper? Have you ever considered that the deeper Christ calls us into HIS kingdom and out of this world by the work of His cross in us, it would put an ever increasing barrier between us and those we love who aren’t there yet?

Many of us just want to live in peace with our families and neighbors. But if that peace is a result of being of the same worldly or even religious mindset, is it the peace that God gives or something so shallow that the slightest assault of the enemy can blow it all apart? Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV2011)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011)

Yes, in this world we will have tribulation, so we must quit looking to the world and what its leaders can and are doing. It is all of the kosmos, the world system controlled by Satan that is against Christ and wants to displace Him from being our Lord of all. So where will we find that peace? It is only to be found IN Him. As we abide IN Him, we also overcome the world and all its upheaval. The in-working of the cross is our doorway to heavenly peace as it separates us from the world. Once again T. Austin Sparks wrote something that cleared the air for me and I want to share it.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14 NLT)

A truly crucified people are never in danger of the world. It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place. The world has no place with a crucified man or woman, or a crucified company of believers. The Cross is a great defensive against the world. If you want to keep the world out, put the Cross in its place. If the Cross is truly in its place in fullness, then everything else will come into order. The Cross is the great defensive against the world. The Cross is the great defensive against evil powers. The Cross makes everything safe; it makes everything safe for the Lord.

You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them. The Lord says, “It is not safe for Me to give Myself there, or I should be involved in their un-crucified condition.” The Cross makes everything safe for the Lord, and the Cross makes everything safe for the Church. If the Cross is really at work in all of us, we can trust one another. It is quite safe to trust yourself to a crucified man or woman. [1]

Another thing happens as we yield to the cross of Christ working in our lives. The deeper it goes, the more unpopular we become with worldly Christians. As Sparks wrote, “It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place.” Or as Paul wrote, “Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” The closer Jesus got to taking up His cross and laying down His life in obedience to the will of His Father, the thinner the crowds that followed Him. He went from being followed by thousands of people singing His praises as their Messiah (who they thought would deliver them from the Romans) down to the twelve disciples, and one of them betrayed Him while the others ran away in total disillusionment.

Sparks wrote, “You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them.” We read of Jesus dealing with this very thing in the Gospel of John. “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25, KJ2000). Oh, what is in man! Today we hear all around us of men testifying of men, Trump this and Biden that! Yes, Jesus wants to commit Himself to us and trust us, but that can only be done as much as the cross has done its soul killing work in us. Our soulish political and familial desires keep Him from revealing to us the deep things of His Father’s kingdom and they keep us from walking in the light as He is in the light. Dear saints, may we all learn to embrace the working of His cross in our daily lives and look to Him in all things instead of men as this world unravels.

And he [Saul] said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the goads. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? … (Acts 9:5-6, KJ2000)

[1] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000434.html