As a Christian, have you ever been asked, or even wondered, "If God is so wonderful, and loves everyone so much, why is there so much bad in the world? Why do people get cancer, or get murdered, or hurt?"
I've been asked this hundreds of times throughout my life, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't wondered it myself from time to time. Especially when I read the stories of families with sick children or couples that want nothing more than to have children that can't. Not to mention horrible natural disasters, cancer and people that hurt other people. It's heartbreaking more often than it isn't.
Our message in church this morning really spoke to me, and I decided that I needed to share it with you. It's titled: Liberation and Suffering - II Corinthians 12:7-10
Let's look at the passage before we dive in:
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh,a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Interesting stuff, right? How often do we think of suffering as something we delight in? Suffering is one of God's chosen tools. Think about Jesus...God made him perfect through suffering here on earth. Suffering is also necessary. Take a look at Psalm 34:19...
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
So, the bible is telling us to expect hardships, persecutions, difficulties...suffering...but promises that God will deliver us from them.
Take a look at John 16:33...
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I feel like this is the same exact message. Expect to have trouble, to experience suffering...but have comfort that God will take care of you, because he has overcome anything that we will experience.
Take a look at Acts 14:22...
22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
This verse tells me that I have to experience suffering to grow my faith and become closer to God.
Let's look at Paul, and why he was suffering. He experienced suffering from others. After he started this church, teachers came in after him, attacking his character and speaking ill of him. (I Corinthians 11:22-29). How many times have you suffered because someone talked badly about you or your family? Girls can be mean, and I feel confident as I type this that each and every one of you have suffered because of someone's unkind and untrue words. Paul also suffered in his Role as an Apostle of Jesus. When he wrote this letter responding to the untrue, ugly things people were saying about him, I found it interesting that he chose to use his experiences of suffering for validation, versus using examples of things he had done. Here's what I took from this that was SO valuable for me: God takes the worst things that can happen and turns them into the best.
How amazing is that to think about? Think about the hardest times in your life...did you become closer to God? Did you bring someone else to God through your struggles? Did you grow in your faith and your trust to God? I know that in each situation of suffering that I can think of in my life, I've come out on the other end better, stronger, and more faithful than I could have ever imagined. Not that I could see that while I was in the middle of it, but now, looking back, it makes sense.
So, now I've learned that suffering does have a purpose. God uses suffering to help us to grow in faith and to become closer to him. He uses it to prepare us for his kingdom and to strengthen our relationship with him. But, why do these bad things happen? Does God do these bad things? Does he give people cancer? I'm sure that there are 100 different opinions about this and 100 different answers to this question. But I believe this: God does not say, "Sally, I'm giving your child cancer so you can be closer to me". I believe that God can permit the enemy (satan) to attack us to build us up.
The other way our passage tells us that we suffer is through the thorn. (II Cor. 12:7)
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh,a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Let's talk about this Thorn. What is a thorn? Think about thorns in a rose bush. They are sharp, painful, and get stuck in your finger. Paul asked God to remove it three times, and God did not. Think of the times you've prayed for your "thorn" to be removed during difficult times. Was it a sick family member? A difficult situation at work? A rough patch in your marriage? An impossible financial time? Sometimes God doesn't take these things away. These thorns stay, and we have to give them to God and trust him to navigate us through them.
Where do these thorns come from? Paul says they come from satan, as an attack. But why does God allow him to attack us? Well, we learn more from pain than pleasure, for sure. When things are good, it's easy to float around and be thankful...but it's when things are difficult and painful that we are required to search our souls and depend wholly on God. Paul tells us that God allows these thorns to keep you from being conceited. To keep us grounded and focused on him...not on being proud that we make more money, or have more, or behave better than others. To keep us meek and humble.
What is God trying to tell us? (II Cor. 12:8-10)
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
God tells us that His GRACE is sufficient. For MY power is made perfect in WEAKNESS. WOW.
How do we respond to this? We TRUST and DELIGHT in Christ in spite of our circumstances. We trust him. We remember that he loves us so much that he died for us, doing for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. How amazing is that? Paul decided to delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. He said, for when I am weak, then I am strong. Isn't that food for thought? I'm going to have to marinade on this all week. You know how sometimes you hear a sermon that makes so much sense that you know it will change your daily life? Today was one of those for me. I hope that this one helps you during times of suffering and hardship. And, I'll leave you with this:
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you view the suffering in your life? I'd love to hear.
If you are interested in viewing this sermon from our pastor, you can visit the podcast here. I should be up tomorrow.