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The Suffering Gospel

by Thor Ramsey

How infected is the church at large with a false notion of faith? The prosperity gospel has become so mainstream that even in circles where we are aware of this false teaching, we are still tainted by its spread, especially when it comes to suffering. If we’re honest, we often lose faith with the most minor setbacks. God is the great fixer-upper or at least we think He should be. He should set everything right, right? I mean, isn’t He more glorified when I can go around bragging about how blessed I am because I’m overflowing with happiness? And riches? Let's not forget riches.

This struck several of us last week during our Center Group as we were going over grace and suffering in our study guide. Being that Jenny Cleary was in the hospital for over eleven days and that after the church elders anointed her with oil (according to James 5) and prayed for her to specifically get better within twenty-four hours… nothing of the sort happened.

I confess there was some disappointment that our prayer went unanswered. And some questions. "Shouldn’t healing be the norm?" A little bit of that health and wealth mindset had infiltrated our thinking. It occurred to us that the church is unaccustomed to the idea that God is not only a God of healing, but He is a God who sends trials.

Our thinking today is often very different than the last of the Puritan preachers, C.H. Spurgeon, who said, “It is a poor faith which can only trust God when friends are true, the body full of health, and the business profitable; but that is true faith which holds by the Lord's faithfulness when friends are gone, when the body is sick, when spirits are depressed, and the light of our Father's countenance is hidden.”

It is not because of a lack of faith or because there is sin in our lives that we undergo suffering. It is there by the hand of God Himself.

Isaiah 45:7

7 I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Now that verse alone will give many pause, but on the same subject, Spurgeon said something almost as outrageous as the Bible itself, “The Lord afflicts his servants to glorify himself.” Many will find such a thought repulsive today, but the word of God has a similar perspective:

Romans 5:3-4

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

The God of the Bible is not a sentimental God. He is a good God who does the best thing for us. And the best thing for us is fulfilling the purpose for which He created us and that purpose is to glorify Him. Joni Erickson Tada, who became a paraplegic as a young Christian woman, said something along these lines, "God does what He hates to accomplish what He loves." That is an incredible statement. God will bring pain to your life, not because He is angry with you, but because He wants to create the image of His Son in you. He does what He hates to accomplish what He loves.

But the wonder is that He can gain glory from circumstances we hate. In fact, it is in the most dire circumstances that He receives the most glory — take the crucifixion, for instance. He receives the most glory from people who trust Him despite the circumstances, because they know that God is good and they trust He does what is best and that nothing is out of His control including the situation they face.

Jenny is home now, but she's still in great pain. She's still facing a great trial. We all pray and trust that this too will soon pass. In the meantime, we know that God's hand is upon her. We've witnessed it in her posts, which have displayed that she is trusting Him though it all. She has a true faith. This isn't to say she hasn't felt emotionally down, but trust doesn't mean you're always cheery. It means you're trusting God in the fire. Only lunatics smile when they're walking through a fire.

Again, Spurgeon said it best, “Present afflictions tend also to heighten future joy. There must be shades in the picture to bring out the beauty of the lights. Could we be so supremely blessed in heaven, if we had not known the curse of sin and the sorrow of earth? Will not peace be sweeter after conflict, and rest more welcome after toil? Will not the recollection of past sufferings enhance the bliss of the glorified?”

His thinking just might be biblical.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

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