“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
For most of my life I lived under the general impression that the only reason for suffering was because God was mad at me and He was punishing me for something I’d done wrong. In Galatians we are told that we reap what we sow (Gal 6:7-8), therefore when trials come into my life it is because I have lived contrary to God’s will. It never really occurred to me that I could be doing the will of God and still face trials. What I’ve found from Scripture is that we can be doing what God wants done, when He wants it done, in the way He wants it done, and we will still have to endure suffering.
Those who say that God’s will for all Christians is to be healthy, wealthy and live trouble free lives further this mindset. Many of these same teachers will say that if you have even the slightest problem in your life it is because you don’t have enough faith or are living outside of God’s will. They will encourage you by telling you, “just believe” and then suddenly God will make it all better. They will tell you that what you need to do is check your life and find out where you are out of God’s will and fix it so He will stop punishing you and start blessing you.
Now, the Bible does say that we will reap what we’ve sown. It is a fact that if we sow to the flesh we will reap some devastating consequences. That much is true. However, and this is a big thing, we can be dead in the center of God’s will for our lives and we WILL still endure suffering.
The prosperity gospel that teaches that God’s absolute and total will for our lives that we are healthy, wealthy and free of suffering is foolishness. It doesn’t hold up to the reality of the world we live in. More importantly, it absolutely doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of Scripture.
Think about Jeremiah the prophet. He absolutely did what God wanted done and still ended up tossed in a muddy hole and hated by his people. Think about the prophet Isaiah. He absolutely did what God wanted done and ended up sawn in half by a wicked king.
Think about Jesus. For any theology to be Christian, it must be able to be reconciled to Jesus. Jesus absolutely did what God wanted done and yet He ended up beaten and crucified. Now some will say, “Wait, that doesn’t count because Jesus came for the specific purpose to die for our sins.” True enough. However, look at what we’re told in Scripture.
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” 1 Peter 4:1 (NKJV)
Peter tells us to arm ourselves with the same mind that Christ had and be willing to suffer in the flesh. Jesus suffered and so we should be ready because we will have to suffer as well.
Think about the Apostle Paul. He absolutely did what God wanted done and suffered hunger, beatings, mocking and other horrible trials. To get an idea of what Paul suffered take some time and read 2 Corinthians 11:22-27. If you really want to let Scripture mess with your head, read Paul’s conversion experience in Acts 9. Notice what Jesus says in verses 15-16. What was the point Jesus was making in those verses?
Think about the early church. They suffered horrible persecution under the Caesars because they wouldn’t deny Christ. Think about the reformers. Many of them were burned alive because they refused to stop preaching the Gospel of grace and they wanted to put the Bible into the hands of the common man. There are Christians all over the world today that will starve, be beaten or martyred for their faith in Christ.
Are we really to believe that in every instance these people were outside the will of God? Are we really to believe that none of these people had a strong enough faith in Christ? Are we really to believe that God was angry and punishing every one of these individuals? Or, is it more likely, and really more Biblical, that suffering comes into everyone’s life, even those who are in the middle of God’s will? Personally, I choose to trust Scripture.
Can’t you see how believing this myth will add to your suffering? Not only are you having to endure suffering but you also have to deal with thoughts that God is angry with you and is punishing you. Not only do you have to watch your loved one’s suffer but you also have to deal with thoughts that they are not getting better because they or you don’t have enough faith.
Obviously, there are times when we suffer for our sins. We do reap what we’ve sown and this will lead to suffering. However, the Bible clearly teaches that there are times when we suffer for doing what is right, there are times when we suffer because of the sins of others and there are times when we suffer because we live in a fallen, sin cursed world. We cannot Biblically say that every time we suffer it is because we lack faith or out of God’s will. We can Biblically say that even in the midst of suffering we are more than conquerors through Christ who has loved us.
“As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:36-37 (NKJV)