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“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
– C.S. Lewis
When was the last time you faced adversity in your life?
I mean real adversity.
I’m not talking about the “My cellphone battery just died!” or the “Bae didn’t text me back last night!” kind of tumult.
I’m talking about a difficulty or hardship that was so tangibly devastating, it ushered you into a period, perhaps prolonged, of doubt or unbelief in God as a result of what He had allowed to take place in your life.
As you reflect on those times of trial and testing, tell me, would you say you were successful in dealing with them or did you fall short in some way?
You can be completely transparent.
There’s no spiritual lie detector test awaiting you at the end of this blog post.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t another treatise on how “the patience of Job” is the ideal example for how Christians are to deal with times of adversity in our life.
Nothing against Job, mind you.
It’s just that when you truly study the book of Job in detail, what you’ll find is that it is actually God who is the patient one, not Job.
But, I digress…
“A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthly troubles.” – B. B. Warfield
Believers in Christ face somewhat of a conundrum in that despite the difficult circumstances we encounter, we nevertheless are expected to live out what we say we believe. This is because the manner in which we handle adversity is a direct reflection, for better or worse, on the God who, by His own life, served as our model.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21
Notwithstanding the particulars of any trial in which we may find ourselves, the dilemma for the Christian is that adversity brings us face to face with a reality we hesitate to acknowledge exists: that the sheer weight of being obligated to model Christ in a world so beset with sin and its effects – loss, pain, disappointment – is to a great extent what makes dealing with those situations so challenging for us.
“If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 74
Adversity in the life of the Christian brings together two theological dynamics: theodicy – the “bad” or “evil” (as we deem them) events that an innately good God allows in our life, and teleology – the divine purposes for which an innately good God allows those “bad” or “evil” events to happen in our life.
In light of this, I would venture to say that most of us would be inclined to accept the theodicy of adversity – the what – if for no other reason than we know cognizantly that God’s word clearly states we should expect such things to occur in this life (James 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:12.)
Though we may not always know what is coming our way, we know something is; and for the most part, we’re okay with that. What we have a problem with, however, is the teleology of adversity – the why – because God’s ends are often less obvious to us than are His means. We would be much more accepting of the what that God allows into our life if only we knew the why.
“When we examine the explanations the Bible gives for why God does what He does, we find clearly stated subordinate and ultimate ends. Though God is beyond our comprehension, we can know Him and speak meaningfully about Him because He has revealed Himself to us in the written and living Word. Moreover, God has given us His Spirit to teach and lead those who believe. By the Spirit, in faith, we can discern God’s subordinate and ultimate ends because the Bible reveals them to us.” – James M. Hamilton, Jr., God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, p. 48
If we were honest we would have to admit, would we not, that oftentimes what we really want when times of adversity come and our sense of comfort and control is disrupted, is some sort of spiritual loophole that relieves us of these situations (and their consequences) or, better yet, helps us avoid them altogether.
There are those within the church today who would have us believe the Christian life is all gain and no pain. But, then, that’s not how the Christians life works, is it? As our Lord bore His own cross, so we too must bear ours.
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” – Philippians 1:29
As difficult as it is – and it certainly can be – believers in Christ must be willing to accept that if we are going to claim to serve a God who is sovereign and, consequently, who knows what is best for us, we may at times experience the what of adversity without ever knowing the why.
Then, again, it could be that God has made the why known to us all along – to conform us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29.) If this is true, and I believe Scripture supports that it is, the question we must ask ourselves is this:
Given the extent to which a sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent God desires to use adversity to accomplish this transformation in us, am I really sure that I want to be more like Jesus?
If so, then, adversity is the means by which God will bring it about in your life.
“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8
Humbly in Christ and for His glory alone,