” ‘His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ ” ~John 9:2-3 (NIV)
Why is it, as believers, our first tendency is to assume someone’s plight has spiritual roots? That it is somehow through their sin that they have arrived at a place of suffering?
Certainly, there are pretty straightforward consequences for our sins that will lead to suffering and trials. Certainly, a lack of spiritual discipline will bring about hardship in our lives. That is true, and there is no denying it.
However, even when we are making wise decisions, and have good spiritual disciplines, God just might see fit to send hardship and infirmity. Why?
So the work of God can be displayed in our lives.
It’s as simple as that, and we cannot know, looking from the outside, which it is. Perhaps everything isn’t as cut and dried as we would like it to be. Perhaps hardships come from sin, perhaps from God’s hand. Perhaps, at times, both.
I have no doubt that my depression, while it’s not a sin in and of itself, may have its roots in some sinful or fleshly patterns and habits. I pray that counseling brings those to light, so I can repent and be healed.
I also have no doubt that it’s a natural consequence for a lot of hard battles I’ve been fighting alone, through no fault of my own. I pray that counseling brings those battles to the forefront, and helps me find some who are willing to fight with me for awhile.
Remember that guy, Job? The one whom God pointed out to the enemy, who then challenged God’s view of him. God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job because he was righteous and faithful, not because he was faithless.
God also allowed Israel to be taken into captivity because of their faithlessness.
Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen, and never outside of God’s sovereignty. Ever.
“Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous,
and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.”
~Psalm 119:73-76 (NIV – emphasis mine)
Sometimes, God doesn’t just allow bad things to happen. Sometimes, he orchestrates them. He, himself, afflicts us in his faithfulness. Sometimes, to test us, and to show us what he already knows we are made of. (Genesis 22:1-19) Sometimes, it’s to sift and refine us, so that we can minister to others out of our pain. (Luke 22:31-32) Sometimes, it’s so we can comfort others with the same comfort we have received ourselves. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
I am sure there are myriad reasons for God to bring hardship into our lives. We can’t know ahead of time what those reasons are, but we can trust in the God of all comfort, who is faithful and will not let us fall. There will come a day when we get to look back and see his beautiful design woven throughout our lives, and we get to experience real awe at what he has done in and through us. It will be amazing.
Let’s not ask any more “What’d you do wrong this time?” Let’s reach out hands of grace and say, “How can I pray for you? How can I help you?” Be available. The struggling saints are not lepers. They need their brothers and sisters to stand with them and join in their battles, through whatever means God may call us to.
Sometimes, that may involve holding someone lovingly accountable for their sin, but much of the time, it will involve simple help and sympathy.
Let us put aside our assumptions, and be humbly willing to walk alongside one another whenever we can. Let us be kind, because everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. (Quote sites all seem to say Philo said that.)
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” ~1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)
Seems pretty clear-cut to me.
When have you suffered, needed grace and compassion, and you received it from your fellow believers in Christ? How can you pay that forward in your own life? Look around you – see the suffering, and pray. Ask God how you can be sympathetic, compassionate, and humble.
Grace & Peace,