Anguish and puzzlement about the purpose of suffering reverberates down through the centuries. Perhaps we can understand why some Christians who manifest immaturity, selfishness, or pride need the stern rod of suffering. But surely mature Christians such as the apostle Paul didn’t need to be subjected to this painful tutor? Well yes, he did, as he himself explains in Second Corinthians.
“Lest I be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Evidently, even the fearless apostle of grace could only learn about the sufficiency of God’s grace through enduring some chronic infirmity. Why? Paul was highly educated, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He had a dramatic conversion and learned the gospel through direct revelation from the resurrected Christ. Grounds for pride. He could have easily trusted in himself instead of praying constantly for the help of the Holy Spirit. But his infirmity kept him dependent on God’s grace.
If Paul needed something to remind him to keep humble; so do we. God has to often use adversity to remind to bend the knee in humble dependence. Mary Helen and I had to learn it often in Pakistan. And, slow learners that we are, we keep relearning that, “He is able to make all grace abound to [us]” (2 Cor.9:8).
Do we doubt this necessity? Then consider the fact that even Jesus, though the Son of God, in his human nature suffered that he might realize how challenging it is for sons and daughters of Adam to learn obedience in a fallen world. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10).
Think of it. The Son of God laid aside the robes of His deity to come at Christmas as a helpless baby. Ponder how he grew in grace and in favour with God and man. His human development e demonstrated his identification with us! Human perfection through suffering!
And since Jesus “shared in [our] humanity…[and] because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”(Heb. 2:14,18). Do we despair in the midst of pain? Are we fainting with weariness because of some suffering? We need to cry out to Jesus who understands and can moderate our suffering or give us the strength to endure it. He alone, who bore our humanity, knows how much we can bear. He alone understands that our emotions ebb and flo as we grapple with troubles.
What about the role of Satan in suffering? See #1 in this series on suffering for a description of the cosmic dimensions of suffering. See : http://www.ericewright.com/why-suffering
In this fallen world, we need to ask God to help us develop an ironclad dependence on the sufficiency of His grace and the reality of His presence. From beginning to end, salvation is by the undeserved grace of God. We are saved by grace. We are kept by grace. We grow in grace, not by our education or skills or discipline or effort. Lord, help us to never forget this reality.