Why do godly people suffer from incurable diseases?
Why do servants of God meet with fatal accidents?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
These age-old questions puzzle people everywhere. Nowhere do we find satisfactory answers to such questions except in the Bible, Godís Word. The understanding of Godís nature as revealed in the Scriptures provides the key to unlock this mystery.
We are all too familiar with the redemptive names of God such as Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Rapha and Jehovah-Shalom. But thereís also another name by which God has revealed Himself: Jehovah-Makkeh: "I am the Lord who strikes" (Ezek 7:9).
God bruises and bandages!
God constituted the nation of Israel both by trials and triumphs (Dt 4:34). Explaining the blessedness of Godís chastisement, one of Jobís friends said, "He wounds, He also bandages; He strikes, but His hands also heal" (Job 5:17,18). Prophet Hosea endorsed this ancient thought when he assured Godís people, "He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up" (Hos 6:1). Some preachers point out that Job was right in saying, "The Lord gave," but was wrong when he added, "The Lord has taken away." But in the very next verse the Holy Spirit has recorded, "In all this, Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong" (Job 1:21,22).
Both day and night are the Lordís (Psa 74:16). God has appointed the day of prosperity as well as the day of adversity (Eccl 7:14). Both woe and wellbeing proceed from the mouth of the Most High (Lam 3:38).
A painful truth
Hebrews chapter eleven is the favourite for Christians today. This chapter on faith is expounded in every other seminar and conference. Books on faith make bestsellers. But what about the twelfth chapter? It speaks of the chastisement of God. The writer himself calls it a "forgotten" truth! (v 5). Majoring on Hebrews eleven and minimising the teaching of the twelfth chapter wi11 leave us ha1f-baked. Because, we are called not only to believe but also to suffer (Phi1 1:29).
It is widely preached and taught that coming to Christ ends all our problems. But folks experience the contrary and they are disillusioned. One side of the coin alone is always misleading. "That is the trouble with the Church today; thereís too much of the hospital element;
we have lost sight of the great battle," writes David Watson in his excellent book, I Believe in the Church.
A study of Hebrews 12 with the background of the rest of the Scriptures unfolds the purpose and profitability of chastisementó
Christian life is a race (v 1). Runners get rid of all unnecessary weight when they get set on the track. When unnecessary things occupy us, God gets angry. He is displeased when any pastime steals our prayer time or the reading of a secular magazine sidelines Scripture meditation. All idols must be excluded from our life so God alone may be exalted (Isa 2:17b,18).
Even blessings at times can blur spiritual vision and blunt spiritual sensitivity. Eternal values become obscure and earthly blessings become our objective. God cannot tolerate this. He is a consuming fire! (Heb 12:29). He will therefore give us the fan-cum-fire treatment (Mt 3:12).
When everything seems to be going alright, He will suddenly send a storm. He is interested in the removal of shakable things so that the unshakable things alone may remain (Heb 12:27). He lays us down on our backs so we may look up!
"The Heavenly Father never takes away anything from His children unless He means to give them something better," observed George Muller.
Sin of disobedience
God warns us through His Word and His Spirit when we disobey Him. But if we turn a deaf ear, He takes the cane in His hand. The cane is the most effective attention-getter! It works instant miracles, as every parent knows!
The writer of Hebrews warns, "See that you do not refuse Him who speaks" (Heb 12:25). We cannot "escape" if we disobey God. The Heavenly Father has no spoilt children. He loves them too much to allow that. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" (v 6). God punishes us most when He punishes us not!
Traffic accidents are becoming common. True we have the promise that Godís angels shall keep us in all our ways lest our foot strikes against a stone (Psa 91:11,12). God is our Protector and He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psa 121:4). But in a surge of anger, He may hide His face from us for a moment (Isa 54:7,8). Which father will be silently watching his son going the wrong way? The donkey crushed the prophetís foot against a wall when he went against Godís perfect will (Num 22:25). Another prophet was thrown away from a ship into the sea because of disobedience. He landed inside the belly of a large fish. There he repented and found time to prepare his next sermon! This does not mean that all accidents are Godís punishments, but we must take an immediate stock of our lives when unpleasant things happen (Job 13:23).
God wills that His children hate sin with perfect hatred and love righteousness with perfect love. He worries that in fighting against sin we have not resisted to bloodshed (Heb 12:4).
We get satisfied with our lives comparing ourselves with others. But God is not content until we partake of "His" holiness (Heb 12:10). He does not lay down the pruning knife until we become like His Eldest Son. At the beginning of the Book of Job, God Himself testified that
Job was more upright than anyone else at that time (1:8). But, after going throí Godís furnace, at the end of the book, Job confessed to God, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5,6). Oh, the blessing of buffeting! When the outer man is perishing, the inner man is renewed.
Reverence and humility
God deserves all our reverence (Heb 12:9). Walking humbly with Him is our basic duty (Mic 6:8). But too often our respect and fear for the Lord evaporate into the clouds, and the pride of Lucifer enters our spirits. The Lord knows how to humble us. He may permit a sickness or a loss. He puts His finger on that thing which inflated our ego and pride. That breaks us and we come back to our senses.
God was prospering King Hezekiah abundantly. He was exalted before all nations. But he became proud. Therefore God struck him with a boil. He declared to the King that his days had been numbered. Hezekiah wept bitterly and repented. God forgave him and extended his life. After he was healed, he sang, "I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul" (Isa 38:15).
George Whitefield was called the prince of open-air preachers. He confessed, "It is necessary to heal the pride of my heart that trial should come!" The thorn in the flesh was to buffet Paul lest he became conceited because of his abundant revelations (2 Cor 12:7). God does not author sickness but He allows it.
We become aware of our weaknesses only when storms hit us. Otherwise we would simply be boasting of our strengths. The day of adversity measures our true strength (Prov 24:10).
Faith and confidence
Impossible it is to please God without faith. When we take our eyes off Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, we run into trouble (Heb 12:2). Our boats begin to sink. We then cry to Him. He asks, "Where is your faith?"
Sufferings, if handled properly, will strengthen faith. At the height of his despair, Job triumphantly declared, "Though He slays me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). Prophet Habakkuk, being unable to understand Godís dealings, filled the first chapter of his book with questions of "Why?" (1:3,13,14). In the second chapter God answered, "The just shall live by faith" (2:4). The prophet learnt the lesson and sang in the third chapter, "Though the fig tree may not blossom... though the flock be cut off from the fold... yet I will rejoice in the Lord!" (3:17-19).
Trees subject to violent winds take deep roots. Richard Wumbrand once described what he learnt amidst fourteen years of torture inside communist prisons: "In prison we unlearnt theology and we learnt Theos, the One about whom theology speaks!" Martin Luther also testified similarly: "I never knew the meaning of Godís Word until I came into afflictions!"
Afflictions increase our appreciation of Godís grace. Jeremiah was a prophet of tears and Paul an apostle of tears. Both of them saw the rainbow of Godís grace throí tear drops. The former shouted that Godís grace was "new" every morning (Lam 3:1,22,23). The latter was satisfied that Godís grace was "sufficient" (2 Cor 12:9).
God removed from Job his brothers, acquaintances, relatives, friends, guests, servants, wife and children (Job 19:13-17). When human props are removed, we look to God alone. Even He may hide Himself. We cannot find Him whether we go forward or backward, and we cannot see Him on the left or to the right. In such a situation, Job confidently declared, "But He knows!" We donít know, but God knows! (Job 23:8-10).
Fellowship of believers
As long as sailing is smooth, we tend to be too independent. But when we run aground, we crave for the fellowship of Godís people. Times of testing and the hour of trial teach us the importance and preciousness of the help and company of brothers and sisters in Christ (Heb
12:22,23). "If one organ suffers, all the organs suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26). "A brother is born for adversity" (Prov 17:17). How much Jesus longed for the company of His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane!
God takes a serious view of damaged relationships. We earn His displeasure when we fail to reconcile with one another. Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian Christians, "For this reason many are weak and sick... For if we judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:30-33). The horizontal component of holiness is peace with men. We will miss Godís grace if we donít root out whatever bitterness we have against others (Heb 12:14,15). God struck an outstanding singer with leprosy for backbiting. He healed her after she realised her folly (Num 12).
Trials and difficulties soften our hearts, thus making reconciliation easy. Longterm enmity has been healed when one of the candidates is suddenly and seriously taken ill. Confessing our faults to one another and praying for each other is Godís prescription for healing (Js 5:16). God had to cripple Jacob the trickster before crowning him (Gen 32:25-28).
Development of virtues
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11).
The lamenting Job asked, "Is there any taste in the white of an egg?" (Job 6:6). No, it is not tasty but nutritious! The trials of life are meant to make us better, not bitter. Through the vision of the good and bad figs, God showed prophet Jeremiah that even the captivity of Judah to Babylon was "for their own good" (Jer 24:3-5).
Only when we suffer, we are able to truly understand the feelings and heartaches of other sufferers around us. "God comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor 1 :4). Christian counselling has become too academic and professional these days. Counsellors without feeling are "worthless physicians," "miserable comforters" and "empty talkers" (Job 13:4; 16:2; 21:34). Nowadays we even have computerised counselling. Our need is wounded healers!
Crises also help to release the latent or dormant spiritual powers. Donít our reflex muscles act fastest at the sudden sight of a cobra? You would never imagine that you could run so fast until someday a mad dog chased you!
God does not take us into deep waters to drown us but to train us. My daddy would never allow us his sons to go beyond shallow waters to bathe. But the dads of our peers freely took them to deep waters. The result is I cannot swim properly to date!
Times of suffering become times of great revelations too. There are very few direct passages in the Old Testament on Resurrection. One of them was spoken by Job amidst intense suffering (Job 19:23-26). And it was while patiently enduring suffering in a barren island that John received the glorious Revelation of things to come (Rev 1:9).
In an age of instant everything, we expect deliverance from troubles or lifting of the rod of correction the moment we repent or pray. But this does not happen always. Hence the exhortation: "Strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (Heb 12:12,13).
Jehovah did not wipe out all the enemies in the Promised Land "immediately," but left them for two reasons: One, to teach the people of Israel warfare, and second, to test their obedience (Judg 2:21-3:4).
Psalms 6,13,38,56,70,88 and 143 are excellent prayers of David for deliverance from his troubles and enemies. But God did not send him instant deliverance in every case.
Sometimes as in the case of Paul, the thorn will never be removed. But God will give us grace to live above the handicaps. He is Sovereign. He is sympathetic. Let God be God!
No doubt death is an enemy, but God can use even that for His glory (Jn 21:19). Whether we live or die, it is to the glory of God (Rom 14:8).
As long as the earth remains, day AND night shall not cease (Gen 8:22). Only in the New Heaven and New Earth, "there shall be no night." Afflictions may be lasting, but not everlasting! The first thing God will do when He comes down to literally dwell with us is to wipe away every tear from our eyes! "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"