|Why We Must Suffer|
Lisa Barry: There was a funeral the other day for a friend of our family. He was a father in his mid-40's who had a wife and three children. But for the last four years, his battle was deteriorating from Lou Gehrig's disease. I wonder if the family ever asked why God would allow such a hideous disease. I wonder if they felt abandoned by God, or maybe they felt like they were just being punished. These are the questions we would rather not think about, but sometimes we just have to. It would be so much easier if we could figure out just one reason why such tragedies must happen. Today on Gateway To Joy, Elisabeth Elliot talks about why we must suffer and how to endure it. Let's get started.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, giving you this week some Bible answers to the question of suffering.
How often have we heard people say, "I don't understand why we have to have suffering"? Or when you hear some terrible piece of news, you say, "Why does God allow this to happen? Well, we just don't understand these things."
It's true that we don't fully understand them and we will not fully understand them until we see our blessed Savior face to face. But the Bible has given us quite a long list of clues as to why we should suffer. In my notebook I have up to, let's see-I've got 22 different lists of reasons. I mean, more than one reason under almost each one of these things-but 22 clues as to why we should suffer.
Yesterday we talked about the need to share in Christ's sufferings. We talked about the necessity to be shaped to the likeness of Christ. Today let's look at what it says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. This was a great lesson that Paul had to learn.
After the great sufferings that he has experienced, which he catalogs for us in 2 Corinthians 11, he then has a strange experience, where he is caught up into the third heaven-whatever that means. He didn't know whether he was in the body or out of the body.
In fact, he is having such a hard time describing this experience that he starts out as though it was somebody else. Then he sort of loses himself and lets us know that it really was he who didn't know whether he was in the body or out of the body. He said, "I don't know, but God knows. And I know that this man (whether in the body or apart from the body, I don't know, but God knows)"-he had to repeat that twice for us-"was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things-things that man is not permitted to tell."
He says, "I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself." Now you may take issue with me that he may have been talking about another person, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he was just being a little modest and didn't want to brag on the fact that he'd had this very dramatic spiritual experience. But then we're going to see what happens.
He said, "Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh."
I'm assuming that Paul would not have been tempted to be conceited if it was not he that had had this strange out-of-body experience. So in order to be kept from becoming conceited, he was given a thorn.
Now who do you think minds if Paul gets conceited? Would it be Satan or would it be God? I think Satan would just be chortling with glee if he succeeded in causing Paul to become conceited. But certainly God did not want him to be conceited. So who gave him that thorn? Was it Satan or was it God?
Let me read to you what it says in verse 7. "There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me." We're back again at the mystery of God and Satan working, as it were, together in this case. Satan was the messenger who gave him the thorn. God was the One who, by allowing that thorn to be given, was preventing Paul from becoming conceited. It was a messenger of Satan to torment him.
"Three times," he says, "I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me, but He said, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me." One of the reasons why we must suffer is so that Christ's power may rest on us.
In verse 10 he says, "That's why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
This man had certainly been through the mill. In the chapter just preceding this, telling us about this tiny little thorn, he says that he has been "in prison, been flogged, exposed to death, received 40 lashes minus one five times, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, shipwrecked in the open sea, in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen."
I'm going to skip a whole bunch of these "dangers." He's got a long list of dangers. "False brothers. I've labored, toiled, gone without sleep, known hunger and thirst and gone without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches."
So had Paul suffered adversity and affliction? Well, he certainly had-far more than you and I, probably. But what was it for? Power comes to its full strength in weakness. Out of those experiences of weakness, he was given power. If Paul had not had that tiny little irritating thorn, if he had had it removed as he prayed three times that God would do, just think what you and I would have missed-that tremendous lesson, "My grace is all you need, for power comes to its full strength in weakness."
Those words have certainly blessed millions of Christians. That was my father's life verse. "My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Why must we suffer? Well, right there is one more reason.
Now how about Romans 5:3,4. These are all biblical answers. These are not Elisabeth Elliot guesses as to why we must suffer. "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."
Let's use a secular example here. Suppose you want to win a gold medal in the Olympics. You are going to have to suffer. You are going to have to be out there, let's say, on the ice for eight hours a day or something like that. You're not going to be tooling around with all your friends and sitting in the pizza parlor having fun. You are going to be working and working and working. You're going to have a grueling schedule, if you're going to keep up your studies as well.
What's it for? We know that suffering produces perseverance. Anybody that's aiming for the Olympics has got to persevere. Perseverance produces character, and character produces hope.
Now we've seen some examples-very bad examples-of Olympic contestants who certainly were not exemplary. But we've seen some that were indeed exemplary, judging by this series of things that they would certainly have had to go through-the sufferings, the perseverance; the perseverance, character; and character, hope. Steadfastness. Soundness. Hope. Joy. If we are going to exhibit these qualities in our spiritual lives, we have to suffer.
And there's another reference under this same heading of steadfastness and soundness and joy, perseverance-whichever translation you wish to use there. 2 Corinthians 8:2: "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." Out of extreme poverty their overflowing joy welled up in rich generosity.
Have you had the experience of finding that some of the poorest people are among the most generous you've ever known? I certainly have. When I worked with jungle Indians, they would have given me anything.
When I first arrived in the little jungle clearing where my daughter and I lived for a couple of years with the Indians who had killed my husband, the very first night that we got there they gave us a little house to live in. Well, they called it a house. It was six poles. But it had a roof on it made of leaves. They brought us fish. They brought us water from the river. They brought us firewood. In other words, they gave us everything they had. Generosity. How lovely it is that out of extreme poverty wells up rich generosity-another reason why we must suffer.
Lisa Barry: I hope you've been comforted by today's program. Elisabeth has written a few books on the topic of suffering, and they might be just what you need or they might be just what a friend or family member needs. The first book is called ON ASKING GOD WHY. It deals directly with the questions that fill our minds during a crisis. The second is A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING. This book helps you to keep your eyes fixed on Christ, to enhance your ability to wait on God or ride out the storm. We even have it available in a large-print edition. Both books have been bestsellers. They would make great gifts.
One way to purchase them is through our Web site. If you have Internet access, just go to gatewaytojoy.org and you'll find all sorts of information about Gateway To Joy, including a place where you can purchase Elisabeth's books. You'll get secure ordering and immediate e-mail confirmation. Again, that address is gatewaytojoy.org.
Or you can write our post office address, which is Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Our toll-free number is 1-800-759-4JOY. Today's program has been a production of Back to the Bible.
I hope you'll tune in tomorrow when Elisabeth talks about how love fits into this issue of suffering. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.