12 April 2020
In my clinic practice, I have often come across believers asking me this question, “If God is sovereign and good, why does He allow me to come down with this cancer; why are things getting from bad to worse even though I have been generally faithful to God in my ministry and christian walk? During the covid-19 virus outbreak, this similar kind of question again surfaces.
To answer this comprehensively, we need to study the subject of suffering and the christian; in the reflections on the book of Job, I have tried to look at this subject as best as I could (e-book on website http//www.livinginthelastdays.com). But here, it might be helpful to just ponder over several relevant points.
First of all, we need to realise that we are living in a fallen world and ill health is not necessarily due to sin and the fact that there is no healing does not mean that God is displeased with the one who is sick. This does not negate the fact that sin can lead to suffering; on the other hand, the one who suffers may in fact be one favoured by God (like Job). This explains why bad things sometimes happen to good people and good things can at times happen to bad people.
We need to realise that Scriptures reveal that in the last days, God may allow calamities and disasters to take place to warn those who are ungodly to repent and not try to be their own gods. This is seen particularly in the book of Revelation and it records that despite these calamities, happening in greater intensity, man still refuses to repent and to turn back to God. Calamities and crisis serve, at the same time, to test God’s people, with the intention to make good God’s command, ‘Be you holy as I am holy’ and to ‘purify’ His people as gold is refined by fire. They serve to test the genuineness of the faith of believers and as believers respond well in these difficult times, God transforms them into Christlikeness.
C.S Lewis’ comments in ‘Mere Christianity’ are very helpful in this context:
“We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are corrected) he often feels that it would be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed…..His command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command…He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. Though the process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. God means what He said”.
Lewis was actually saying that we ought not to be disappointed when troubles come along in our christian lives, for this is God’s way of using these to make us to be like Christ, to be ‘perfect’ like our Master. Similarly, Apostle Peter wrote:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). The Apostle James also wrote on a similar subject: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
But in outworking, what God intends may not be worked out in our lives; it is not so much that God cannot effect the positive change – it is rather our own negative responses and our failure to recognise God’s hand in the various circumstances we go through.
We are familiar with the event of Jesus and the disciples in the storm. For the disciples who were fishermen to be fearful would mean that the storm was not a small one. Interestingly, Jesus was sleeping in the boat in the midst of this ferocious storm which threatened to sink the boat they were in. The disciples cried out in fear and they woke up the master; they even questioned the Lord as to why He was not concerned. Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith and He then commanded the storm to quieten down and it did almost immediately. The lesson was and is: the external circumstances cannot disturb the peace within our hearts if we exercise our faith in God. The Lord Jesus Himself demonstrated it when He was sleeping peacefully in the midst of the storm. Surely, the boat could not sink when the God of creation of the sea, the waves and the wind was in it! Even if Jesus did not calm the storm, the boat still would not sink, for the Lord of the universe was in it. Similarly, when Peter was walking on the water towards Jesus in another context, he was doing well initially until he focused on the wind and the waves instead of focusing on Jesus. The faith that Jesus desired in His followers is the faith in Him. Some may say that we should have faith, for the covid-19 virus crisis would soon be over; let us be clear that our faith is not in faith per se – it is faith and trust in Jesus alone through the crisis and beyond the crisis, and even when another kind of crisis appear. The peace we have in Jesus resides within our hearts and is independent of the circumstances, whether it be a storm or other forms of threat.
The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples:-
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).
“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Here we see that the cure for a troubled heart is to believe in Jesus, to have faith and trust in Him. Our peace is in Him; even in the midst of tribulation, we can take heart because He has overcome the world. As believers are united with the Lord, in union with Him, we also have overcome the world as we continue to remain in Him by faith. We overcome in Him and through Him.
Matthew 11:28-30:- “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
Recently, I heard a sharing by a brother in Christ on this passage – it is rather encouraging. In the midst of labor and being weighed down by many burdens and cares, like in the current crisis, we long for rest and relief. The Lord Jesus invites us to take His yoke, to be yoked with Him or to be harnessed with Him. It is a picture of two buffaloes yoked together by a ‘harness’ in the process of ploughing. Interestingly, the Lord tells us that if we are yoked with Him, we will find rest for our souls and He adds that His yoke is easy and light. It is a picture of a younger and weaker buffalo yoked to a stronger and more matured buffalo. The latter is able to carry more of the burden, being stronger, and the yoke would enable them both to plough together although the younger and weaker animal could not carry much of the burden. In addition, being yoked together, the stronger and more mature animal can guide both to move in the right direction and to make the work easy and light.
This is an invitation to be ‘yoked’ with our Lord, to be ‘joined’ in union with Him so that our burden may be light and we can find rest, and our labor can be easy because our Lord can give us rest and peace in the midst of being heavy laden.
It is an exhortation to ‘fix our eyes upon Jesus’ and to come to Him in the midst of our labor and with our heavy burdens. It is a call not to harden our hearts when we hear His voice, and to be careful not to remain in unbelief. “For we share in Christ if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14).