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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom 8:35-37).
There was a man named Bob, an artist who made sculpture from the finest porcelain clay. But Bob had an enemy, a painter named Theo. One day, Bob came into his shop to find all his clay had gravel mixed in with it, ruining it. Theo had come in during the night and mixed rocks with all his clay. It was a huge loss.
Bob made a choice. He could do the easy thing and throw out all the rocky clay, buy new clay and just take the financial loss. Or he could work the clay, one piece at a time, working the gravel to the surface and picking it out one rock at a time. Bob loved his clay, knowing the amazing works he could make with it, and he was not willing to discard it.
So Bob set to work. Each lump of clay, he worked in his hands, kneading it to get the rocks to the surface, where he could take them out. He did this one lump at a time, making each pristine.
Suffering is no fun. It is so bad, in fact, that people regularly use it as the reason they don’t believe in God. It’s often called the Problem of Evil, which C.S. Lewis renamed, quite appropriately I think, the Problem of Pain.
It’s usually formed as three statements (a trilemma), like this:
1. If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
2. If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
3. If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does it exist?
Of course God’s answer to the question of “Why do you exist?” is simply, “I AM.” Which is really the only possible answer if you’re the First Cause, the thing which caused everything else. The First Cause doesn’t need a “why” because it just is. Even asking it “why do you exist” is profoundly foolish; the only answer you’re going to get is “Because I AM.” Or, as he said when he first gave his name, “I AM who I AM.”
But I digress.
This is all really focused around suffering, because that is how we experience evil. Which makes sense if God is the source of life and health and wholeness: if you cut yourself off from life, health, and wholeness, what you end up with is death, sickness, and brokenness. You get pain.
Evil and pain are part and parcel of life after the fall of humanity. We cut ourselves off from God. This is our reality now.
But God uses it anyway.
God has given us the opportunity to be redeemed. We are born broken, but God gives us the opportunity to be made whole again.
And so suffering has become a spiritual discipline.
God uses suffering to help you grow.
Our God is a consuming refiner’s fire, burning away our brokenness. Yes, that will hurt. But it makes us better than we were, drawing us nearer to God.
Because of God’s love, we grow through suffering, becoming more than those who overcome. We become God’s children.
Sometimes we suffer because of things we’ve done. We can suffer because of our own mistakes.
But sometimes, God lets us suffer for no fault of our own. The passage Paul quotes there in Romans 8 is from Psalm 44:22. Here are verses 17-21:
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
Israel hadn’t done anything to deserve their suffering. But God allowed it anyway.
Because God allows his people to suffer so they can grow—not only because we’ve sinned, but also because we are all born broken, we are all born sinners, and God is removing that brokenness, that sin from us.
God is working us like lumps of clay, bringing out the rocks that keep us from being pristine. Some of this gravel is deep within us, and we have to be kneaded thoroughly for these imperfections to come to the surface so God can take them away.
Being kneaded by the Potter isn’t always pleasant. But it is absolutely necessary for us.
So when you are hurting, don’t turn away from God. Turn to him.
When your best friend has died, turn to God. When you have cancer, turn to God. When your friends insult you behind your back, turn to God. God wants you to grow nearer to him through it.
No matter your circumstances, you have God with you.
Nothing can separate you from his love.