ALL OF US face adversity in various forms and at different times. As someone has said so well, “Life is difficult.” I would go further. I would say life is often painful. Life often hurts. Nothing I say in this chapter is intended to make light of our pain. I simply want to help us learn to trust God in the midst of it.

Some adversities are fairly minimal. I left my Bible on an airplane just two hours before a speaking engagement. That’s not exactly traumatic, but it seemed like it at the time. Some adversities are sudden and devastating, such as an auto accident that kills one or more loved ones. Others are chronic and persistent, such as an incurable physical disability. Even when we aren’t experiencing major heartaches, we often encounter those frustrating or anxiety-producing events, such as the loss of my Bible, that can rob us of our peace and joy.

A major part of spiritual growth is learning to trust God in such times of adversity. It is just as important to trust God as it is to obey Him. When we disobey God, we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we don’t trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases, we cast aspersions upon His character.

Yet it often seems more difficult to trust God than to obey Him. The moral will of God is rational and reasonable. The circumstances in which we must trust God often appear irrational and inexplicable. Obeying God is worked out in well-defined boundaries of His revealed will. Trusting God is worked out in an arena that has no boundaries. As Proverbs 27:1 says we “do not know what a day may bring forth.”

In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense. And just as the faith of salvation comes through hearing the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:17), so the faith to trust God in adversity comes through the Word of God alone. It is only in the Scriptures that we find an adequate view of God’s relationship to and involvement in our painful circumstances. It is only from the Scriptures applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity.

In the arena of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God—truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in adversity. They are:

• God is completely sovereign.

• God is infinite in wisdom.

• God is perfect in love.

BOTH SOVEREIGN AND GOOD

The Bible continually asserts the sovereignty of God, and yet today many people, including some Christians, question it. They reason this way: God is either sovereign and not good or else He is good and not sovereign. If He were both, we would not experience and see all the heartache and tragedy that occurs daily around the world.

Having decided God cannot be both sovereign and good, they choose to believe in the goodness or love of God. But Jesus said we don’t have to choose between God’s sovereignty and His goodness. Consider what He says about God’s involvement in the destiny of a sparrow:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31)

A sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from God’s sovereign will. Regardless of how many hunters or birds of prey are after that sparrow, nothing can happen to it unless God so wills it. And then Jesus does not leave us in doubt as to His application for us. He said, “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

In effect, Jesus is saying, “If God sovereignly controls the destiny of a sparrow, how much more does He control your destiny? Therefore, don’t be afraid.”

Someone may say, “Well, it’s well and good God controls the destiny of a sparrow. But what about major calamities such as the AIDS epidemic and the vast areas of famine in Africa? Is God sovereign over the major tragedies of the world?”

The Bible says yes. Over and over again, the Bible asserts the sovereignty of God over both the minutiae and the major events of life. Here is just one example from Lamentations 3:37–38: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”

This passage teaches us that neither human beings nor the impersonal forces of nature nor other physical circumstances can harm us unless God decrees it. God may decree to cause an event positively, or He may decree to allow it. But in either case, He is sovereign over it.

So we see that God is sovereign. But what about His goodness? Consider again the words of Jesus in Luke 12:6–7: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Do you see the subtle difference between this Scripture and Matthew 10:29–31? There, Jesus speaks of the sovereignty of God. Here, in Luke, He speaks about the care of God. Not a single sparrow is forgotten by Him. The word forgotten here does not refer to a lapse of memory on God’s part. Rather, Jesus is saying not a single sparrow is abandoned by God. Once again, Jesus does not leave us in doubt as to His application. If a single sparrow is not forgotten by God, how much more does He not forget you?

The reality of life, though, is that it often seems that God has forgotten or abandoned us. In Psalm 13:1, David cries out “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” And in Psalm 10:1, he prays, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” It’s as if David is saying, “God, just when I need You most, I can’t find You. You’ve hidden Yourself.”

We find a similar heart cry from the nation of Israel [called Zion in the text] in Isaiah 49:14–16: “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

The two words, forsaken and forgotten, refer to a heart forsakenness and a physical abandonment. This is what happens in the unbelievably cruel practice of infanticide. In biblical times, unwanted babies were left out in the open field to be eaten by animals or die of exposure. They were physically abandoned. But, obviously, for parents to do such a horrible thing, they first had to forsake the baby in their hearts. This is what Zion accuses God of doing.

But what is God’s answer? He takes the closest physical bond there is—that of a mother nursing her baby—and asks, “Can this mother abandon this child?” Then God says, “Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” God says it is impossible for Him to forget us even though our circumstances may make it appear to the contrary sometimes.

So what do we do when it seems as if God has forgotten and forsaken us? We go back to what the Bible tells us about God. We can look at God through the lens of our pain, or we can look at our pain through the lens of faith. And faith always comes through reliance on the promises of God. This is where Psalm 119:11 can help us. We can store up God’s promises in our hearts against the time when we face adversity, whether large or small. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to call to mind the words of Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” in my own circumstances.

THE WISDOM OF GOD

We see then that God is both sovereign and good. We don’t have to choose between them. But the question still remains. If God is both sovereign and good, why is there so much heartache and tragedy in the world? Why doesn’t God restrain both the moral and circumstantial evil in the world? The answer is: We don’t know but God does. And God has no obligation to explain it to us. In fact, we probably couldn’t understand if He did explain. Consider the words of Paul in Romans 11:33: “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Or as one translation expresses that last phrase: “… how mysterious his methods.”

Suppose a prominent physicist is explaining some intricate nuclear equation to a seminar of his peers. He has it all written out on a whiteboard and is going through the equation. His peers can follow his logic, but a six-year-old couldn’t. The scientist could explain it over and over again, but the six-year-old simply doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand.

This is the way we are in relation to God’s wisdom, only more so. The gap in understanding between the physicist and the six-year-old is huge. But it is still finite. But the gap between God’s ways of governing His universe and our ability to track His ways is an infinite gap. As God Himself says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9)

Now the expression, “higher than the heavens,” may not be so striking to us in the space age. But remember: God spoke those words hundreds of years before the Wright brothers flew their first airplane. At that time, “higher than the heavens” would have been a metaphor for infinity. That’s the way God’s ways are to our ways. They are infinitely above them.

So, if we are going to learn to trust God, we must accept the fact that we have to trust Him when we don’t understand. But remember: Although we don’t understand His ways, we know they are good.

Remember the three truths that the Bible teaches us about God and our adversities:

• God is completely sovereign.

• God is infinite in wisdom.

• God is perfect in love.

Someone has expressed these three truths, as they relate to us, in this way:

God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He always knows what is best. And in His sovereignty, He has the power to bring it about.

THE DISCIPLINE OF ADVERSITY

Although we may not be able to understand the way God governs His universe or why He allows specific instances of pain in our individual lives, He has given us an idea of the ultimate purpose for the adversities we face. In Hebrews 12:5–11, he calls it discipline. As used in that passage, discipline does not refer to remedial punishment, as in “I had to discipline my son.” Rather, the word has the idea of child-training—all that which goes into training a child to be a responsible adult.

In Hebrews 12, the writer uses discipline to refer to a specific aspect of God’s spiritual child-training—that of hardship or adversity.

Hebrews 12:7 is key to understanding the purpose of adversity in our lives. The writer says, “Endure hardship as discipline.” There is no qualifying adjective. He did not say, “Endure all hardship”; neither did he say, “Endure some hardship as discipline.” In the absence of a qualifying adjective, we must understand him to have meant all hardship. All hardship of whatever kind has a disciplinary purpose for us. There is no such thing as pain without a purpose in the life of a believer.

This does not necessarily mean a particular hardship is related to a specific act or habit of sin in our lives. It does mean every expression of discipline has as its intended end conformity to the likeness of Christ. It is true we often cannot see the connection between the adversity and God’s purpose. It should be enough for us, however, to know God sees the connection and the end result He intends.

Can we tell if a particular adversity is related to some specific sin in our lives? Not with certainty, but it is my own belief the Holy Spirit will bring such a connection to our attention if we need to know in order to deal with a particular sin. If nothing comes to mind, we can pray, asking God if there is something He wants us to consciously learn. Beyond that, however, it is vain to speculate as to why God has brought a particular hardship into our lives. Part of the sanctifying process of adversity is its mystery or our inability to make any sense out of a particular hardship.

When we are unable to make any sense of our circumstances, we need to come back to the assurance in Hebrews 12:7—“God is treating you as sons.” Remember, He is the one in charge of our spiritual growth. He knows exactly what and how much adversity will develop more Christlikeness in us, and He will not bring, nor allow to come into our lives, any more than is needful for His purpose.

Endure all hardship as discipline. I don’t want to trivialize hardship, but as I have already acknowledged, there are varying degrees of adversity. Some are life-shattering, such as the death of a loved one or a permanently disabling injury. Some, such as a flat tire or a stopped-up sink, are really only temporary nuisances. But, whether trivial or serious, all of these circumstances and events are intended by God to be means of developing more Christlike character.

Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.


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