There are four things Christian hardships never prove. Regardless of the suffering the Christians experiences, the struggles causing the suffering are never evidence of four things. (1) Hardships never prove God does not listen to the Christian's prayers. (2) Hardships never prove God does not care about the Christian. (3) Hardships never prove God does not love the Christian. (4) Hardships never prove that God is powerless. If a Christian's understanding of the character and nature of God is weak, he or she may conclude one or more of those things are true.
As an example to be considered in all four of these false conclusions, consider Jesus. In Gethsemane on the last evening of his earthly existence, Jesus prayed to his Father with such earnestness that he sweated profusely. [Have you ever prayed that earnestly?] In intense earnestness, he made the same request of God three times. His request: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). We could paraphrase Jesus' prayer with these words: "If we can achieve Your purposes without my crucifixion, please, achieve Your purposes by another means. However, You know best; You are in charge. I yield to Your wishes."
Perhaps our reaction is this: "It surely did Jesus a lot of good to pray! That is one prayer God neither heard nor answered!" Wrong! The man who knelt in prayer was a man in such deep anxiety that he sweated. The same man who was tried and crucified was calm, quiet, and under the control of silent resolve. He could pray for his tormentors as he painfully died, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Have you considered Hebrews 5:7? "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety." Note the words "he was heard." Did Jesus die? Yes! Was Jesus crucified? Yes! Is that what he wanted? No! Did the fact that he was crucified mean that God did not hear his prayer? No! God loved his son dearly and was deeply pleased with him (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). However, He also loved a rebellious world that did not please Him (John 3;16, 17). God's relationship with a loved son was secure. God's relationship with a rebellious world was not secure. In incredible love, God sacrificed a son with whom He had a secure relationship to provide hope for a rebellious world beyond His touch. Jesus' death was not evidence that God did not love, but evidence of a love beyond human comprehension. God did not remove the cup from Jesus. Rather, He gave Jesus strength to drink the cup.
Jesus' death proves how much God cares for us. No matter what hardship we endure, our hardship (1) is never greater than a sinless Jesus' crucifixion, and (2) our hardship never uproots Jesus' cross. Perhaps you say, "Good for us, but bad for Jesus." Wrong! Through death and resurrection, God made Jesus Savior of humanity. Because of his death and resurrection, we have forgiveness, cleansing, hope, mercy, and grace. Because of his death and resurrection, he (1) is honored with a name above all names (Philippians 2:9-11); (2) is enthroned at God's right hand by the consent and order of God Himself (Matthew 28:18; Acts 5:31; 1 Corinthians 15:25); and (3) is the means through which God keeps all His promises (Acts 3:18-21). When we see the resurrected Jesus in judgment, we will without hesitation bow before the King of kings in complete awareness of his significance.
It is because of what God accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection that nothing can separate the person in Christ [by personal choice] from God's love. A person may abandon his/her love for God, but God will never abandon His love for His children! Listen to Romans 8:32-34: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." Because of what God accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection, Satan himself cannot separate those in Christ from God! (Romans 8:35-39). God does not have to listen to any charges brought against those in Christ!
God's sustaining power is not diminished by an evil world! In His power, God can assist us in our struggles in at least three ways. (1) He can remove our problem [always our desire and our choice, but not always what is best for us or God's objectives]. (2) He can enable us to cope with the problem. [When we cope, we continue life as though the problem were not a reality.] (3) He can enable us to endure the problem. [The problem alters a person's life on a continuing, daily basis, but it does not defeat us.]
At Gethsemane and Golgotha, God made the perfect Savior. However, as God made that perfect Savior, only God and Jesus knew it. To everyone else, including Satan, it appeared that the forces of evil won. Yet, God was dynamically active. He took the worst that Satan could do, and from the worst manifestations of evil made the perfect Savior. If God could do that with hate and shameful crucifixion, what can He make from our suffering?
Thought and Discussion Questions
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 13
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