Discovering the Purposes of Life’s Hard Times

Exactly a year ago, seven days after my birthday, I preached the sermon in our Church (Glory Baptist Church, The Gambia). Shortly after the service, I suffered a stroke that paralysed half of my body from my head down. For about six months, I was incapacitated – I lost the use of my right arm, I was immobilised, and could do little without assistance from my dear wife and children.

During the period of my sickness, many times I asked the age-old question, “Lord, why?” “Did I miss it somewhere?” Like Job, I began to do a soul-search and ask questions. My experience has taught me invaluable lessons about the purpose of suffering in the life of a Christian, and given birth to this message which I brought to our Church on the 16th of July, 2017 as summarised in this series of articles.

I believe there’s a purpose for everything that happens under the sun. The preacher said, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Life can be hard to understand. In trying to come to grips with the cold realities of our existence, we can easily become frustrated. We long for answers to the immense problem of suffering. We may even wonder if we will ever fully comprehend why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people.

A case in point is the experience of Job. In Job 10:2-3, he lamented:

“Show me why you contend with me. Does it seem good to you that you should oppress, that You should despise the work of your hands?”

Questions such as these are still being asked today. “Does God hate me?” “Is this why He is allowing me to suffer like this?” “Why me and not others?” “Why do good people suffer?”

The truth is, God does not answer all our questions. However, He shows us how to put suffering to work for us and to keep our pain in the right perspective.

God is Sovereign over our suffering

Job realised that he had no right to demand an answer from God. He said in Job 42:3b, “therefore I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

You know why?

The word of God says that God is Sovereign!

“He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves” (Psalm 66:7).

This verse talks about the supreme rulership of God over the nations. In other words, He rules and He knows everything that happens in our lives. Job said,

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10).

God knows every step we take and He even said when He allows us go through suffering, that we shall come forth as gold.

It is instructive to note that God did not promise His children a life that is problem free. Jesus​ said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Suffering — not only persecution but including bodily suffering — is a part of life as​ long as we’re​ in this fallen world.

The Scriptures affirm that God is good!

 And Jesus said unto him, why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God (Mark 10:18).

The question that begs answering then is, why would a good God allow His children to suffer?

We serve a Sovereign God whom the Bible describes as a God who can do anything He chooses to do. He assures us that He controls all that happens. In the Scriptures, we see how He acted in mercy and performed miracles on behalf of his people. But sometimes He has chosen to do nothing to stop tragedies, natural disasters, broken homes, broken hearts, broken bodies, broken hopes, broken health, broken relationships, broken lives and even death to come to his people.

Suffering makes God appear to be absent for a time. However, we should not use the presence of suffering or trouble as an indication of the absence of God in our lives. Let’s consider two Biblical examples which communicate this truth.

The Example of Elisha the man of God

Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. 

[20] And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 

[21] And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the tomb of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.

(2 Kings 13:14,20-21).

Elisha was a man anointed of God. He performed twice as many miracles as His predecessor Elijah. Yet he fell sick, but God did not heal him. This was a man highly regarded for his prophetic powers and miracles. He did outstanding miracles more than any other prophet in Israel – even the residual anointing in his bones, long after his death was able to bring a dead man back to life. Why did the anointing or the presence of God in his life not heal him from his sickness? The simple answer, as we say in my local parlance, is, “God na God!” (God is God!) — Nobody can question Him.

The Example of Paul the Apostle

[7] And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to torment me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

[8] For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

 [9] And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength or my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

[10] Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

(2 Corinthians 12).

Apostle Paul tells us in the above passage that he had an infirmity, for which he prayed to God thrice that it be taken away. He did not tell us what kind of sickness it was, but whatever the case, it appeared to be a chronic problem.

This thorn in flesh was a hindrance to his ministry, however, God did not heal him. He prayed for the removal of thorn but instead God said, His grace was sufficient for him even in his weakness. Paul was a very self-sufficient person, and this thorn was a difficult situation for him. The end result, according to the passage above, was that it kept him humble.

To be continued…