Saturday, October 24, 2009

Further Reflections on Suffering – Being Made into His Likeness

I have already alluded to the purpose of suffering in my other posts “Making Sense of it All”, and “Rom.8:28 – the Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible”. Here are further reflections on suffering. (Not easy, but I am trying to make each post more “bite size”!)

I believe God has allowed suffering to be central to why He created us in the first place. It may not be apparent immediately, but if we step back and get a “big picture” of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelations, it is sufficiently clear that God’s ultimate purpose in creating us is that He would ultimately have people who would be like Him, in order that they may be one with Him and enjoy love and communion with Him.

How does God go about to accomplish this?

Let’s start with Genesis. In Genesis we are told that God made us in His image or likeness. Does that mean that we were created to be exactly like Him? I don’t think so. I believe it means that we were made with a potential to be like Him. We are obviously so very, very far from the likeness of God. But God has a plan for how He will mold and shape us to be like Him and in the end He will accomplish His original purpose of making us into His likeness. The Bible refers to that process by different terms : “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb.2:10), “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom.8:29), “purify for Himself a people that are His very own” (Titus 2:14).

It has often been thought that God’s original plan to have a sinless utopia was ruined by Adam and Eve falling for Satan’s temptation and deception, and then God had to go into a rescue plan to get back what was lost. But that is a total misunderstanding and incorrect interpretation of scripture. On the contrary, the apostle Paul was clear especially from Romans chapters 8 – 11, that God’s plan from the very beginning was that He Himself subjected us to sin so that He would show His mercy and love for us. Not only that, but central to His purpose for creation is that God also subjected the whole of creation to frustration with the purpose that through all the sin and decay of this world we would be put through a process of purging, refining and molding and through it we would become overcomers of sin and death and be like Jesus :

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Rom.8:17-21

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Rom.8:29

“ .. to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” Rom.9:23

“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Rom.11:32

“Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” Dan.11:3

So God uses trials, difficulties and suffering to purge, refine and mold our character. The writer of Hebrews calls it God’s discipline. God’s ultimate aim in molding our character is so that we may share in His holiness : Heb.12:10. Sharing in His holiness, I believe, means being set apart to be His – to be like Him and enjoy communion with Him. It is through trials and suffering that the Adamic self–nature within us is slowly whittled away from us. It is as we get less and less, and we learn to know His heart and character more and more that He becomes “formed” in us and we become like Him to enjoy communion with Him.

Understood in this light, contrary to what may seem to be God’s inattention or failure to intervene and save us, suffering is instead evidence of His love for us as His children and possibly the best thing that God can do for us :

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons :

"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb.12:4-12

A Job Test for Each of Us

Just like the Job story, I believe Satan has a wager/bet with God over each of us, and it goes something like this : “You can save them, but can You make them Your sons? Can You turn them into Your likeness?” This, I believe, is the ultimate destiny for us, and the end-goal for God. He does not just create us, and save us, but He also molds us to become like Him.

I believe the story of Job is prophetic for the end times when the whole world, including the church will be severely tested. Just as the Father did not deliver His Son, the question that God will ask of each of us is, “Will you still love Me if I don’t deliver you?”

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." Job 1:8-11

God is glorified in the eyes of the angels and demons when through the persevering patient suffering of His people He shows that He can accomplish and complete what He set out to do – to make us into His likeness – to develop us to the point where we will truly love Him for who He is, and not what He can do for us, so that like Jesus, who in love laid down His life for us, we too would in love lay down our lives for others :

“This is how we know what love is : Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 Jn.3:16.

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed!" Rom.8:19

My brothers and sisters, I have no doubt about it, that if we are the last generation, then we will go through the tribulation. If not all of it, at least some part of it!

This question was put by Satan to God, “Will Job fear (serve) you for nothing?”

That same question ought to be asked of ourselves : Will we serve God for nothing?

• Will you serve God if there is no money, no salary or any other reward in it?
• Will you serve God if you had to put out your own money to do so?
• Will you serve God if no one will know about it?
• Will you serve God if no one will remember you for it?
• Will you serve God if you are the only one left to do the job and everyone else has gone on to something else?
• Will you serve God if you had to do it without any position or recognition?
• Will you serve God if you will be misunderstood for what you are doing?
• Will you serve God if you will be falsely accused of personal gain?
• Will you serve God if you will be ridiculed for the kind of work involved?
• Will you serve God if you will be humiliated by doing so?
• Will you serve God if the work involved is unimportant or “too little”?
• Will you serve God if you have to take orders from someone else?
• Will you serve God if you have to take orders from someone else who is less knowledgeable, less qualified, less experienced or younger than you?
• Will you serve God if the task is too demeaning to you?
• Will you serve God if it will cost you your health?
• Will you still serve God if God will not heal you?
• Will you serve God if he does not bless you in return for it?
• Will you serve God if you have to lose your possessions and everything else precious to you in doing so?
• Will you still serve God if He does not restore your possessions or that which is precious to you?
• Will you serve God if you have to give up your life in doing so?
• Will you still serve God if He does not rescue you?
• Will you serve God if He tells you there is no reward even in heaven for the job?
• Will you serve God for nothing?

Job said, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. Isa.48:10

Paul says it is through the church that God will reveal God’s plan of the ages :

Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me : to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, Eph.3:8-10

There is therefore a far greater cosmic reason and heavenly battle that is being waged, when God allows suffering in our lives, than we might be aware of.

It is only through suffering that we can learn to love, and it is through suffering that our love for Jesus is tested and perfected

It is easy to love when everything is fine. It is easy to give when we have plenty. But true love must involve sacrifice. It is when we have little, and when things are difficult, and our knowledge is partial, that our love is really tested : 1 Cor.13. It is only through suffering that we can really learn to love. There is no other way.

It is also through suffering that Jesus will get His bride – those who would love Him for Who He is, not what He can give them.

Jesus came as the Son of Man to suffer and show us the way to glory

There is no other way to glory than through suffering. Jesus Himself was glorified through testing and suffering. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I send you.” Jn.20:21. In the same way, God will take us through testing and suffering before we are brought to glory :

“ .. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”Lk.24:26

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Heb.2:10-11

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Heb.5:8-9

The glory that awaits us will be worth far more than all the suffering we experience

Even when we are aware of all this, it is only human to avoid and recoil from suffering as far we might be able to. Jesus Himself agonized over the crucifixion and the separation from His father that awaited Him. However, knowing that no matter how bad it gets, it will ultimately pass, we are encouraged to endure it for the sake of the higher eternal glory that awaits us.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom.8:18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor.4:16-18

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet.1:6-7

If you are reading this and you are going through your valley of pain and grief, I pray that these words would have brought you some comfort. God knows what you are going through and He feels your pain more than you can comprehend. My encouragement to you is to go to Him and immerse yourself in His embrace.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb.4:15-16

Through my darkest times, this has been a poem that has faithfully spoken to me each time :

Until I learned to trust, I did not learn to pray
And I did not learn to fully trust, till sorrows came my way

Until I felt my weakness, His strength I never knew
Nor dreamed till I was stricken, that He would see me through

Who deepest drinks of sorrow, drinks deepest too of grace
He sends the storm so he Himself, can be our Hiding Place

- Horatius Bonar

I have written a longer article on the subject of suffering – too long to post in this blog. If you would like to have a copy, do email me :

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