A Biblical Response to Adversity
When you encounter periods of adversity or affliction, how do you pray? If you are like most people, your prayers probably consist of various attempts to persuade God to change your painful circumstances. After all, what did you do to deserve this mess, or what possible good could come out of it?
Although far fewer people pray this way, I have come to the conclusion that in painful situations, it is wiser and more biblical to ask the Lord to change your character than to change your circumstances. Instead of looking for relief, it is better to discern what areas need reform. If we are willing to submit to God's loving and wise purposes for our lives, we will begin to see that He can use such times to reveal our deepest needs and draw us nearer to Him. In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
God does not promise that His children will be exempt from tribulation, because that is part of our lot in a fallen world that awaits the time when it will be "set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory" that will come when Christ returns to restore all things (Rom. 8:19-22). Our Lord's promise is not that we will be delivered from suffering, but that He will deliver and transform us through the things we suffer, if we rely on His resources instead of our own.
This principle is well illustrated in Psalm 22, sometimes called the "Fifth Gospel" account of the crucifixion. Although it is a psalm of David, its imagery transcends his own experience and anticipates the sufferings of Christ (vv. 1-21) and the glories to follow (vv. 22-31; 1 Pet. 1:11). As a prophet, David "looked ahead and spoke of . . . the Christ" (Acts 2:30-31).
The psalm begins with the words Jesus quoted from the cross at the end of the three-hour darkness that fell upon all the land: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). It was in this awesome and mysterious moment that the Son became the bearer of the sins of the world and endured separation from the Father so that we could have forgiveness, access, and peace with the Father.
It is evident that David wrote this psalm during a time of personal anguish, and yet this is a psalm not only of lament, but also of petition and praise. Instead of turning away from God, David turned to God during his time of trial and fixed his hope completely on Him. "In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered; in Thee they trusted and were not disappointed" (vv. 4-5). During such times, many people turn to the pill bottle, the liquor bottle, or the back door to find relief from their misery, but these escape hatches will disappoint those who trust in them. More often than not, we will not understand God's purpose in our afflictions; He does not script life the way we would like, and there are many times when we have to "faith it." If we cling to His character in the midst of our pain, we will not be disappointed in the long run.
Verses 6-18 give a graphic description of the events surrounding the crucifixion of our Lord long before this method of capital punishment was known in Israel. "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws . . . a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." The psalm also anticipates the reproaches that were borne by Jesus when He was on the cross: "All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.'" Yet it was the Father's will that the Son should die ("Thou dost lay me in the dust of death"), for it was only through His perfect obedience and sacrificial death that we could have life, forgiveness, freedom, and hope.
The psalmist's appeals to the Lord (see vv. 9-11, 19-21) culminate in a hymn of praise and confidence in His ability to deliver him through his time of trial. "I will tell of Thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee. You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard." While the psalmist was delivered from death, the Lord Jesus was delivered through death in His glorious resurrection. Because of His resurrection, His followers will also be delivered from the power of death and will enjoy unending life and fellowship with God and one another in their resurrection bodies.
Since this is our destiny, we should view our temporal sufferings from this eternal perspective. This is why Paul could say, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). God's purpose in our earthly adversities is to gradually conform our character to Christ and to prepare us for our true homecoming when we will see Him face to face.
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