“Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law.” (Ps. 119:18)
“WONDERFUL THING” IN THIS PASSAGE – Affliction, trouble, distress, anguish, suffering – No matter how you translate this pesky Greek word used 45 times in the New Testament, most of us would just like to avoid it. And none of us has been very successful at doing so. No surprise – Jesus predicted as much: “You will have suffering in this world.”1
The apostle Paul seemed to have more than his share. He describes some of it in today’s chapter:
“We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed – beyond our strength – so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
However, he doesn’t dwell on his affliction, whine about it, rage about it, or spend much time planning how to avoid it. In fact, he knowingly walked straight into trouble over and over again because that’s where God led him: to places and situations where both he and God knew there would be suffering. Sometimes it’s just part of the Lord’s plan. As Peter taught us, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”2
The apostles had learned what their Master had modeled: that suffering is easier to bear if you know it is accomplishing God’s purposes – “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”3
Wasted suffering would be doubly pitiful. However, for God’s people, suffering is never wasted. Today’s “Wonderful Thing” reveals two ways that God makes good use of our troubles:
Suffering can teach us to trust God. – We find it so easy to congratulate ourselves for success and prosperity. Affliction teaches us how quickly we can run out of our own resources and how much we need God. Paul was grateful for those lessons: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:9)
C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.”4
God’s comfort in our suffering can prepare us to comfort others. – Here’s how Paul expressed it: “Blessed be…the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
“WONDERFUL THING” IN MY LIFE – I still don’t like pain. That’s why, every now and then, I encourage you to pray as I often do: “Lord, help me learn these lessons the easy way.” That includes learning to trust God rather than myself. That includes learning to comfort God’s suffering children. However, if I can’t or won’t learn the easy way, I’d rather learn the hard way than not at all. Pleasing Him is more important to me than being comfortable.
So, I’m willing to take the hard courses if necessary. I just don’t want to repeat them. Let’s try to learn them well the first time.
1 John 16:33. 2 1 Pet. 3:17. 3 Heb. 12:2. 4 The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis.