. . . and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-3
Suffering and prosperity are not given in proportion to the evil or the good in a person. Righteous people suffer and the righteous also enjoy times of prosperity. Evil people suffer and evil people also enjoy prosperity.
What trips up those of us who judge others too quickly is the misintrepretation of ‘blessing’. God promises to bless those who honor Him and send into captivity those who disobey Him. But, if I interpret these two principles as external blessings and external hardships, I easily become another’s judge. How many times have I viewed someone in a prolonged season of travail and concluded that they must be living in sin. How many times have I heard a joyous person tell one happy story after another and concluded that they must be blessed. I must be more careful. These indicators are unreliable compasses.
What is blessing and what can I count on if I obey God? Peace. Calm. Wisdom. Joy. I can experience all of these internally even if, externally, I am in perpetual distress rather than ease. God entrusts many of His children with life-long travail because He knows that they will faithfully share in His Son’s sufferings. They will advance the kingdom and glorify their Father in heaven.
Job knew times of prosperity, both at the beginning of his life and at the end. In the middle though, we are familiar with the testing of his faith. God gave Satan permission to afflict him. As onlookers, his friends concluded what we are prone to conclude today. Job must have sinned and displeased God. They withdrew their compassion and started voicing assumptions of his guilt. Yet, who could know except God what great plotline was really behind the affliction. In the end, God spoke directly to Job’s friends and said, “My wrath is kindled against you because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.” Job 42:7b
It’s chilling to think that some of God’s choicest servants walk with the heavy burden of false guilt. They have internalized words of judgment that are not from God. Guilt has been heaped upon their suffering and it has caused their confidence in God to be shaken.
What is confusing is that God also sends times of ‘external’ captivity to those who have turned aside from their faith. He also sends times of ‘external’ blessing to those who have honored him with their lives of faith. But to use these latter realities as the only measuring sticks by which we judge others is to end up potentially throwing stones at a saint like Job. Stoning may not take his life but it will annihilate his hope. I must be slow to speak and quick to pray.
Comfort the one who has known perpetual hardship. It has not been a season for them but much of their life. Send them wise and intuitive comforters with life-giving words that will help them finish the race well. Amen
Originally published Tuesday, 20 November 2018.