2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In September of 1986, I was at work when my boss come to me and told me that I needed to go home. When I arrived at home, my mother met me at the door and told me that my dad was dead. He had been robbed and murdered. Three days later he would be laid to rest by a military color guard. All that was left of him was a folded flag and memories. It was at that point that I, a new Christian, was introduced to the reality that I am not exempt from the suffering of this world. In the years since my dad’s death, I have come to recognize that suffering and life are intertwined.
As I get older, I have come to the conclusion that there is a relationship between the maturity of my faith and how I handle suffering. You see it is when we face suffering that the level our faith in God and our relationship with Him is revealed. Each of us knows someone whose faith has been devastated because of suffering in their life. If we are going to grow and mature, sooner or later we are going to have to come to grips with the issue of suffering. We are going to have to move from a level where we ask “Why?” to a level where we understand the realities of suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 the apostle Paul shares how he came to grips with his suffering. What we are seeing the apostle reveal in this passage is not so much the reason for suffering but rather the realities of suffering.
1. GOD ALLOWS SUFFERING TO TAKE PLACE IN OUR LIVES
Notice what the apostle writes about the nature of his suffering. Paul writes concerning a very painful experience that happened in his life. The event occurred sometime after he had the privilege of being caught up to the third heaven. An experience that was so wonderful that he humbly choose not to claim as his own. It was after this experience that God allowed a very painful experience to come into his life.
My grandmother grew up in Nazi Germany. She witnessed the persecution of Jews. She saw her relatives go to concentration camps because they refused to work in ammunition factories. She had to flee from East Prussia to Berlin as a refugee. She saw people disappear from the streets because of the Nazis. She lived through the horror of the fall of Berlin. As I try to share my faith with her, she simply responds with the question, “Why would God allow these things to happen?”
We do not have a satisfactory response to answer that question. We struggle with this issue. Our people struggle it. We try to explain. We look at theologically. We search the scriptures. It is hard for us to understand. But the reality is that God allows suffering to take place in our lives.
II. GOD DOESN’T MAKE SPECIAL DEALS
There is this sense in which many of us operate with a faulty assumption that as long as I am a Christian or as long as 1 am faithfully serving God, I should be exempt from suffering. But notice, here is the apostle, a man that you and I cannot even hold a candle to in terms of spiritual maturity and ministry, yet God allows suffering to be a part of his life just as anyone else. The reality is that God doesn’t make special deals with his people.
III. ITS OKAY TO CRY OUT TO GOD
The apostle responded to the suffering in his life like we would. He asked God to take it away. And he just didn’t do it once. The text tells us that Paul on three different occasions cried out to God. The implication is that Paul pleaded with God to remove the source of his suffering. I think this is significant because many North American believers are operating under a lie that no matter the intensity of pain we are experiencing, we are to keep a “stiff upper lip.” We are told that our response to suffering is supposed to be a “testimony” to others. That is a lie and it is totally unrealistic. We damage ourselves and others by such thinking. The apostle did what any other human being would have done. He cried out to God. It’s okay to cry out.
Paul continues in his testimony by revealing the response of God to his request. It is in God’s response that we find the next two realities.
IV. GOD NEVER PROMISES TO TAKE AWAY THE PROBLEM.
God’s response is not what Paul had requested. Paul asked for the removal of the problem. The issue with God was not the taking away of pain but rather the endurance of it. We have to correct our thinking and come to realization that God at no time ever promises to remove suffering from our lives. On the contrary, throughout the scripture, we have testimonies and exhortations that suffering is an expected part of our lives. It is out of this reality that Paul reveals to us the next reality
V. GOD WILL GIVE YOU GRACE TO SEE YOU THROUGH IT.
Again the issue with God was not the taking away of pain but rather the endurance of it. The Lord tells Paul that His grace is sufficient for Him. His strength is made perfect in weakness. Must of us need to change the way we pray. We need to stop asking God to take it away the problem and begin to ask him for the grace to endure it.
VI. WE NEED TO LOOK FOR GOD IN THE MIDST OF OUR SUFFERING
Paul’s final conclusion to his suffering brings us to the sixth and final reality. Paul states
“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities..” It is not that Paul has a warp sense of reality where he enjoys pain, but rather Paul has arrive at a point where he recognized that it is in the midst of his suffering that he experiences God in a new way, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I was studying for the ministry, I had the opportunity to spend the summer in Nairobi, Kenya. One evening as I was staying with the missionary, someone came to the door. It was a deacon from one of the churches. He was very frantic. His five-year-old daughter had been injured. She had been playing around the fire where supper was being prepared. She slipped and fell. Her arm landed in a pot of boiling water, which scalded her.
The child was taken to Children’s Hospital in Nairobi. The doctors were able to save her arm. However, the deacon now had a medical bill that amounted to $1,500. To you and I that is a small amount, but this deacon only made $30 a month. As a young man, I could only think “How was this guy going to pay off this debt?” He must be devastated. To my shock, his response humbled me. He praised the Lord for saving his daughter’s arm. In their culture, children who lose their arms are reduced to begging or possibly prostitution. This deacon looked beyond the debt to the gracious God who saved his daughter’s arm. He found God in the midst of his suffering.
You see suffering brings us to the place of seeking God like we have never sought him before. In fact if our lives were perfect, the chances are that we would not seek Him with the same intensity. You see when I think back to the time when my father was murdered, what sustained me through those times was not keeping a “stiff upper lip,” but rather those times alone with God.
Each of us is going to have to come to grips with the reality of suffering. The question in your mind is what does this mean to me. Some of you right are in midst of difficulty. Some of you are still experiencing the pain from something that occurred in your life. The tendency is to draw away from God. You begin to feel that God has abandoned you. I know the feeling, I been there. You have to begin to come to grips with what is happening or what has happened in your life. Three things can help us deal with the suffering in our lives.
1. LET GO OF YOUR ANGER When we experience suffering, we response in one of two ways. We either turn to God or we turn from Him. Most of us respond in anger and turn from him. If that is where you are, you need to come to place of letting go of your anger. You need to turn back to the gracious God.
2. BE HONEST WITH GOD Let Him know how you are feeling. Cry out to him. Don’t hold it in. Often times we will share with others and come away with the feeling that they truly don’t understand what we are going through. But God does. Talk to Him. Vent to Him. Cry out to Him. Be honest.
3. SEEK GOD’s GRACE Only His grace will allow you to endure the pain. Seek His grace in the midst of your suffering.