A THEOLOGY OF BLESSING AND SUFFERING (PART 2)
In the first part of this series, we investigated Scriptural teachings that contradict American Christianity’s skewed view of “blessing.” This misguided perspective has led to errant views regarding struggle and suffering.
A truth we uncovered through numerous biblical texts is that “blessing” originates from a person’s relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Being “blessed” is not living a healthy, trouble-free life in a large home, with expensive cars, and plenty of money in the bank account. Rather, “blessedness” is experiencing God’s forgiveness and grace (Romans 4:7-8). In spite of our culture’s equation of blessing with material or physical prosperity, Scripture oftentimes ties blessing directly into suffering or persecution (Matthew 5:10-12; James 1:12). In other places, “blessedness” comes through simple obedience to God’s commands (Luke 11:27-28; James 1:25), or is reserved for those who express faith in the Lord (John 20:29).
With this backdrop, how should we understand “blessing” in light of the suffering and struggle we face. Can we honestly say we are “blessed,” even when we are surrounded by trouble? Something we first need to come to terms with is that struggle is a natural part of life. And the root cause of that struggle (as identified in the Bible) is sin. In fact, when you study Genesis 3, you quickly discover that sin is the source of life’s turmoil. In pronouncing judgment upon mankind, the woman is told that in sorrow she would bring forth children (Genesis 3:16). The word for sorrow communicates pain, hurt, toil, labor, and hardship. The man is told that in sorrow (same word spoken to Eve) he would eat of the fruit of the ground (Genesis 3:17). Instead of the earth yielding its strength, it would produce thorns and thistles, and man’s work would be toilsome and painful. Thankfully, within this very same section the dawn of God’s grace breaks as the first promise of a Redeemer is offered. The seed of the woman would come and ultimately crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).
Yet in spite of the wonderful hope offered in the beginning pages of Genesis (hope that ultimately becomes the main story line of the rest of Scripture), we still live in a troubled world. Life is not easy. Pain, hardship, loss, confusion, and fear are familiar companions. Can we truly say we are “blessed,” even when things don’t go our way? Are we blessed when battling cancer, or suffering the loss of a job? Are we blessed when overwhelmed by financial struggles, or a difficult marriage? Well, if blessing is contingent upon circumstances, then it would only be reserved for those few moments of our lives when we are carefree and at peace. But frankly, how often do you experience that?
However, if true blessing is tied into something much deeper, as we have already seen in Scripture, then it is not contingent upon the ebb and flow of life’s circumstances. If blessing is tied into the unfailing character of God, then it never changes. And when this settled assurance reigns in my heart, I know a peace that the world certainly did not give, and a peace that the world (and circumstances) can never take away. As a child of God, I am blessed because I have experienced forgiveness. I have God in my life—a God whose presence is both real and powerful. I have confidence that my eternal future is secure—not based on my goodness or merit—but based in One Who is perfect (Jesus), and One Who offered a perfect sacrifice on my behalf. This is true “blessedness.”
You will notice that with this perspective, as a child of God, I can confidently proclaim that I am blessed when the bank account is full, or when it is empty. I am blessed when I am healthy, and when I receive news of a terminal diagnosis. I am blessed when my car is trouble-free and when I break down on the side of the road. Blessing is tied into that which is eternal, rather than that which is temporal. I love how Paul expresses it in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Naturally, every single one of us desires a carefree life. It is a part of human nature, and it is especially ingrained within the American context. As an American, I long for that as well. But even though I am an American, I am first and foremost a Christian. And as a Christian, God gives me a much deeper desire than to live a life of ease. Above all, I want to live a Christ-honoring life. I want to be motivated by what is eternal, rather than what is temporal.
Part of the reason I am writing this article is to answer some of the questions people ask about our move to the Philippines. “Why would you leave the comfort of America?” “Why drag your children half-way around the world to a foreign culture?” “There is great security in America (health / prosperity / clean drinking water etc.), why take a chance and move away?” The only answer I can offer is that we are confident that this is what God wants us to do. And as we scan through the list of things we are “giving up,” everything on that list is temporary, and therefore of much lesser importance. But what we gain (following God’s will, and seeing our ministry impact pastors, church planters, missionaries and more) is of eternal value. We are keeping our eyes on the eternal and rejoice in the opportunity to serve our Lord!