We are aware of the texts that speak of the meticulous and wise providences of God in brining about suffering, pain, and affliction for our good and God's glory. And we are hopefully aware of the footing for these precious and very great promises:
- "Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal." (Job 5:17-18)
- "Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up." (Hosea 6:1)
- "For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men." (Lamentations 3:31-33)
- "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." (Psalm 119:71, see also verses 67 and 75)
Some of these verses are very near to my heart, and the Lord has greatly upheld and shaped myself and others with them. John Newton said that trials are the medicine our wise Physician sends and "prescribes" to us because we need them. Peter exhorts us in this biblical understanding to not be surprised when we face the fire of affliction in the furnace of God's "fiery trials," knowing that God's hand is in these (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:12).
Yet, we mustn't give the suffering and pain all the credit for the shaping and molding God does. Much of the Christian life does not involve suffering, but is one of mundane, normal days under the good gifts from the Father of the heavenly lights. These days are crucial in our sanctification.
God's Purpose in Graces
For many believers, God has been sweet to open the door of marriage. He has given a helper or a head fit for you. We have a life partner, one whom we can rely on and turn to and one who knows us better than we know ourselves. They see our real reactions and hear our real tones, rather than what we think we did or said.
Some of these same believers have been given further grace and have a son, or a daughter, or both. Perhaps he has even granted you the opportunity to partake in peeking behind the beauty of his covenant with you through adoption. Children are indeed an immense and weighty joy from the Lord.
For others, maybe you do not have a wife or a husband. You have close, intimate friends. You have those whom you love dearly. You have a Jonathan that the Lord has knit you together with in deep, joy-filled friendship (cf. 1 Samuel 18:1). We all have and love these friends. We could further examine areas such as our church family, our pastor, our parents, neighbors, etc.
In all of these, I am tempted to point the finger elsewhere: "Do you really want to see sinfulness and selfishness? Look at my _______." Fill in the blank with another individual or different circumstance. But brothers and sisters, aren't we surprised to see the greatest, most frightful depravity lurking within our own hearts as it is exposed by these great, kind gifts?
My Guilt in Graces
"And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:28-29)
Beloved words, believer.
"All things" includes the joys of marriage, the gift of children, the laughs in friendship, and the excitement of a job. And yet, our Great Physician knows what is best for us. He exposes the evil in our hearts even without suffering or even great pain. It is like the sweetness of honey that rolls over the rottenness of a cavity -- the sweetness exposes my rottenness. And oh, does the Lord expose my darkness in his marvelous light!
- Marriage is a powerful reminder of my selfishness - my low level of love for my bride and my resentful attitude when I am wronged.
- Children show me how prideful I am with my plans when I come home from work and through the anger that pulses through my heart when I awake to crying at 3 AM, again.
- Friends show that I am provoked to jealously over their gifts, talents, and lot in life, thinking I deserve those things.
We must look at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the theme of heaven's praises. He descended to remove our depravity; he suffered to expose our selfishness; he was shamed to break my sinfulness. And in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3), I am hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). His exaltation, mine; his glory, mine; his Father, mine; his perfect standing, mine. My condemnation, his; my shame, his; my wrath, his; my guilt, his.
Beloved, the cross of Christ is God's grand jewel. The gospel is his most prized possession: it is God's gospel of grace. His graces are shaping you with and in the gospel. His gentleness is molding you (Psalm 18:35b).