[Let] no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. – 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
The Occasional Masquerade
We, as Christians, have to live with a tension between the grace of God, His protection and provision, and constant tribulation. There are probably Christians who don’t have any trouble. The late R.W. Schambach used to say, “You don’t have any trouble. All you need is faith in God.” I know what he meant. We do have trouble, and faith gets us through it. It’s like Paul saying that our present light afflictions are nothing compared to the weight of the eternal glory these afflictions are working out for us.
As quoted above, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica to encourage them. They had heard that the Apostle was undergoing difficulties and persecution. The question naturally arises in the minds of some people as to why such a good and godly man, a chosen and highly favored minister of the New Covenant in Christ should be suffering maltreatment and reversals.
One of my oldest and best friends is an Assembly of God preacher. We are practically brothers. W go by the same given name. Though we are currently separated by close to a thousand miles, if he and his wife needed something or if we did, we would do whatever it takes to get there to help or they to get here. He, his wonderful wife, and their two adult daughters are all dedicated to serving the Lord in full-time ministry. They have all kinds of turmoil, sickness, and financial difficulties. They are better people than I will ever be, yet I couldn’t get sick if I wanted to and I have no debt and adequate money. Someday I might even get to retire. They live in a bad area of the country in a rented house in a questionable neighborhood. By comparison, my situation is paradise.
Nevertheless, I know that they have the “favor of God”, as people like to say. Would I trade my situation for theirs? Perhaps I answered that question twenty-five years ago when I decided that I was not called to be a pastor or minister of any kind, not so much because I feared the trials as because somebody has to plow the corn. By that time I had met too many preachers who would have made fairly good shoe salesmen.
Paul didn’t want his friends to be discouraged because of what was going on with them or with him. God’s protection doesn’t always look much like protection from the world’s perspective. In fact, sometimes it looks as though God has abandoned or is in hiding from those who most earnestly seek Him.
God sometimes cloaks Himself, coming to us in places and ways and guises such that we are apt to miss Him if we are not alert and aware. Our afflictions may be the way through which He gives us new insights, enables us to make new connections, and opens new doors. He slows us down, keeps us back from some major disaster through a minor one. We never know, but we can know that He will see us through and that He will never leave or forsake us. No matter the result, no matter the apparent triumph of evil in the temporal realm, we are victorious in eternity.