Learning to thank God for our afflictions…
Throughout our lives, we all experience the normal pains, sufferings, and struggles of having a human body on this earth. That’s a part of being embodied on this side of heaven.
The Bible tells us from the beginning that God created us; He created us as eternal souls in bodies; and that our embodied souls are very good things (Gen. 1:26-28).
The body is good; the soul is good; being embodied is very good.
-So, what happened? Because, it doesn’t take long to see that everyone in the world is suffering some sort of bodily ailment.
When we’re younger, we don’t think much about these things. Our bodies don’t hurt; they work properly; we recover quickly from injury; we aren’t stiff in the mornings; our hair is thick and hasn’t turned gray or turned loose!
But for the majority of us over the age of 30, our bodies just don’t work like they used to. Some of us have some really severe limitations through injury or disease. Some injuries are less severe, and our bodies recover (although not always to 100 percent). Others are just dealing with the increasing aches and pains of life in an aging body. And some folks experience catastrophic injuries that fundamentally change their lives. We just never know.
And, if we’re not careful, those aches, pains, and injuries don’t just give us physical bodily pain, they can also cause us spiritual pain and discomfort.
For some reason, somewhere along the way, we all bought into the idea that life is supposed to be easy, and our bodies are not supposed to hurt; we’re not supposed to get injured; we’re not supposed to struggle with weight gain or weight loss; our bodies aren’t supposed to get sick and die.
And yet, do we not all struggle with these things?
Our bodies break down; aches and pains set in; injuries interrupt our daily lives; sicknesses significantly alter our lives, or even cut them short.
And how does a Christian respond to these things? How should a Christian respond to these things? While there is an understandable and normal level of grief that accompanies bodily suffering, the Bible helps us to see that aches, pains, and illnesses are not only a result of sin in the world, but they also become tools in our sanctification. One of the ways the gospel helps in the here and now is by teaching us to give God thanks for these weaknesses in our bodies.
By faith, we can learn to say, “Lord, thank You for this sickness.” “Lord, thank You for this injury.”
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 4:7-9, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”
Notice some of the language Paul uses to describe his sufferings…
Jars of clay - This is Paul’s way of saying “our bodies are fragile and prone to weaknesses and injury.”
Afflicted in every way;
-These are all very real, human, bodily terms that we can all identify with. Life in the body is hard, and full of struggle.
We have all felt fragile, afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. But, Paul is not just airing his frustrations and disappointments. Although we do that, don’t we? We sometimes just like to talk about how bad we hurt, how unfair life is, how unexpected and unfair injuries and illnesses are. Misery loves company, so they say.
We even, at times, let our sufferings lead us to question God, do we not? “God, why would you let this happen?” “God, if You loved me, You could have saved me from this.” When we aren’t careful, when our faith isn’t strong or mature, we can end up measuring God’s goodness in our lives by how good or bad our bodies feel.
But, Paul doesn’t end his discussion of pain and suffering by airing his frustrations. He leads us to see how our bodily sufferings are actually gifts from God. Our sufferings are gifts that help us see things more clearly.
When things are going well and nothing is going wrong, we tend to grow comfortable and forget God. God actually warns the Israelites about this danger in Deut. 8:10-14 saying, "And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God..."
Don’t you know that danger? The danger of forgetting God when things are good, and blaming God when things “go wrong.”
We all live near that danger, and that’s why Paul says our afflictions and bodily sufferings are actually gifts from God that help us to see the world, and to see our lives with biblical clarity. Suffering has a way of cutting through the noise and making us see the world for what it is.
Paul continues in 2 Cor. 4 saying, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Do you see what Paul is doing there? He is showing us that the sufferings and struggles we have in our physical bodies are very real reminders that life on earth is temporary; this world is not our home; this earthly body, broken by sin, is not our forever body. As we experience the aches and pains of life, chronic pains and illnesses, diseases that alter our lives or cut them short, Paul says that we can learn to be grateful for them because they help us to see reality more clearly. As the Apostle John says in 1 John 3, “What we will be has not yet appeared. But when He appears, we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Our bodies are aging and dying. They are fragile, prone to weakness, sickness, and death. And yet, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who Himself experienced the most bodily suffering in human history, fills up our spirits without fail and without limit. That’s Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 4:16-17. As your body is wasting away around you, the Lord Jesus will keep your spirit alive, healthy, and sturdy. In fact, Col. 2:9 tells us that the fullness of the eternal Trinity is in Jesus, and we are constantly and eternally being spiritually filled up from His never ending fullness.
And sometimes, the Lord uses our bodily sufferings to strip us of idols and foolish thinking. How quickly we can our faith and hope in our bodies. How quickly we measure our success in the world by how good we feel. Our health can become an idol as quickly as anything else, and at times, our good and gracious father will bring correction and hope through bodily affliction.
So when our bodies get injured, when the sickness steals our health, when the aches and pains grow more intense, or when our lives come to a close, we can, by faith, say...
“Lord, thank you.”