“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have tribulation for 10 days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
Jesus said those words in His message to the church at Smyrna. The church there was poverty-stricken and had been faithful to God throughout their history.
This raises a question or two doesn’t it? To some, it’s the question that’s been around for a long time: Why do good people suffer? The more cynical folks phrase it rather differently: How could a good God let His people suffer? Their question masks an underlying belief that either God is not good, or God is not sovereign, or there is no God. But among those who are faithful, the question is an honest one, especially when they undergo intense suffering. Why does God allow this?
The stock answer, and the only real answer to the question, is: We don’t know. But the question does deserve some elaboration.
The fact of our suffering does not negate the sovereignty of God. Nor does it elevate the power of the Devil. Satan can only do what he is allowed to do by God. God’s sovereignty is at work in our suffering, at least in some manner. God allows our suffering to test (strengthen) our faith, much in the same way as He did with Job.
Also, our suffering does not mean that God does not love us. Just the opposite, it proves that He does. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that if a father loves his son, he will discipline (teach) him because he wants his son to grow strong. A father who does not discipline his son does not love him.
We should further remember that suffering is only a temporary situation. It may not seem that way sometimes, but all situations do change. The suffering of the church at Smyrna was for “10 days,” which simply means, “for a brief time.” Their faithfulness through their suffering would in turn produce a positive witness about their love for God and their dedication to Him regardless of what comes their way, and that in turn would draw others to a faith like that.
Though this elaboration still does not fully answer the question, it does help point us to the reality that Paul understood. “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Let your suffering lead you to rejoicing.
Father, There is so much we do not understand, but we recognize that we do not always have to understand. Help us to simply be faithful and to rejoice for the ways You are going to use our difficulties to make us stronger. Amen.