Sunday School Lessons

A Purpose for Suffering

Today’s passage comes right after the one quoted in the previous article, as a guy named Azariah shares some prophetic words with King Asa.

For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:3‭-‬7 NIV

https://bible.com/bible/111/2ch.15.3-7.NIV

Here, we see the flip side of pursuing God and following Him (i.e., the consequences of not seeking God or obeying Him).  When Israel was off doing their own thing (or copying the evil practices of other nations) and they were far from God, things got worse.  As the last part of verse 2 alludes to, they had forsaken God, so God had forsaken them, and the results were pretty ugly.  Note the words used here: there was distress, it was unsafe to travel, and there was turmoil.  And, to top it all off, verse 6 says that “…God was troubling them…”.

In this context, I’m reminded of the nation of Haiti, where things weren’t great even before their president was assassinated earlier this year.  In fact, some of what I read about the turmoil there (in the news and from missionaries) sounds like the same sorts of suffering that Israel experienced (as described in the passage above).  Travel is difficult in Haiti because the fuel stations are in gang-controlled territories.  People don’t want to go outside in the capital.  Uncertainty is widespread, and poverty was already rampant before political upheaval.

Although the word of God is powerful all around the world, including Haiti, that nation is also plagued by heavily demonic beliefs and practices.  (I’ve visited this country, and have witnessed this myself.)  So, some might ask, is God causing their suffering?  I can’t say whether this is His work directly, or just the consequences of demons that are allowed into the daily lives of those who worship them.  (Regardless, I encourage you to pray for the believers in Jesus who live and serve in Haiti, as well as those who need to hear and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.)

However, suffering has a purpose in both of these examples (ancient Israel and modern-day Haiti), and it has a purpose in our city, too (wherever you may live).  Just as the distress brought upon the Israelites by God led them to seek Him, many people today come to God when they run out of other options.  When things are going well (at least on the surface), some people don’t think that they need God (or “religion” or “church”).  When the bottom falls out, though, God starts to look like a much better idea.

Yes, we know that following God is good for us all along, but not everyone has tried it out to confirm that for themselves.  Not everyone has chosen to accept the invitation to “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (ref. Psalm 34:8a).

From this, we might say that anyone who is suffering just needs to “get back to God”, but I simply don’t think this is a valid conclusion in all cases.  While it may be true in some corporate and individual settings, that’s not necessarily for us to judge.  See also John 9:1-7 for a counter-example, confirming that this is not always a one-to-one relationship, so we should be ready to help – not criticize – people who are suffering.

The good news is that we don’t have to go through suffering in order to glorify God with gusto and excitement.  As we learn about the greatness and love of God, we can choose to glorify, praise, and serve Him, even if we didn’t learn of His goodness through personal suffering.

Some Christians may lament the fact that they didn’t come to salvation out of some terrible life of drugs, gangs, and murder (although Jesus definitely saves people with that sort of background, too).  However, those who were saved from less must still choose to get to know God better, and decide to give Him the glory  This might take more work, versus those who see a greater outwards contrast from their previous lives to their new ones (and who praise God more naturally for what He saved them from), but it is well worth the investment.

So, give God the glory and seek Him, whether or not He is blessing you through suffering.


From Sunday School lesson prepared for July 11, 2021

References:

  • The Lookout, July 11, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.

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