Our Troubled Times and God’s Providence

We have continued in our sermon series on ‘Rest’ for 8 weeks, and today is the last day of the series. This morning, we will be thinking about ‘Our troubled times and God’s providence’ as our last theme.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since
what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Our Desire
There are many survey results on common questions about Christianity from non-believers. One of the most asked questions was ‘How can a loving God allow suffering and troubles in our lives and in the world?’ If your friends ask you this question, how would you help them understand it? You may think you know what to say. But don’t you ask the same question to yourself when you are overwhelmed by a big storm in your lives? Then, can we still say we truly understand it?

Everybody wants to live a good life. No one wants to suffer or face troubles. That is a very natural thing. We are working hard to achieve our important goals and to be successful in each area of our lives: education, career, marriage life, finance, and health. As Christians, we are also making a lot of effort to have good relationships with people around us: our parents, children, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

So, our prayer requests always include those essential needs. We want the Lord to protect us from any troubles or suffering, and secure our lives. We are looking for a trouble-free, good life.

Our Troubled Times and a Question
But reality is often different than our desires. We have never seen or heard of anyone who never experiences troubles or suffering.

When things are going well and everything looks good in our lives, we are excited, praise the Lord, and are willing to follow Jesus wherever He may lead us. It seems we are quite faithful at the time. The trouble starts when things do not go the way we expected. We are okay with minor deviations and slight changes timing-wise, but when we have to wait longer than we thought for His help in a difficult situation, we start to wonder what is going on.

When God’s promises for us take a long time to reach fulfillment, or when we are taken through the dry desert rather than the abundant springs, we begin to wonder. Why is God allowing this to happen to me? It is difficult to keep trusting in God during those moments where we are facing tough life situations and do not see tangible results for a long time.

All of us are struggling with our failures, challenges, pain, regrets, and frustrations. We are often unable to fully get over them. Our troubles and suffering can leave deep scars in our hearts. You may still be suffering from the lasting consequences of some of your challenges.

People are disappointed when they face big troubles or struggling with the consequences. Then, they complain, ‘Lord, I prayed so much about this difficult issue, but it has got worse. Where are you, Lord, in this situation?’ ‘You said, ‘trust in me’, ‘rest in me’ ‘rejoice always’, but honestly, I can’t. I’m tired now.’ Then, we get angry against God. They say to God, ‘it is not fair.’

And they ask this question to themselves again. ‘How can a loving God allow suffering and troubles in our lives?’

Change the Question
I think the question starts from a wrong place. Let’s think about the question for a moment. If I paraphrase the question, it will be like this. God should protect me from any suffering or troubles. If I am in trouble anyway, God must save me before I get too frustrated, or it becomes too difficult for me. We are demanding it like we deserve a trouble-free life. We are demanding it like God owes us something.

We need to ask different questions instead. Why did Jesus die for me while I was still a sinner? What do I deserve from God?

What We Originally Deserved
Originally, suffering and pain were not a part of God’s creation. God said everything He created was very good, but Adam and Eve chose their ways rather than God’s way. Sin entered this world. Sin opened the door for all kinds of pain and suffering throughout all of creation. We were all born with a sinful nature, inherited from Adam. When we look at ourselves and this world, that is so obvious. Sin’s effects permeate everything. Sin continues to corrupt the whole world. All creation suffers as a result. Simply put, troubles and suffering exist because sin exists.

We were supposed to separate from the living God eternally. That is what we deserved. We know about God’s judgement on sinners in the Old Testament. That is what we deserved. You may think His judgement or hell is too harsh and cruel for us. Sin separates us from God. But no one knows and truly understands what real separation from God means exactly, and why the Lord takes the sin issue that seriously.

Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives before he was arrested and crucified. Jesus is God. He had perfect faith- He knew what He was doing to save His people and knew what was going to happen. Yet, Jesus was in anguish and fear, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

He knew what real separation from the living God was. We can see how serious that is, when Jesus said in His prayer, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.’ From that eternal agony, God wants to save us. Our Lord wants to draw us back to Himself and keeps us in an eternal loving relationship with Him.

We once lost all rights to the gift of life, but we are saved by God’s grace. Every breath you are taking now is from His divine mercy. God owes us nothing. We owe Him everything. We tend to take grace for granted and demand what we desire more and more, thinking that is what we deserve.

Why Is There Suffering in the World?
As I just mentioned, this world we live in is sinful and broken. This world is full of people who are self-centered and are looking for the benefits for themselves. So, this world inevitably brings suffering on us. You may want to find reasons for your troubles only from others. But we also bring suffering on ourselves. We do not know everything. We do not have control over our surroundings. We often make mistakes. Sometimes we make foolish decisions. Sometimes we make even sinful choices. That means we could also hurt others. Whether we are aware of it or not, we often bring trouble on others regardless of our intention.

We all fall short of the glory of God, and all of us are a part of the reasons for the troubles of others and us, and this world. So, John 16:33 says, ‘In this world, you will have trouble’. God never promised life to be without troubles or suffering.

When people feel that their lives are difficult or when they see tragedies or big troubles in the world, they often say, ‘why doesn’t God just stop it?’ and blame God for the suffering.

But you need to carefully think about what they are asking God. Because all of us are a part of the reasons for the troubles of others, ourselves, and the world, God should remove everyone, to stop all the troubles and suffering in the world. No one would be saved if God did it that way.

God’s Providence
Instead of removing all of us, our merciful God chose to save His people and guide them towards Himself in His divine way.

God is not the author of sin and does not tempt anyone to sin. God hates sin and will judge sinners. At the same time, God allows a certain measure of sin for His divine purpose. Sin always results in terrible consequences for us, but in Hs gracious providence, God will work all these things together for His glory.

In other words, God does not allow anything to happen which is contrary to His divine purpose. Nothing can happen in our lives against His will. Satan can do his worst, but no matter what he does, God makes something good happen in the end. Such a task is beyond our comprehension. It is a task that only God can do.

We need to remember, God never said, ‘if you believe in me, I will make everything wonderful in your life, help you with whatever you want to do, take away any challenges and trials, and make you healthy and rich.’

Verse 18 says, So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

If you are pursuing an earthly good life, every trouble and suffering will make you disappointed and your life is going to be full of anxiety. There will be no rest in your life. If you think that your life becomes restless too often, you need to check what kind of dream you have for your life, and where you put priorities in your life.

God didn’t redeem us solely to make us live a good life on earth in our limited human perspective. Our life on earth is not about that. God truly loves us and is guiding us towards Himself. He continues to draw us nearer to Himself and transforms us into the image of Christ for His glory and our good. He will bring it to completion when Christ returns, and you will be eternally glorified with Him.

That is what God wants to accomplish in us on Earth and He is using every event in our lives to bring about the divine purpose. For this, God permits even what He hates, to accomplish what He loves. This is God’s perspective on our lives. So, when God allows trials for our good, He faithfully protects us and guides us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

God also uses those who have experienced the grace of God in their troubles. Your experiences are not only for you. Suffering will make your eyes open to see what you didn’t see and create room in your heart for others that you didn’t have. God equips you to help others find the same grace in their suffering. Your life will be a blessing for many who need the same comfort.

Even though we know that God is using our trials and suffering for His good purpose, experiencing them is still painful and hurtful.

In Romans 8:18, Paul has given us encouragement and hope with this truth.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Apostle Paul confessed that he had a thorn in his flesh and pleaded with God to take it away from him three times. But God didn’t remove it for a purpose.
It was painful for Paul, but in God’s perspective, it is good for him to keep it.

Let me read the story.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
7 (or because of these surpassingly great revelations.) Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

God didn’t remove it to keep Paul from becoming conceited. God knew Paul’s character better than Paul, and allowed the thorn to be in his flesh to provide what Paul truly needed. God said to Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

This story reveals to us again that life is not about how healthy we are, or how strong we are, or how much of a good life we have. It is about who we are in Jesus Christ, who we put our trust in and whose strength we rely on.

When we confess our weaknesses, and surrender all to God, Christ’s power is made perfect in us, and His grace is sufficient for us. Paul said, ‘I will boast gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ He saw and understood his life in God’s perspective and rejoiced in what Christ did for him.

Furthermore, In Romans 8:37-39, Paul says ‘We are more than conquerors’ through Jesus Christ.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you are in trouble, do not allow it to hold you back. Bring all your frustrations, failures, regrets, shame, and pain to the cross. Leave them all there and trust in the Lord. We do not need to fear them, because Jesus Christ loves us and gives us His victory. Jesus died for us even while we were still sinners. Now, you are a child of God, he will care more about you. Because we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from His love. Our salvation and our lives are eternally secure in Jesus Christ.

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