Question: I have trouble coming to grips with the idea that God uses trials to increase a believer's faith and trust in Him. This seems to be out of character with a God who is love. Can you help me get a better handle on this matter?
Response:The writer of Hebrews declares in no uncertain words that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb:12:6). James:1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Paul in turn says that God gave him a "thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me" (2 Cor:12:7). He further explains that he asked God to remove it and the Lord said no (vv. 8-9). Paul gave some medical advice to Timothy to help relieve this young man's stomach problems and his "often infirmities" (1 Tim:5:23).
Why did Paul not heal Timothy like so many others? The answer is obvious. Just as God's gift of a "thorn" to Paul was accomplishing a specific purpose, so too did Timothy's affliction. David was willing to walk through the "valley of the shadow of death" (Ps:23:4) because God was with him. This same verse also says, "thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Consider the implication here. While the shepherd's staff was used to gently pull a wayward sheep back into the fold, the rod was used to drive off predators and even at times to direct straying sheep with a judicious whack or two. If a sheep were prone to wander, the shepherd might break its leg. He would then set it in a splint, and during recovery the sheep must of necessity remain close to the shepherd and afterwards would stray no more. What some might mistakenly regard as a cruel act (or abuse) is really a gift of life.
In the midst of severe judgment, Jeremiah wrote down God's declaration: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer:29:11). Many faithful Christians are able to echo the testimony of the psalmist: "Before I was afflicted I went astray..." (Ps:119:67).
Yes, Jesus promised joy, peace, happiness in Him (not in the world). While promising that tribulation would come, He gave us the promise that He had overcome the world (Jn:16:33), not that He would necessarily remove our affliction. Paul and the rest of the apostles testified of the myriad troubles that came their way. And even though their "outward man perish," yet their "inward man is renewed [or strengthened] day by day" (2 Cor:4:16). While it is not always easy to see how problems can strengthen a believer's faith, the Apostle Paul testifies to such a fact (vv. 17-18; 5:1-21; 6:1-10, etc.).
The Scriptures are full of examples (neatly summarized in Hebrews 11) of those who through trial, troubles, and great loss were brought closer to God. And this does not exclude the deliverance from afflictions (Ps:34:19). We too must all walk in faith. Of even more concern is your assertion that you are unable to find these things in Scripture.
This is a "vintage Dave" answer to a tough question. Reprinted from an earlier newsletter.