While waiting in the doctor’s office last week, I sat next to a full-blown Prosperity campaigner. If Joseph Prince or Kenneth Copeland were Don Quixote, this man would have been Sancho Panza. “It’s never God’s will for Christians to be sick, “ he said, only to follow with the saddest line of all. “That’s why I just can’t understand why my wife is here.” A few minutes later, they rolled her out in a wheel chair.
There are many answers to the question of why. Why do Christians suffer? On several occasions we’ve taught our people in the village 30 reasons-it-is-good-for-christians-to-suffer. Most of these come from St. Paul, himself no stranger to affliction but just as anxious to share in Jesus’ suffering (Phil. 3:10).
A good place to start is the story of Jesus healing the nobleman’s son (Jn. 4:46-54). This man and his whole household came to Christ because of the boy’s sickness. The implication is that had the boy not been sick, the father would never have had a reason to believe. This should rectify our qualms with affliction, as so much good comes from it.
Suffering is the oft-used tonic in God’s medical bag. Indeed, strength and vitality bring special blessings, but broken bodies are even better if they draw us to Christ. As David said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Ps. 119:71).
God, by his wisdom, outwits Satan; when [Satan] by his temptations intends to pollute us and buffet us, God orders it to purify us; he often brings the clearest light out of the thickest darkness, makes poisons to become medicines.
– Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 549
The humble soul sees the rod in his Father’s hand; but also the honey on the top of every twig. He sees sugar at the bottom of the bitterest cup, and knows that God’s house of correction is a school of instruction.
– Thomas Brooks, Works, II:24
Prosperity is the nurse of atheism. When we are prosperous the sense of God is little by little defaced. In affliction the soul is freed from the attractive power of worldly allurements and our thoughts are more serious, clear and capable of divine illumination. The clearer the glass is, the more fully it receives the beams of light.
Thomas Case, A Treatise of Afflictions, 57
The church never was so like to heaven, as when it was most persecuted by hell: the storms often cleansed it and the lance often made it more healthful. Job’s integrity had not been so clear, nor his patience so illustrious, had not the devil been permitted to afflict him.
Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 549.
If [God] frowns, or dips his pen in gall, it is done in love. Afflictions, though sharp arrows, are shot from a loving Father. God afflicts in love to humble and purify. He smites that he may save. If he hides his face it is in love.
Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 12
God also allows Satan to trounce some of his saints by temptation in order to train them to help fellow-brethren in like conditions. He allows them to train under Satan’s lash, to get experience in the ways of Satan’s and of their own hearts. All the plots of hell have not so much as shaken God’s hand to spoil one letter or line he has been drawing. The mysteriousness of his providence hangs a curtain over this work that we cannot see what he is doing.
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor, I:100-101
If the Lord hedges up our way with thorns that we cannot sin, this is a mercy. The storm that sinks and splits some ships drives others faster to the harbor.
–William Cooper, Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, I:433
[We must] acknowledge him as the author in all our afflictions: ‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). If Job had not seen God in his affliction, he would have cried out, ‘O these wretched Chaldeans, they have plundered and spoiled me!’ Those who see the hand of God in their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths (2 Sam. 16:11-12). When afflictions arrest us, we shall murmur and grumble and struggle until we see that it is God that strikes.
– Thomas Brooks, Works, I: 294-300.
In affliction God teaches us to redeem the time. When life is tranquil, how many golden hours we throw down the stream that we shall never see again. But O, when trouble and danger come, when the sword is threatening the body, the pistol is at the breast, the knife is at the throat, and death is at the door, how precious would one of those despised hours be! Evil days cry out, “Redeem the time!”
— Thomas Case, Selected Works, A Treatise of Afflictions, 71-72.