Someone once said that there are no atheists on an aeroplane when there is severe turbulence. Similarly, many people who reject or even deny God during the good times will turn to Him when they have nowhere left to go in the bad times.
We are exploring the topic of Faith & Hardship, and in a previous post we talked about Why God Allows Suffering. We are now going to look at the purpose of hardship, and it is my sincerest hope that this will bring comfort and understanding to some who are going through dark times.
To get a proper understanding of the purpose for hardship, we need to understand that hardship is different for Christians and non-Christians. I will try to explain:
Hardship Prior To Salvation
James 4:6 says that God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. Proverbs 16:5 says everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. The reason for this is that pride is at the core of Satan’s personality, and this pride is what man inherited when he sinned.
Pride causes us to turn our backs on God. The Bible says in Romans 3:11 that there is not one who seeks after God. Hardship, however, has the ability to humble a person and to cause him to seek out God.
Someone once said that there are no atheists on an aeroplane when there is severe turbulence. Similarly, many people who reject or even deny God during the good times will turn to Him when they have nowhere left to go in the bad times. This is because God has given all men a consciousness of God.
Romans 1:20 says, “For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defence.”
Since God’s primary concern for us is our eternal wellbeing (see Why God Allows Suffering), it makes sense that He could allow hardship in our lives if it will get us to the point of salvation. Hardship can cause even the hardest atheist to turn to God for answers. If a person truly seeks God, it will ultimately lead him or her to a point of humility and full surrender to the Lord.
The Goodness Of The Lord
Many will disagree and say that it is not hardship that leads a person to repentance, but rather the goodness of God. They will quote Romans 2:4 by saying, ‘the Bible declares that it is the goodness of the Lord that leads to repentance.’ This quote is often used in conjunction with prosperity teachings. However, Romans 2:4 must be one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. To look at this verse in context, realise the Bible declares in John 3:36 and Colossians 3:5-6 that the wrath of God abides on the unsaved.
In spite of this wrath, Romans 2:4 shows us another characteristic of God that is preventing God’s wrath from being poured out right now. This characteristic is the goodness of God. Romans 2:4 says, “…do you have no regard for the wealth of His kindness and tolerance and patience [in withholding His wrath]? Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]?”
When an unsaved person sees that he is on a road to perdition and that his only way to escape the wrath to come is by fleeing to the Saviour who paid his fine on his behalf on the cross, it is then the goodness of the Lord that delayed God’s wrath up to that point that leads a person to repentance. When we see the goodness of the Lord in context of what it really stands for, we can appreciate that hardship often leads a person to a place where he or she can see how good God really is.
In addition, many people believe they are saved, when in fact they are not. Whenever I hear someone say they are fighting a spiritual battle and that they need to rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus, I always wonder if it is in fact the devil they are fighting or if it is perhaps God who is trying to get their attention.
Not everybody who profess to be a Christian is necessarily saved. There is a vast difference between someone who has adopted Christianity as a religion, and those who are truly born-again (see When Christians Contradict Christ). Matthew 7:22-23 say, “Many will say to Me on that day [when I judge them], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and driven out demons in Your name, and done many miracles in Your name?’ 23And then I will declare to them publicly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me [you are banished from My presence], you who act wickedly [disregarding My commands].’”
The Bible warns about true and false Christians, and since God wants all people to be saved, He is also at liberty to allow hardship in the life of a person who thinks he is saved when he is actually not.
Apart from making a proud person seek out the Lord, the purpose of the hardship is to bring a person closer to God through prayer and self-scrutiny. If a person will humble himself and turn to the Lord, he or she can repent in time before it is too late.
In Luke 13, we get a glimpse of the hardship the Jews had to endure under the rule of the Roman government. Some came to Jesus and told Him about those who had perished by the hand of Pilate. Pilate, they said, had killed and mixed the blood of some of the Jews with the sacrifices they were offering to the Lord. Jesus responded in Luke 13:2-3 by saying, “Do you think that these Galileans were greater sinners than all the other Galileans because they have suffered in this way? 3I tell you, No; but unless you repent (change your mind for the better and heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), you will all likewise perish and be lost eternally.”
Hardship in the life of a person who is proud at heart is often the catalyst that leads a person to a place of seeking God in humility which, in turn, could lead a person to the place of salvation.
Hardship In The Life Of The Born-Again Christian
Christians who understand that we live in a fallen world, usually don’t have a problem understanding why non-Christians could experience hardship. However, when hardship becomes more personal as we experience it in our own lives, our first natural response is to question the character of God as we wonder why He would allow tragedy or difficult times for His children.
Hardship and suffering in the life of a Christian makes sense when we realise that God is not only interested in our salvation, but that after salvation He wants to build and grow our character. Romans 5:3-4 say, “And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; 4and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation].”
Living By Faith
Difficult times is a call for us to live by faith. By faith we endure hardship, trusting that God is shaping and moulding us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. While patiently enduring any suffering or hardship we encounter, we focus on changing our character so we may be pleasing in the sight of God. As our character grows, we become more assured of our hope and salvation in Jesus Christ.
After all, to live by faith is a basic requirement of Christianity. A true Christian is someone who is justified before God because of what Jesus did on the cross, through faith. Those who are justified will always have to live by faith. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, both springing from faith and leading to faith [disclosed in a way that awakens more faith]. As it is written and forever remains written, ‘The just and upright shall live by faith.’”
Therefore, whenever we experience hardship or find ourselves in extremely difficult circumstances, we must realise that the situation is a test of our faith. Hebrews 10:38 places such a high emphasis on faith when it says, “But My righteous one [the one justified by faith] shall live by faith [respecting man’s relationship to God and trusting Him]; And if he draws back [shrinking in fear], My soul has no delight in him.”
Trusting In The Character Of God
Furthermore, as explained in Trusting God In The Hardest Times, hardship reveals the depth of our faith as it exposes our true beliefs about who God is. A healthy understanding of who God is, together with a sound understanding of the purpose of mankind, is the best hope we have to not lose faith when life leaves us with more questions than answers.
While we don’t always understand why God will sometimes allow something bad to happen, remember that He is in control and ultimately wants more people to be saved.
When Jesus gave the Great Commission to go into the world and to preach the gospel, the first Christians remained fairly local in their demographics. It was only after severe persecution hit the church that the Christians scattered to areas where the gospel had not been preached yet. Surely those who suffered intense persecution were not able to understand, at the time, why God would allow such severe hardship in their lives. However, we are able to study history and see what purpose it served for God’s Kingdom.
Sometimes we experience hardship because of bad choices we made. Sometimes God chastises us for our own sake because of His immense love for us. Other times it will be solely for the spreading of the gospel and for the eternal purpose He has for mankind. Whatever the reason, we must never lose sight of the fact that God wants to grow our character through the process, so we can be more like Jesus Christ.
Reality Check For Christians
The call to follow Jesus was never a call to an easy life, and hardship in the life of the Christian should be anticipated. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world. [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]”
While we may not always understand why God allows hardship or suffering, it is more important to stay close to Him and to grow through the opportunity presented by hardship. It is also important to stay close to Him in order for us to hear what He has to say about the particular matter we are dealing with.
If we stay in a close relationship with Him, and if we stay in faith regardless of our circumstances, we can know with great confidence that “God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose,” as Romans 8:28 declares.
The Bigger Picture
When we view our troubles in light of the plan and purpose God has for us, it is also important to consider hardship in light of eternity. If we don’t, we will always find ourselves discouraged, losing sight of what God is trying to do in our lives. However, when we view hardship from an eternal perspective, we are able to experience peace even in the midst of a storm.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]! 18So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.”
As we explore the topic of Faith & Hardship, we will look at examples of hardship in the Bible, and how to overcome hardship in a biblical way. For now, however, read the next post on the faith dimension as it will lay a foundation for how to practically overcome hardship.