Adversity is not a discipline we undertake ourselves, but is imposed on us by God as a means of spiritual growth.
As Hebrews 12:10 says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” The purpose of the discipline of adversity, then, is to make us more holy.
- JERRY BRIDGES, The Discipline of Grace
Is God good?
I don’t want to complain. But sometimes I complain anyway.
I can’t help it.
I cave in to the temptation to think God isn’t as good as he could be.
Because if God is so good, why doesn’t he lift the veil of depression off my friend who cries out to him for help? Why doesn’t he give clearer direction to a group of his people who are sincerely trying to please him but don’t know which steps to take next? Why doesn’t he remove the pull of addiction from those who long to be released from it, for his own glory?
For crying out loud, why doesn’t he at least provide minimal food for the starving children in Africa?
And in a more personal matter, why doesn’t he make my back pain go away?
He can. He can do all of the above. Without the tiniest drain on his power. With or without human help.
But he hasn’t.
Purpose in pain
And therein lies the greatest struggle many have with believing in him.
In the last chapter of The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges tackles this topic. How does grace meet adversity?
He starts off by saying the discipline of adversity is itself a sign of grace: “God’s discipline, which comes to us in the form of adversity or hardship, is an indication of His loving care, not a token of His disfavor.”
He’s more bold than I am in claiming God indeed delivers the hardships himself. (I still have questions, even after reading this book three times.) But because he believes God’s hand is in every hardship we encounter, it makes him more accepting that there is purpose.
And maybe that’s the saving factor for me, too. That’s what keeps me from turning away from God in anger. If there is—can be—a REASON for all this (regardless of its source), then I can deal with it and still see God as good.
Because I can take pain much better when I know it has a purpose.
All hardship of whatever kind has a disciplinary purpose for us. There is no such thing as pain without a purpose in the life of a believer.
This does not necessarily mean a particular hardship is related to a specific act or habit of sin in our lives.
It does mean that every expression of discipline has as its intended end conformity to the likeness of Christ.
So the purpose is? To make us more like Christ.
Be like Christ
I want to be like Jesus, accepting that God is loving me by allowing my pain. That I can trust him so much that I don’t complain about it. That he can use my pain as fuel for more faith, not less, in his goodness.
That’s who I want to be. I’m not there yet.
But maybe the grace in pain is what will get me there like nothing else will.
It’s brought me this far already and it’s been worth it for the ways I’ve already seen God and know his love for me.
I don’t choose my adversities (for the most part). What I can choose is how I’ll respond (for the most part; I have to depend on him).
If I want to glorify God in my pain,
- I will show grace to others in their pain the way he’s shown grace to me in mine,
- I will thank him for the grace he’s given me thus far and trust more grace is always on the way, and
- I will think of him as good—very, very good—even when I don’t understand.
Is that enough purpose for pain?
That’s enough. For today.
May his grace be sufficient.
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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
Maybe that’s not exactly what Bridges is saying at the conclusion of The Discipline of Grace, but maybe he’d agree.
Day 31 of . . .