The reality and barbarity of war crimes and atrocities confront us with a severe challenge that we’d rather not face.  Is all the suffering and affliction ultimately pointless, or can anything purposeful come out of what we endure?  To be brutally frank, the answer to that question lies in what we think about the existence of God.

If there is no God, there is no point whatsoever to any misery that we endure throughout our lives.  Crimes, suffering, and atrocities simply seize and destroy the lives of some, while sidestepping the lives of others.  That’s it.  No rhyme; no reason.  And perhaps worst of all, there’s no point in living lives of any goodness, honor, morality or kindness toward others.  In short, it doesn’t matter.  A Jewish man known to most as the Apostle Paul grappled with this dilemma nearly 2,000 years ago.  He quoted Greek philosophers who argued that we should exploit life for whatever personal gain and pleasure we can get out of it before we face the end that everyone faces – death.  “Let’s eat and drink,” Paul quoted these hopeless educational elites, “for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

But if there is a God, and if He is holy and good, and if we believe that the Messiah Yeshua paid the price for our transgressions and then rose from the dead, and if we’ve asked the living Jesus to forgive us, then we can draw some consolation from our affliction, even in the most torturous of times.  We can find solace from at least four facts about whatever affliction we’re called upon to endure.

The first fact is that our affliction is normal, especially when the affliction arises because of our unashamed identification with Him. So, we don’t have to be stunned beyond coping when it occurs.  The Apostle Peter, a Jewish man who endured great hardship because of his faith in the Messiah, and who ultimately faced a monstrous, lingering death at the hands of his Roman captors, wrote these words to other Jewish believers who had been driven from their homes and scattered throughout Europe and Central Asia.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

 Affliction is normal, because we live not just in a fallen world, but in an evil world – a world openly and unashamedly at war with a loving God who seeks to bring that world back to Himself. 

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Messiah (Anointed), saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:2-3, English translation).

Anyone who believes that humanity is either neutral or basically good at heart is simply choosing to deny the reality of history.  For, if there’s anything that the track record of civilization displays, it’s this:  what the Bible says about our human nature is correct, and what philosophy and the social sciences promise about our human potential is a dangerous lie.  We’re not basically good.  We don’t simply need to find the right form of society in order to bring about a utopian order.  We can’t rely upon science, or the arts, or technology to raise us to some great enlightened potential.  By nature, we use science and technology to advance our ability to destroy, and we quickly turn art into propaganda.

We suffer affliction because affliction is the norm.  But there’s an important caveat.  As non-believers, we endure suffering as a consequence of turning away from a better path that God has placed in front of us.  But as believers, we endure affliction for a profitable reason.  This is the second truth about affliction – but it’s a truth and a comfort that only believers in Yeshua possess.  Our afflictions are purposeful.  Those purposes are many, but let me mention just two:  On the one hand, our afflictions are redemptive – in other words, God brings something good out of it.  And on the other hand, our afflictions refine us into who He’s called us to be.

Without doubt, the greatest redemptive purpose to an instance of suffering is found in the agonizing death of the Messiah Jesus.  The prophet Isaiah foretold that we would mistakenly assume that He was suffering for His own crimes, but in fact, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  He bore the penalty that we deserve to bear so that we might be spared God’s proper chastisement and receive His mercy instead.  God the Father used the sacrificial death of God the Son in order to bring about the good of redeeming our lives from eternal destruction.  And once we belong to Him through our repentance and faith in Yeshua, He uses every affliction we encounter as part of His process of making us more like Him. 

Does this mean that our entire lives must be a story of unremitting agony?  No, not at all!  We can have immeasurable joy every day and in every circumstance.  But when those circumstances involve hardship, we have the confidence of knowing that those hardships are being used to make us more like Him!

The fact that our hardships have a purpose brings us to the third fact about our affliction.  Those of us who have committed our lives to the Messiah have received the gift of His Spirit, living within us.  And by the power His Spirit, we can endure. 

Our afflictions are bearable because we are never given more than we can endure. “God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13)

Our afflictions are bearable because, we are never alone.  Jesus stands with us.  Jesus suffers with us.  In fact, Jesus actually suffers more than we suffer ourselves.

Jesus doesn’t promise to take us out of the storms.  Rather, He promises that He’ll always be with us in the storms, and He promises that nothing can ever separate us from His power, presence and love.  Paul declares, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

The final fact about our affliction is that it doesn’t last.  It ends!  King David wrote,

Many are the affliction of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19 – English translation).

Our afflictions are by no means light.  We’re stretched to the very limits of our endurance.  Tragically, this will always be the case, especially since the attacks we suffer often come about because of our unashamed identification with Him.  But our afflictions have a purpose.  Our afflictions our bearable.  And our afflictions will end.  As believers in Yeshua, we have that great comfort and assurance.

As non-believers, we don’t.

So here’s the challenge we need to face.  All of us will face afflictions throughout our lives.  But do we want to possess the confidence of knowing that those afflictions have a purpose?  Or will we choose to let unbelief reduce our afflictions to pointless suffering?

I welcome your thoughts

Avi Snyder

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