I have a good and godly friend who is going through deep waters. He has a sweet little eight year old daughter who has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the bone in her leg. She now has a cast from her upper body to her foot. She is undergoing chemo therapy which has some unpleasant side-effects. She is also facing surgery on the bone.
This same dad lost his lovely wife to cancer a few years ago. Since that time his commitment to his girls has led him to give up his job and become both mother and father to his three little children, faithfully homeschooling them.
The question that cries out is: Why does God allow, and actually design, such deep valleys for His children to walk through? Why does God treat those whom He loves and those who love Him, in such a way? Why is it, that often the most committed suffer adverse circumstances at the hand of God? Why does God allow such things to happen? These are legitimate questions.
First impression seems to yield no reasonable answer. However, to the thoughtful student of God`s Word, the answer is not so difficult to discern.
The believer lives in the courtyard of eternity. In this gateway to eternity we are being prepared to live in God’s presence forever. Our response to the circumstances and the situations God brings into our lives is that which prepares us for eternal rewards and eternal blessings. There are eternal rewards to be won or lost. The believer’s life is filled with divinely appointed opportunities to please God. Our lives, as believers, are filled with that which has great value in God’s sight or with that which has no value, that which is just meaningless dross. We, as believers, can live in the light of eternity and learn to grow in grace, or we can live for the meaningless things that are passing away and suffer loss of eternal rewards. Trials and troubles are God given opportunities to win eternal rewards.
Paul likens this process of progressive sanctification to a builder, he refers to the process in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
This truth from God’s Word gives the life of the believer a whole new meaning and perspective. The things of this life are insignificant in the light of eternity. Paul also captured this eternal perspective in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
We often have great difficulty in separating the wheat from the chaff in our lives. We need to discern that which has eternal value from that which has no eternal worth, that which is of the flesh and that which of the spirit. We need to discern that which God designates as gold and that which He designates as hay and stubble. We need to live with eternity’s values in view. Heaven is so marvellous, so wonderful, so amazing and so filled with joy and peace, to say nothing of being in God’s presence, that the trials of this life will be seen to be insignificant. We will rejoice that we were allowed to suffer some difficulties to walk the path He has called us to walk.
John sums it up well in 1 John 2:15-17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
To the undiscerning eye sometimes that which is unwelcome in our lives is actually that which is most valuable and is actually preparation for great eternal blessing.
Peter states this clearly in 1 Peter 1:7, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” The fire represents the painful experiences of life which we would naturally shrink from but bring rich eternal rewards. Our sanctification is of such great value in the eyes of the Lord that He is willing to allow us to suffer for a brief moment to accomplish it.
Our days of trial and afflictions will ultimately bring gladness to us. “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil (circumstances)” (Psalm 90:15).
We are called to live on the mountain top at times and we are called to live in the valley at other times. Life has its seasons. I have been on the mountain top and I have been in the valley, I like the mountain top better, but the greater eternal rewards are won in the valley. We need to remember that the God of the mountain top is also the God of the valley. On the mountain top the warm sun shines above the clouds and we feel the closeness of the Lord’s presence.
The valley is the place of darkness and foreboding. The valley is the place of tears and sorrows. Remember that the God of the mountain top is the God of the valley and He is working out His purposes in both places. The God of the summer is also the God of the winter.
Paul said the hard place is the place of power and blessing. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, He plants His footstep in the sea and rides upon the storm, His purpose will ripen fast unfolding every hour, the bud may have a bitter taste but sweet will be the flower.”
We are sometimes called to walk through the dark valley, the valley of tears and sorrow, the valley of sore trials and vexing temptations. We are called to be overcomers in all these divine appointments.
After the Lord delivered Israel from the land of Egypt He led them through the wilderness. In Exodus 17 we read that the Lord led them to a place called Rephidim. The Lord had guided them by the cloud during the day and warmed them with the pillar of fire at night time. They were God’s people being led by His hand.
Now here is a somewhat surprising thing, when they arrived at Rephidim there was no water to drink, neither for them nor their cattle. What a desperate situation they were in, over two million people in the desert wilderness with no water. They couldn’t last very long in this predicament. Something was wrong! Surely they were out of the will of God. No! God had clearly led them to this very place.
This is one of the very first lessons the followers of Christ must learn. God leads His children along and sometimes He leads into pathways of trials and temptations and troubles. This is a constant theme in scripture from Genesis to the close of the book of Revelation.
Faith will always be tested. The Lord wants us to know our own hearts; He wants the world of men and women to know about our faith. He wants the angels to know about our faith. Our faith glorifies God as perhaps nothing else does.
We have a classic example of God being glorified through a man’s faith in the trial of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22. Abraham had waited 25 years for the promised son, now Abraham was about 115 years old. Abraham’s heart was bound up in love for his teenage son Isaac as he daily followed God’s leading in his life. God was leading Abraham each step of the way. But Abraham discovered that his God was leading him to walk the darkest, most foreboding, fearful, heartbreaking pathway, a pathway he could never have ever imagined.
The voice of God must have broken like thunderclap on Abraham’s happy, peaceful soul. As Abraham sat in his tent one peaceful evening the awful words fell on his unexpecting ears. “And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of, (Genesis 22:2).
What in the world is going on? The answer is found in the preceding verse, “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt (test) Abraham.....” Faith must always be tested. Our faith pleases God and our faith glorifies God. The writer to the Hebrews stated; “But without faith it is impossible to please Him....” (Hebrews 11:6).
God had worked on Abraham for over a hundred years, calling him to leave home and family, carefully and skilfully moulding him into a man of faith. There were countless trials and testing, learning to wait on the Lord, learning to respond in obedience and learning through the tears of some awful failures. This is not just the pathway Abraham was called to walk; it is the pathway every believer is called to walk.
But now God is about to put Abraham’s faith on display. This is to be a display for the world of all of time to witness, a display that will glorify God in the eyes of men and angels.
Here is the testimony of Abraham’s faith, one of the most beautiful verses in scripture. Notice Abraham’s response; “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). We see here a beautiful demonstration of instant, unquestioning obedience.
Believer, do not be surprised if the Lord calls you to some midnight hour where you will be tested to the depths of your soul. Be surprised if He does not. The world of men and angels found out something about Abraham and that something has brought glory to God’s name for over 4,000 years now.
God found out something about Abraham, albeit something that He already knew. “....for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12b).
God is no man’s debtor and faith has its reward. Abraham received a great reward for his faith. “And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).
When the Lord calls you to some soul shattering test of faith, unbelief will say, God has forsaken me or God is unfair to me. But God is working in your life for His glory and your blessing. Be certain that He will reward your faith beyond your greatest expectations.
We have some wonderful promises that lift our spirits far above all of the pain and sorrow. Let me give you some of them.
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
“....To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17b).
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
This is the promise that stirs my heart, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:7).
Now we have the answer to the question as to why God allows His children to suffer. We are reminded that in heaven there are no dark valleys; praise the Lord!
We remind unbelievers that every man, woman and child lives and moves in the courtyard of eternity. From this precarious position men must make a choice; that choice will determine their eternal destiny. John graphically laid out the scenario, the choice that everyone must make and the consequences of that choice; “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
The working of God in the unbeliever’s life is meant to bring him or her to salvation. Some unbelievers respond in faith and some reject God’s grace. The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay. The experiences of life are common to all men, but the response of men and women to what God is seeking to do in their lives and their hearts is often very different. The writer to the Hebrews said, “.....Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Is your heart wax or clay?