(continued…) If one looks only on the surface, only at whether or not the people in the story get what they want, then God’s distribution of blessings and afflictions in the Bible and in all of life is indeed strange, and not at all fair. II Kings 15 tells of the reign of King Azariah of Judah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” and yet he was afflicted by God with leprosy for his entire life. But Naaman (II Kings 5), an enemy general who at times was fighting against the nation of Israel and had some of Israel’s people enslaved, got cured of leprosy.
Therefore, one always has to look at what else is going on in the story. Naaman is not only healed, but his arrogance and pride is broken, and he becomes a man of faith; and it cannot hurt Israel’s foreign relations to have an enemy general who is a brother in the faith. Azariah, despite his affliction, does remain a good and faithful king throughout his life; so maybe suffering does produce character. Wicked King Jeroboam (in II Kings 14), received God’s mercy and grace and patience, but it did him no good. He remained as wicked as ever. Hezekiah (II Kings 18-20), another good king, was healed by God of a terminal disease and went on to live another 15 years. But in those remaining years, he made some huge mistakes and left the nation open to grave danger. Solomon did not seem to ever have to suffer anything, and was blessed by God in every way after inheriting an already powerful nation. Yet, late in life, he led the nation into every sort of idolatry and injustice, and died with the nation on the verge of civil war. We do not always know how to handle good fortune, and sometimes the blessings of God lead to inner weakness and a greater ruin. Other times, the afflictions sent by God bring inner strength and character and in the long run bring greater blessing and good fortune. When we look only at the little picture, we are quite sure we know just what we need and what we want– and we want the affliction to end. But God, seeing the bigger picture– even the eternal picture, may bless us more by allowing the affliction to continue.
Two farmers were discussing the Fall harvest. Both agreed that it was one of the best ever. “Did you ever notice,” said the one, “that you are always going to church and praying for a good crop, and I don’t even believe in God; and yet, we always get the same crop. It looks to me like religion doesn’t do a man much good.” “Yes,” said the other man, “it might look that way for a while, and I suppose I could say that God isn’t being fair. But just keep in mind, God does not settle all his accounts at the end of November. God has a whole eternity to bestow his blessings and make things right as he sees fit. So I put myself in His hands for all eternity, not just for these few weeks of the harvest.”
“Suffering can lead to perseverance and perseverance can lead to character and character can lead to a hope that will not ever disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering can lead to all sorts of good things, says the Bible. And, as we have all seen, good fortune can ruin a person. I will still pray for good things to happen and I will still pray for my troubles to end. But then, after my prayers are said, I will just leave it all in God’s hands, trusting him, as it says in Romans 8, to work all things out for the good of those who love him. It is my job to believe in, trust in, love, serve, and obey God. It is God’s job to take care of the rest.
Romans 5:1-4 — Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance: perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 8:28 — And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Matthew 6:10 — Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
A PRAYER FOR HEALING:
Lord, bless all the means that are used for my recovery, and restore me to my health in good time; but if you have appointed that it should be otherwise, may your blessed will be done. Draw me away from an affection for things below, and fill me with an ardent desire for heaven. Lord, make me fit for yourself, and then, when it pleases you, call me to those eternal joys that you have promised. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
–Thomas Ken (1637-1711)