Anything that drives us to our knees before God, making us call upon him, is a blessing. Trouble is a specialist at doing that.
Nobody likes trouble. Nevertheless, it habitually confronts us. In lamentation, Job says: “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1). However, Jesus presents a completely different paradigm where trouble is good for believers. He tells us to cheer up when we are beset by trouble: “In the world you will have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
In his beatitudes, Jesus also says: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21). Does this mean even our agonies are really blessings in disguise? The answer lies in the peculiar dynamics of the kingdom of God.
Reversal of Evil
Believers need to appreciate that the good of God only comes after something bad happens. God does not make the good out of the good. He makes the good out of the bad. God creates success out of failure. He creates life out of death. He creates wealth out of poverty. He brings joy out of sadness. Everything about the kingdom of God is worked out in contradictions.
As a matter of fact, God often has an interest in something becoming very bad in order that it might be very good: “The law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21).
For this reason, God has a tendency to make things bad as a preface to making them good: “The Lord kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7). “He bruises, but he binds up; he wounds, but his hands make whole.” (Job 5:18).
Simeon’s prophecy to Mary about her child Jesus follows this same pattern. He says: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35).
In effect, Jesus would cause many to fall before they would rise. Isaiah says the same about the “saviour of the world:” “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:14-15).
When a man of the world is afflicted, it is because something bad has happened to him. But when a believer is afflicted, it means something good is going to happen to him. Godly sorrow comes not to make men miserable but to wipe away all tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17).
Trials and tribulations, afflictions and adversities are all designed to bring believers into closer intimacy and knowledge of God. Accordingly, the psalmist acknowledged with the benefit of hindsight: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71).
Bad things actually bring out the best in the believer. This means our enemies are no longer our adversaries but our allies. Indeed, they are often members of our household. (Matthew 10:36). Therefore, we should love our enemies and appreciate that they help us to learn godliness and righteousness.
We must respond to the challenge of evil by working out our true selves; our God-created selves. The things that glorify God are often at variance with our pleasures or convenience.
But anything that drives us to our knees before God, making us call upon him, is a blessing. Trouble is a specialist at doing that. It pushes us closer to God. God says: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15). Therefore, our troubles provide avenues for God to be glorified and for us to see the salvation of God.
We often confuse the absence of problems with blessings when it might be a curse. Amos says: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” (Amos 6:1). The man who lives a life of ease and therefore feels no need for God is at the end most miserable.
The beauty of kingdom dynamics is that it confounds all natural expectations. Samson said: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” (Judges 14:14). What was intended to kill became a source of nourishment. What was designed to impede became a stepping-stone.
Joseph was blessed by the troubles his brothers brought on him by selling him as a slave to Egypt. He said to them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20). Had they not sold him into slavery, he would not have become Prime Minister of Egypt. Had they not sold him, he would not have become the instrument of their salvation from famine.
Not one but three enemy nations attacked Judah. However, this adversity was meant for good. The Lord had determined that the riches of the Gentiles should be converted to Judah. Moreover, he purposed that this “inheritance” would not come from one or two but from three fearsome enemy nations.
After he had caused those nations to accumulate great spoils by military conquest, he then prompted them to attack Judah. But Judah did not have to defend itself; all it had to do was praise God. The Lord then caused the armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir to fight among themselves, and they ended up by destroying each other.
Just take another look at this comeuppance and give God the glory: “When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewellery, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much.” (2 Chronicles 20:25).
This three-pronged attack on Judah became an instrument of the Lord’s enrichment. When the three armies attacked, imagine a man complaining that God had forsaken Judah, not knowing that God would overrule the attack and convert it to gain. This is why Jesus says we should cheer up when beset by troubles because he has overcome the world.
Paul and Silas
A classic example here is the case of Paul and Silas. They suffered great affliction in the pathway of evangelical duty. They beat them black and blue and put their feet in stocks. But undaunted, at midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. As a result, their affliction merely provided the preface for a great move of God.
“Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.” (Acts 16:26).
The upshot of this miracle was that even their jailer promptly gave his life to Christ.