Category Archives: Adversity

Adversity – we can take only so much

After experiencing horrifying tortures that broke his arms, paralyzed his hands, punctured his eardrum, beat his face raw and his buttocks so badly damaged he could hardly sit—Red McDaniel was put into isolation.  It was almost more than he could take.  He plunged into depression, asking how much suffering he had to endure to “know Christ in His suffering?”  Scars and Stripes, p. 127

He needn’t have asked.  No one could ever compare his sufferings with Christ’s.  Jesus alone experienced them.  Only he could, has, ever shall.  However, McDaniel’s question surfaces a good blog-point.

If we feel we’ve reached the point where we can’t go any further—and find we MUST, we CAN.  God won’t burden his people beyond their capacity to carry the load.  That’s a promise from Psalm 78:39:  “He remembered they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.”

That Psalm recounted Israel’s wilderness rebellion against God despite his numerous and repeated benefactions.  When their sins exhausted his patience, he punished them.  When they sought him in repentance, he responsded mercifully, not in anger.

When we think we’ve gone as far as human nature can.  When we’re sure we can go no farther—trust in God.  He knows what we can and can’t take.  He may take us to the very edge of the difference, but he’ll never precipitate us beyond.

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Adversity – tests mettle of people and nations

Philippians 1:19 is to Paul’s first trial before Nero what II Timothy 4:6-8 is to his second.  In Philippians he anticipated release; in II Timothy he knew death awaited.  In Philippians he urged Christians to as freely witness as he thought he would soon be free to do.   In II Timothy his race had been run; his course finished.

His defense was the same in both.  In Philippians he wanted his body used as an instrument of Christ’s grace as he continued to lead the missionary enterprise.  In Timothy he retained his interest in God’s kingdom though his personal end was near.  As 4:9-22 reveals, while death hovered nearby, Paul continued to work for Christ, giving instructions to his associates.  No loss of interest in his apostolate occurs.  God’s workers die; his work continues!

What a blessedness:  while imminent death distances us from economics, politics and sports, the same fate sharpens a Christian’s interest in the Kingdom of God.  Why would people want to die losing all interest in what had once occupied them?  When death could climax their interest in what death can’t ever diminish, let alone destroy?

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Adversity – reaction to determines effect

Joseph, son of Israel, and Moses, son of Amram, suffered exiles from their homeland:  Joseph from Canaan, Moses from Egypt.  They both married and had children in their exile.  When Asenath bore Joseph’s first son he named him Manasseh, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”   He named his second son Ephraim because “God has made me fruitful in the land of my sufferings” Genesis 41:50-52.

When Zipporah bore Moses’ first son he named him Gershom, because “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”  When his second son was born he named him Eliezer, because “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh” Exodus 18:2-4.

Joseph’s names reflected recovery from his loss.  Moses’ name for his first-born reflected only his loss.

What reasons can account for Joseph’s initial positive and Moses’ initial negative response to their exile?  First, Joseph experienced exile at age 17; Moses at age 40.  The younger could adjust easier than the older by having fewer memories.  Second, Joseph almost immediately found positions of authority and responsibility, first in Potiphar’s house, then in prison; at best Moses kept a few sheep.  Third, Joseph had lived as a bedouin among shepherds; Moses as a privileged member of a ruling elite.  With less to lose, exile would be less painful; with more to lose, sharply felt.  Fourth, Joseph’s change occurred some 13 years between exile and exaltation, a lengthy period that buried past disappointments under excesses of grandeur.

Though Joseph didn’t deny or forget his sufferings, he had risen from his worst fate as slave to dominance as second ruler of Egypt.  It teaches us that we need not deny or forget our sorrows to be useful to God IN THEM or AFTER they’re past.  We need only be willing to let God work in and through them.

On the other hand, naming his first-born Gershom reflected Moses still adrift in, not anchored in his new environment.  Then, however long before Eliezer came, Moses had a more reasoned, positive response.  He had adjusted to the shock of exile, with a new family, task and relationships.

That experience encourages us to bear whatever burdens are imposed without losing hope for their eventual removal.  Or at least for the ability to grow accustomed to them so they are less heavy by our becoming stronger to carrying them.

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Adversity – we determine its impact

When the Northeaster hit Paul’s ship off Crete, Acts 27, the sailors dropped anchor to slow the ship’s southwest drift, knowing they would be driven to the dreaded quick sands along the Libyan coast.  However, strange as it seems, the Northeaster drove them nearly westward, not southwest as the sailors supposed and feared.  The disaster drove them closer to their destination—less than 100 miles south of Sicily, just west of the Italian toe.

That’s a symbol of all adversity that’s yielded to God.  He promises to use it to push us closer to our destination in life—Christ-likeness and Heaven—if we let it achieve God’s purpose in us.

Unlike the ship, at the mercy of the typhoon-like winds, we determine what effect suffering has on us.  Where the ship had no will, we do; where it could only be driven as the wind dictated, we decide the direction we’ll go when life turns mean and unjust.

All the storms of life, that could destroy us if we simply give up, will drive us closer to our final destination, if we give them up to God.