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How to Handle Adversity

How to Handle Adversity

by Charles Stanley

Learn More | Meet Charles Stanley
Chapter One
Adversity: Who Is Behind It All?

As Jesus and His disciples passed through Jerusalem, they came up on a man who had been blind from birth. This surfaced a question in the minds of the disciples that they must have been wrestling with for some time. They asked,

Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind? (John 9:2)

Their dilemma was based upon a wrong assumption they had been taught all their lives, namely, that illness is a sign of God's judgment. There was no question in their minds that someone had sinned. But who?

The disciples were trying from their limited perspective to answer a question we often find ourselves asking. It is the why question. Why did this happen? Why did my son run away? Why did my father contract cancer? Why did our house burn? Why did I lose my job? Why was I sued?

The questions are endless. Each of us has a specific list. Sometimes there is so much emotion involved we dare not even allow ourselves to verbalize the frustration we feel because asking and finding no clear-cut answer threatens the foundation of all we believe about God and His goodness. And yet, the questions still linger.

Like the disciples, we are prone to view adversity narrowly. We turn on ourselves and begin an often fruitless journey into our recent--and sometimes not-so-recent--past. Our purpose is to find the reason for the adversity we face. The thought may arise: Surely this is God's way of paying me back. If, however, we are convinced that nothing we have done merits the magnitude of our adversity, we have no choice, it seems, but to question the goodness and faithfulness of God.

In His response to the disciples' question, Jesus revealed yet another error that plagued the theology of the day. But his answer did much more than that. It enlightens us and offers a much broader perspective on suffering than that held by many. His answer brings hope to those who have been thus far afraid to ask why. It allows us to look beyond ourselves--and that is always an improvement! Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents." In other words, "Your thinking is too narrow. You need some new categories." I believe many well-meaning Christians need some new categories when it comes to the subject of adversity. Thinking too narrowly on this subject sets one up for needless guilt. And as in the case of Jesus' disciples, it warps one's perspective on the suffering of others.

Jesus said,

It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

The implications of that statement are staggering. The phrase "in order that" denotes purpose. There was a purpose to this man's blindness. The disciples saw his blindness as the result of something. In fact, they saw all illness in terms of result. Jesus, however, let it be known in no uncertain terms that this blindness was not the result f something the man had done. This man's blindness was a part of God's purpose. In other words, this man's blindness was from God. That was a difficult sentence to write--much less believe.

Is it possible that adversity can originate with God? All of us would be more comfortable if Jesus had said, "This man is blind because he sinned, but God is going to use it anyway." That would be a much easier pill to swallow. But Jesus leaves us no escape. Sin was not the direct cause of the man's blindness; God was.

A Case in Point

I am aware that such a statement flies in the face of the prosperity theology so prevalent today. Yet a statement such as this one in the gospel of John makes it perfectly clear that God is the engineer of some adversity. We cannot let our theological biases (which we all have) interfere with the clear teaching of Scripture. Fortunately for us, this blind man is not the only scriptural example of God's engineering adversity. In 2 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul describes his struggle with adversity. He clearly identifies God as the engineer behind his suffering:

And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me--to keep me from exalting myself! (2 Cor. 12:7, emphasis mine)

One might argue, "But it says it was a messenger of Satan." Right! But notice the purpose of Paul's adversity: "To keep me from exalting myself." Do you think Satan would engineer a plan to keep Paul from exalting himself? Of course not. Satan's goal is to cause us to exalt ourselves. He is certainly not going to work against his own destructive purposes. So how does this all fit together? It would seem that God wanted to cause Paul some pain in order to keep him humble. To accomplish this, God sent a messenger of Satan into Paul's life. What exactly this was, we do not know. One thing is certain, however; the idea originated with God. It was His plan, and He used His resources to carry it out.

AS difficult as it may be to grasp, the Bible depicts God as the instigator of some adversity. In the remaining chapters we are going to expand upon the relationship between God and adversity. I realize that for some people I have raised more questions than I have answered. That is all right, as long as you keep reading!

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