God Appoints Suffering For His Name’s Sake
The word “adversity” in our text above is the word “ra`” in Hebrew, which is typically translated as “evil”. So then, when days of “adversity” or “wickedness” or “evil” befall us, let us consider that inasmuch as God has appointed days of prosperity, He has also appointed days of adversity which we might call evil. And if we thank Him for the one, shall we not thank Him for the other? God has “appointed” or “set” our days of adversity and evil. Even as God “made” the firmaments of heaven and the two great lights and the beasts of the field, He has “made” our days of adversity; it is the same Hebrew word. Can man pluck the sun from its place or move the earth from its orbit? No. They are set by God, and we rejoice that He has set them in their place. What shall we say then? “…who can make straight what He has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13) Rejoice in all that God has set, including the days of adversity.
It is not only not a surprise to God when evil befalls us, but we must know that He appoints such days in His sovereignty. Not that God authors sin or evil (this is a wicked thought), but that He permits us to experience it and even appoints it to us. Immediately after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus, a man named Ananias was visited by the Lord in a vision. In His instruction about Saul of Tarsus, the Lord tells him, “… I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) The apostle Paul suffered much, and God told it to Ananias before any of it had happened. What was the purpose of it? “For my name’s sake.” Meditate on this! For God’s own name are we appointed suffering. Ah, but someone will say, “This is cruelty. Surely God would not appoint deliberate suffering if we being evil would never dream of appointing suffering to our children.” But you reason according to your own wisdom and not by His word. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:20) God’s ways are “past finding out” and yet He has given us His word that though we are afflicted from without, we might be comforted through Him from within.
Too often, we miscalculate suffering as always equivalent with wrath or retribution. But this is far from the case. It is true that suffering can be the result of disobedience, and that God will not be mocked. Men do reap what they sow, but this is not always the reason for adversity or suffering. Indeed, more often than not the righteous are afflicted as a result of their obedience and faithfulness. The author of Hebrews presents to us the exemplary models of faith in chapter 11; this “great.. cloud of witnesses” which we would do well to emulate. But in all our admiration, let us consider carefully a theme all too common in the faithful such as these:
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—
Let’s reflect on this seeming paradox. Commonly called “The Hall of Faith”, Hebrews 11 is a chapter of triumph and inspiration. Those who, at the dictate of the Holy Spirit Himself, have been deemed most faithful are recorded in this chapter as models to be observed, and yet the chapter concludes with words such as: “tortured”, “mockings”, “scourgings”, “imprisonment”, “stoned”, “sawn in two”, “tempted”, “slain with the sword”, “destitute”, “afflicted” and “tormented”. By faith, the walls of Jericho came down for the Lord’s own name’s sake. And, as a result of faithfulness, Isaiah was sawed in two, likewise, for the Lord’s own name’s sake. We must take the one with the other.
It has been said that if one lives long enough they will bleed. In this sense, both the sun and the rain come upon the just and the unjust. But, we are not Deists. Ours is not a God inactive or inattentive. He is intimately involved in our world and even in our personal suffering. Paul was appointed suffering for the sake of God’s own name which also had Paul’s good in mind. It is no different with any of us. It was not the wrath of God which caused Paul to be beaten, stoned or imprisoned anymore than it was God’s wrath that His faithful servant Job was tortured and oppressed by Satan. God is glorified when His saints suffer well and we are the better when tribulation comes, “knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3) So Paul admonishes us to “glory in tribulations”.
Easier said than done, right? Well, struggle through it if you must, but accept it fully. In one case, our suffering might be preparing us to comfort others who will suffer after us (2 Corinthians 1:4). In another case, our suffering might be an inspiration to onlookers who are observing the genuineness of our faith. In yet another, it may be God Himself testing us and sanctifying us. Whether you live in peace (days of prosperity) or suffer in death (days of adversity), consider that the Lord has appointed both for His name’s sake. Let us be the Lord’s; content with our lot from Him. By God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, may we say with Job,
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”(Job 1:21)
There may be manifold peripheral reasons for the suffering of the faithful, but all can be ultimately linked to one phrase: “for My name’s sake.” Have you suffered through false accusations? It is for His name’s sake. Have you become sick even to the point of death? It is for His name’s sake. Have you unexpectedly lost a loved one? It is for His name’s sake. Have you been “destitute”, “afflicted” or “tormented”? Yes, it is for His name’s sake. God is not sadistic by any means, but appoints adversity that He might get glory for Himself and strengthen your faith; increasing your dependence upon Him. I can boldly admonish you by the Holy Spirit to,
take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when [you are] weak, then [you are] strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
For whose sake? “For Christ’s sake”. We must be content, yes, well pleased to say, in truth, “…not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Was not Jesus’ suffering appointed for Him? Did He not count it joy despite His soul being “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death”? Yes, He counted it joy:
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)
We look not to ourselves, nor the suffering, but to Christ. As the old hymn goes, “whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘it is well; it is well with my soul.'” Even as Jesus saw past the immediate suffering to the Joy that would come of it, we must rest in knowing that God appoints our suffering for His own name’s sake. This only happens when we have a true interest in the glory and majesty of God; in His name being magnified in all the earth. And if we truly desire His will to be done in and through us, come what will, we can have joy in the suffering itself, knowing that the Lord is being glorified through us as His ambassadors. For some, this may be very difficult to come to terms with because of a particularly traumatizing experience. In fact, this is very likely the most common objection to Christianity and belief in God in general. The problem of a good God allowing suffering for some is insurmountable. But this must be viewed in a fuller context, never in the vacuum of mere subjectivity.
There has only yet ever been One innocent Person. His name is Jesus. He and He alone was perfect and sinless. He and He alone deserved no evil to befall Him. Anyone else born of women has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and can only be said to have rightly earned God’s eternal wrath as a result. Yes, the greatest wonder of all is not that people suffer evils in this world, but that any at all are allowed to experience pleasure or peace for even a moment. We largely view things from the erroneous perspective that we deserve good things. Let God’s wisdom correct us to see that we deserve nothing but hell, and any experience of pleasure or tranquility is already an act of mercy from the Lord to us. There is not a man living who has not incurred God’s judgment by his own nature, yet, the Perfect, Innocent, Jesus afforded mercy to us through His own blood. When we gain a proper perspective of our sinful and rebellious nature, the only wonder should be that we do not suffer constantly, rather than that we may suffer sometimes. The only thing we are owed is adversity and evil and yet God in His infinite mercy has paved the way for eternal peace through the Prince of Peace. And even the suffering of Christians in this earth has the end of His glory and their good. It is never meaningless, but according to His Providence, he works, “all things… together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Grasp this thought! Seriously think on it, you who call yourself a Christian,
For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8)
No sooner has the sun risen than the dark comes. No sooner has summer past than winter is at the door. One day we celebrate birth and the next we mourn death. These things are set, ultimately for His name’s sake. Many years before-hand, Jesus effectively told Peter how He would die. Some would think it a luxury to know, others a curse. Nevertheless, at the end of John’s gospel (John 21:18-19) we read,
‘Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.”