I’ve realized that a lot of times when I’m trying to make sense out of situations in my life writing it down helps me unscramble all the pieces. So, welcome to my therapy session! Some areas in my life that I’ve struggled to find balance and direction with are trials, tribulations and discipline. At first glance they may all seem the same but I think there’s some very big differences.
Trials ~ I used to look at trials and tribulations as the same thing but in the Bible the word trial is translated as temptation or testing. 1 Peter 1:6 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,” So trials refer to the everyday things we face as a result of living in a fallen and broken world.
Tribulation ~ Persecution is another word that goes hand in hand with this. When the Bible uses these words it’s usually having to do with a direct response to us living our faith. For example, Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” A feel good verse to brighten your day today.
Discipline ~ It seems like such a harsh word but it’s translated correction, or instruction. Proverbs 3:12 “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” My pastor used to say that you can’t say your suffering trials or tribulation for stupid decisions, that’s just correction. For example if you’re speeding and get a ticket, that’s not a trial, (something out of your control) or tribulation, (he didn’t stop you because you were proclaiming Christ) but discipline for a bad decision.
Ok, so where am I going with all this? Good question. I’ve been wrestling with the idea and teachings on healing. Hang with me here for a second and I’ll try to tie this all together. If you don’t know my story I’ve struggled with health issues my whole life and it wasn’t till three years ago I found out I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos. My family, friends and I have prayed for healing for years. In the church I’ve been confronted with lots of “helpful” advice. They even used scriptures like, “ask anything in my name,” “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains,” “confess your sins so if anyone is sick among you he may be healed.” All these things are true but incomplete when you look at the scriptures in the entirety. A good piece of advice I’ve heard is never build a complete theology based solely on one verse. With this in mind I’d like to delve in a little deeper into these thoughts. There seems to be two main camps on suffering and healing. The first group believes that suffering and sin are directly linked. If you have pain in your life it’s because there’s sin, if you confess then you’ll be healed. The second is if you have enough faith then you’ll be healed, lack of faith equals no healing. The issue I have with both of these is that it’s sold as the magical cure all to assure healing, and if you don’t get healed…well that’s your fault. I agree that sin or a lack of faith can hinder healing but it’s not the pat answer to all prayers for healing. I’d like to add one reason that neither camp likes to claim. Sometimes God says “No” to the physical healing.
There’s all sorts of stories of healing in the Bible, one of my favorites is found in John 9. There’s a man who was born blind and the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” Now this question cracks me up because I’d like to know how a baby in the womb can sin. Regardless Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” Then Jesus proceeded to spit in the dirt and make mud to put on this man’s eyes to heal him. He had lived his whole life in darkness because God had a plan for him. Not because he sinned, or didn’t have enough faith. In fact he didn’t even ask Jesus to heal him, but he was part of God’s plan to reveal Himself to us.
Let’s take a look at Paul’s life. Before he started following Christ he tortured and killed Christians, thinking the whole time that he was serving God. One day God brought him to his knees (literally) and blinded him and told Paul that he was all sorts of screwed up and needed to change. He accepted this correction and God restored his vision. Do you know Paul in all the letters he wrote never even discusses this event in his life? He did however talk about a “thorn in his flesh” that God refused to heal him from. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul recognized that there are different forms of suffering. He was blinded then healed (correction), he was persecuted for teaching the words of Christ (tribulation), and he had a thorn in his flesh (trials).
My genetic condition is not due to any sin in my life, or a lack of faith, it’s a result of living in this fallen and broken world and for the time being God has decided to leave my “thorn in the flesh”. It’s the trial God has decided to use in my life and hopefully I can use it to His glory somehow. When I looked at it as discipline it caused resentment and frustration with God as a couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. When I would read about tribulation and persecution in the Bible I wouldn’t find any hope or comfort because I knew this wasn’t in direct response to my faith. I wasn’t in pain because I was being beat for the sake of Christ, I was just in pain. When my answers for physical healing weren’t being answered I began to doubt God’s love for me, my faith in His power, and my walk with Him.
A missionary came to our church once and he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Some people from these same two camps had come to him stating he just needed to claim healing in faith and he’d be healed. Others told him it was satan attacking him for doing God’s work and he needed to search his life for the hidden sins that allowed for this attack. His answer helped change my thinking. He stated cancer was due to sin in the world. When Adam and Eve first sinned it broke not just their relationship with God but all of creation. Romans 8:19-22 ”For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Creation is broken along with us and therefore there is sickness and death in the world. Once I was able to see it as a trial, just a side effect to living in this broken world, I was able to find peace in my pain, most of the time. Still haven’t perfected this but I’m able to fall back on God’s word and know He loves me and one day this will all be set right.
Even though trials are part of living in a fallen world we have hope knowing our God is bigger than they are. Sometimes instead of removing us from the trials, He decides to use them to bring us closer to Him and to purify us. God can heal us physically but sometimes the most impressive healing isn’t the physical but the spiritual. All the while I’d been praying for physical healing He had been healing me spiritually, mentally and emotionally. He’s more concerned with our soul than our body. Look at the story of Lazarus, Jesus raised him from the dead. That’s pretty amazing but guess what, he isn’t still living today. He eventually died…again. The most amazing healing is that of our soul. Because Jesus died and rose again we can be healed of our sins and spend eternity with Him where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
As always I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions or comments. Please leave them below or shoot me an e-mail.