Are Christians lacking faith if they do not prosper or are sick or have trouble?

Today’s subject will be an eye opener.  It goes against the grain of those prosperity gospeller’s who ply their trade on God TV and elsewhere. We are told by them that only good is in store for those who are Christians.  We are told that problems simply go away because we belong to God.  We are told that there is no sickness, no pain this side of Heaven that God will not heal.  We are told that we will live abundantly in every green field and that we will have money to spare.  And if this is not the case then we are without faith.  This is a mindset that is difficult to overcome and is a very typical western view of how God should be to His children: the One who is on demand like our Sky Boxes, TiVos and Freeview boxes.  It is difficult to overcome because those who have believed these things can only feel condemned that their lives are not rosy and comfortable or instead are snug because it is all going their way and so, therefore, are of great faith.  Millions of Christians around the world think it is their right to have everything go their way.

My question is three-fold:  Do bad things happen to good people?  Is there something wrong with good people if things go pear-shaped?  When trouble comes who is at fault?

Now I have said before there is no one who is good except God – but I am addressing those who have been made righteous in God’s sight.  Do bad things happen to God’s people and is there something wrong with them if things don’t go right?

Let’s read from Scripture and see what it has to say:

Job 2:1–10; Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” 4 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.” 7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Notice that Job did not sin by saying that adversity came from God.  In another translation it says: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (ESV)

So, should we only expect good from God and no bad to come our way?  Today it even sounds heretical to say that the trouble we have actually comes from God.  But this is what Job says and he did not sin by saying that – meaning he was right in his estimation even though we, unlike him, have the insight to see that Satan was the one to actually cause all the pain and hurt he suffered – but this was allowed by God.

But this is so Old Testament, right?  I mean, it can’t be the case now that we are saved by Jesus Christ, can it?

1 Peter 1:3–9; Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

James 1:2–4; My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

You can’t be serious, can you?  Peter mentions that some may have had trials but James says when you fall into trials…it seems that if we have come out of trouble and not having trouble now we are guaranteed that trouble is on the way.  Out of Jesus’ own words He says:

John 16:33b; In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

If we have no challenge and no trials it can only lead to a bland Christian life; a life that does not cause us to rely upon God.  We naturally do not seek God when things are well and comfortable.  Faith grows in the crucible of fire, of trouble and trials, where we are forced to rely upon God even when the circumstances can seem unbearable.

1 Peter 4:12–13,19; Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Suffer according to the will of God.  There it is again! To re-emphasise;

Job 42:11; Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.

suffering

Even after the trouble was over it left its mark on Job… but notice that others helped in comforting him.  We may know someone now who is going through the mill.  When they have come out the other side we need to be those who draw alongside and help where we can.  When we, ourselves, have been through the fire then we can empathise with those who also suffer…and this world is full of suffering.

Let us beware of how we respond to those in troubling times and not be judgmental and be like those whom Paul saw:

Galatians 4:13–14; You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

This just goes against the whole grain of prosperity gospeller’s preaching.  Even Paul was not well.  It would really seem that we are not promised that anything will go right for us this side of Heaven, if anything we are promised the opposite.

God does give us faith to trust Him for healing and other things and most of us have experienced such things and know others who have too but these things are not guaranteed to happen every time.  God however gives us faith to handle the different situations when they arise if we are willing to receive it – and sometimes it is for a complete miracle.

We have gained the idea in the last forty years that somehow we can demand of God our rights as Christians just like people are all the more demanding of their rights in today’s world.  But I think we are mistaken as to what those rights are.  We do have a number of rights: we have the right to become sons of God as long as we believe on Jesus, we have the right to be forgiven as long as we have forgiven others and confessed our sin – these rights come with conditions attached – and these are gifts from God through the suffering of Jesus.  We also have the right to suffer, a right that not too many Christians want to claim I expect but it comes with great rewards though not in this life.

Hear Jesus:

Mark 10:28–30; Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” 29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.

We really do have it upside down; we are not gaining anything until we have left everything – which means that anything we do gain in this world will be held onto with very light hands because we realise their true worth.  And there is the bit we don’t want – persecution.

God may tell us that we shall be healed or, indeed, we have faith for healing so that is a promise to hold onto until it happens but unless this is so our faith is nothing more than presumption.  Earlier we saw that Paul was sick, we read that Job was sick, in Acts and the Epistles we discover others who were sick such as Timothy and he was advised to take medicine (rather than claim his healing – and this by Apostle Paul!).  If our great apostles needed healing and were sick from time to time are we to expect that we will live a sick-free life?

2 Corinthians 12:10; For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (ESV)

Paul is content in troubles and in whatever happens.

Perhaps we are surprised because we know

Romans 8:28; And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

And

Jeremiah 29:11; For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Both verses are absolutely true and are God’s promises to us but what do we think this good is or this future and hope?  Do we think that God’s good for us means monetary rewards?  Do we think that the future that God is giving us is a life of luxury?  Did we not hear that the things of this world are at enmity with God?  Sometimes God will bless us with these things and indeed we should be exceedingly thankful if so and to use what we have been given for God’s service.  But as said before we are to treat these things with light hands;

1 Timothy 6:17-19; Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,  19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

If we were to look up the word ‘riches’ in the Bible we would find that riches of the world are mentioned with disdain but when it refers to riches for a Christian it refers to our inheritance; to the knowledge of Jesus; to the riches we have in glory.  Not at all what the world would want to hear or our faith preachers and their adherents.   Earlier in the chapter Paul says:

1 Timothy 6:9; But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.

forgoodDo all things work for the good of those who are God’s?  Bernard Gilpin, accused of heresy before Bishop Bonner, set out for London for trial. His favorite maxim was, “All things are for the best.” On his journey, he broke his leg. “Is all for the best now?” jested a scorner. “I still believe so,” he replied.   And so it proved, for before he was able to resume his journey, Queen Mary died. And instead of going to London to be burned, he returned home in triumph.

We don’t know what we have missed by the fact trouble has come our way…it maybe a worse calamity would have come our way us. Just because things don’t seem to be going well does not mean that things could have not have been worse or we escaped temptation that would have ensnared us.  God uses the things that happen for his purposes.  God sees the whole picture whereas we are like fish in a goldfish bowl only aware of our own situation – and even then we are not truly aware.

God does promise all things for good but it may not be what accountants call ‘tangible assets’.  Tangible assets are those that you can value with money and can touch with our hands: things like cars or computers or money. Most often, though, the good we receive is an intangible asset – something that is hard to put a value on because these are assets you cannot actually put your hands on.  These intangible assets are

Galatians 5:22–23; …the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.

These intangible assets become evident to everyone even if one is poor or sick or homeless or jobless or friendless or possessionless.  But the greatest riches we shall enjoy will be once we cross over the Jordan, so to speak.  The Bible makes it clear we should be encouraging each other about the fact Jesus is coming back.  Why encourage?  Because this world has mainly troubles…and when He comes back He will set everything right…He will give us a reward and riches that nothing can corrupt but above all we will be with Him forever.

2 Corinthians 4:17; For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

When bad comes our way we are not to demand our rights but seek God and allow Him to do His work in us, so that the end result is a greater trust in Him with an even greater reward.  It maybe that God will give healing or wealth among other things but maybe he won’t. We can say:

“I know that God has a purpose in this. I know that God will bring me through this. I know that God is a good and loving Father and that He is doing a good and eternal work in my life.” (Charles Stanley)

Through it all God never leaves us or forsakes us.  Like the footprints poem He carries us.  He is with us through thick and thin.  Remember that story of Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace?  Who was there in the fire with them? (see Daniel 3:1-30)

I will end with this poem by Walter Knight who it would seem knows something of trials and pains:

vice

Pressed out of measure and pressed to all length,

Pressed so intensely it seems beyond strength;

Pressed in the body and pressed in the soul,

Pressed in the mind till the dark surges roll;

Pressure by foes, and pressure by friends,

Pressure on pressure, till life nearly ends,

Pressed into loving the staff and the rod;

Pressed into knowing no helper but God;

Pressed into liberty where nothing clings,

Pressed into faith for impossible things;

Pressed into living a life in the Lord,

Pressed into living a Christ-life outpoured!

All quotations from the Bible are NKJV unless otherwise stated.