“…looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright”. (Hebrews 12:15-16 NKJV)

If we believe in a sovereign God, it follows that nothing comes into our lives without His direction. But when any of those things are unpleasant, it’s easy to feel abandoned and get bitter. Why would God allow this to happen?

The Bible is full of promises that God will uphold us, provide for us, and that He keeps His promises. But at the same time both life and the Bible show us that God’s people have endured tremendous pain and troubles. Some of God’s most devoted servants have been persecuted, suffered horrible illness, been falsely accused, and gone to early, sometimes ignominious graves. In a word, they seem to have at least as many problems as anyone else.

Do we believe He’s really in charge? In our heart of hearts I think we doubt it sometimes. It’s a trust issue, and sometimes that faith is really tested. If enough trouble comes our way we can get bitter.

Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good to those who love Him”. “All things” means Christians experience the same trials and tribulations as everyone else. It’s just that in the believer’s case, God uses these things on our behalf to change us and build the nature of Christ into our hearts in practical fact.

Even Christ Himself had to be “made perfect” by His sufferings:  “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings”. (Hebrews 2:10 NKJV) But how could God need to be made perfect?

I think it’s that before then, God had never suffered as a human. He couldn’t taste death until he incarnated and submitted to His Father, even against His very human desire to avoid the pain and humiliation of the cross. To experience and submit to mortality with all its humiliation, harm and death was key to God’s own identifying with humanity. God suffered and died – just like us.

And if we would truly follow Christ, this learned submission is key. For those who would be made like their Lord, even as He submitted to the Father, so must we; there is no other way. It’s that continued trust and submission to all that comes that is the proof that we are really His, and this learned attitude is part of what changes our hearts in practical fact.

And so we give thanks for everything, and worship even in the midst of trial. You are being broken; you are being treated as a child of God. And therein lies the deep joy that we can experience even when we hurt.