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The idea that an infinitely good God will never allow sufferings in the lives of His children must be rejected. Consider Job’s apt response to his wife in his adversity, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2: 10).  The aged patriarch knew fully well that behind the afflictions that he suffered was the very hand of God – that every event in his life was not by chance or fate, but by careful deliberation of his faithful and loving heavenly Father. 

One key responsibility of Christian parents is to bring up their child in the fear and nurture of the Lord.  Where necessary, they will apply the rod of discipline so that the child will not walk in the pathway of sin.  With our sinful, depraved nature, we often sin against the Lord.  As we engage in this battle against sin in our lives, there is a not a moment when we do not need the chastening hand of the Lord to keep us in the strait and narrow way: “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee” (Deut 8: 5).

Just as there are different ways of correcting a child, there are also different forms of chastisement that the Lord may use for our sanctification.  Let us consider the various ways of divine correction, that we may rightly respond to them.

The most common kind of suffering is a result of sins committed: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (I Pet 4: 15).  The Apostle Peter stated it as a matter of fact that a transgression would bring about its unpleasant effects: a murderer shall be charged for murder, a thief for stealing, and any deeds that are hurtful or have brought inconvenience to others shall be frowned upon. 

“Is there any sin I have yet to repent of in my life?” should be the first question we ask ourselves when we are faced with sufferings – whether mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.  If we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of it, then we ought to confess it to God and repent without delay. In God’s time, the suffering may be lifted from us as it has fulfilled its role of chastisement: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (Jas 5: 14-15).

But what if the reason for our sufferings is not due to personal sin? The Bible does speak of sufferings of the innocent, that is, suffering because of natural calamities or when we belong to a larger group which is paying the price of the sins of others. 

For example, the ill-effects of an alcoholic or drug-abusing father will bring about strain in his marriage and financial problems to his family. Should the Christian children or wife then resent their unbelieving father or husband for his actions, and also blame God for them? No, they must never do so, but trust in God Who does all things well. They may even witness his conversion if the Lord wills. “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives… For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands” (I Pet 3:1, 5). 

Young Joseph was also an innocent victim of his brothers’ wicked scheme against his life. They envied him because of the way their father Jacob favoured him the most. When they had the opportunity, they hatched an evil plot to get rid of him once and for all by selling him into a foreign land. But by the grace and sovereignty of God, Joseph was delivered time after time. 

Eventually, he was even made second-in-charge by Pharaoh over all of Egypt. Joseph’s life was certainly not a bed of roses, but one of sharp thorns. He was sold off, framed, imprisoned, and almost forgotten by the chief butler whose dreams he had interpreted. Yet, he continued to trust in the Lord. His final testimony and assurance to his brothers was that God had a higher purpose for their past wickedness: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50: 20). Had Joseph blamed God for allowing his many afflictions, he would not have been greatly used and blessed by the Lord.

Finally, even as Jesus Christ our Saviour suffered while He ministered on earth, so we who are His disciples and followers must also partake of our sufferings with perseverance and hope. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Pet 4: 12-13). 

Dearly beloved, as Christians who desire to live a life of holiness and to walk in the steps of our Saviour, we should not wonder when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Let us then remember these words of the Lord to His disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn 15: 18-19). Let us not presume upon God’s grace and forgiveness if there be any unrepentant sin in us.  May we be like Joseph who suffered in many ways but determined in his heart not to sin against God (Gen 39: 9).

– Pr Kelvin Li