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The tragedy man

Unsplash/Joshua Earle
Unsplash/Joshua Earle

A guy I was chatting with a while back began to relay all the wonderful things that were going on in his job and with his family and then went on to say how that’s a sign of God’s favor in his life. He concluded by stating that if a believer is not experiencing such events, and instead is encountering struggles and pain, it’s an indicator of the Lord’s disapproval regarding how they’re living.  

I bit my tongue and for some reason chose against debating his not-so-subtle prosperity gospel mindset; maybe I just lacked the energy that day. It certainly wasn’t the worst case of it I’d encountered.

Many years prior, when my first wife was battling the cancer that would ultimately take her life, a woman visited her and said that her disease was her responsibility and if she only had enough faith, her cancer would evaporate. Even after I explained to my wife how and why the woman was a theological whack-a-doodle, I could tell it still bothered her.  

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That unlearned gal took a page out of Eliphaz’s book when he was telling Job that all his troubles were his fault: “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it” (Job 4:7-8).

Has that ever been you? Whether it’s your own voice speaking to you or someone else’s, do you look at your overflowing plateful of problems and think not only does everyone and everything else seem to be against you, but God is as well and maybe you’re to blame for it all?      

To be sure, Scripture speaks about God’s corrective measures on our life for uncensored sin. For example, the writer of Hebrews says, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline … He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:7, 10).

But the idea of a troubled-filled life being a sign of living outside God’s will is poppycock. A good example is the guy who wrote most of the New Testament.

Now what?   

I doubt you’d argue against that the Apostle Paul was someone whose life was completely directed by God, i.e., he was a person totally enveloped in God’s will. And yet I’m betting there’s never been someone who found himself shrieking out “now what!?” more often as problem after problem piled up on him like a heavy snowfall.

One of the headaches Paul faced was that certain members of the church believed all his troubles were a witness to his being out of God’s favor and therefore not a leader to be followed. In his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul attacks these charges in multiple ways and doesn’t shy away from spelling out what his life was like.  

For starters, there was waking up to this most every day: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed … To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:8, 11-13).

Not exactly rainbows and sunshine, eh?

Then you’ve got all the good times that came from his missionary journeys where: “[I was] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:23-28).

Add to all that his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).

Sounds rough all right, but surely Paul never got to the point where he wanted to die or thought he would did he? Well … “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8).

With all that, it’s not unlikely to think that Paul was given the nickname “the tragedy man” by those who knew him best. But the Apostle’s life is a testimony to the fact that hardships are not necessarily a sign of God’s wrath, but rather a tool He uses in conforming all of us to the image of Christ.

The fact that difficulties mold us into something better is something not lost even on a few of the early Greek thinkers like dramatist Aeschylus who wrote; “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Awful is the word for it sometimes, but every now and then we look back and understand what He accomplished with His chisel’s painful work and know that, as the tragedy man wrote, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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