How Trials Can Make You Better . . . Or Worst

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4).

A living dog is better than a dead lion. Or another way of putting it: better to be hopeful through trials than to give up in despair. Life is full of suffering and no matter the complaints and demands, one will always face some level of suffering. To suffer well is noble - it works as a refiners fire and brings out the best in all of us when we accept responsibility and do what we can to make life better. This sort of attitude contradicts the nagging, juvenile, entitlement temperament that’s obviously prevalent amidst most of the West. This temperament is selfishly concerned with fulfilling base desires, generally dislikes family, associates little with others who are truly in need, treats God as a genie, and is particularly demanding on client privileges, regardless of the cost to others; that is, the temperament is spoiled. It thinks it a lion but is dead inside.

Suffering isn’t to be handled tyrannically. The Apostle Paul offers a brilliant alternative (and one that he practiced, too). Here’s one way of understanding it:

Notice that a hopeful disposition is earned through enduring trials and is predicated on a strong character. The confident individual, cheerful and full of bright potential, has weathered the storms of yesterday through steady self-discipline, for endurance is a hard choice and requires mastery over the wayward desires of immediate gratification. Patience rather than haste has accompanied and, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, has also strengthened the individual through the temptations of despair. Being shielded from adversity doesn’t garner a capable personality. In fact, it causes an arrested development in which responsibility is relinquished for a youthful character, charming but hardly self-governing. The despairing soul lacks purpose, has a tough time keeping friends, is unreliable, constantly waivers, and like an afternoon sunbeam, vanishes quickly behind the solid stance of an old oak.

One last word: the trials of life were never to be suffered alone. Before sin entered the world, God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18a). This was before the days of suffering when all was right in the Garden of Eden. So if we weren’t meant to be alone then, well, we’re certainly not meant to be alone now. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” God made you and I to live life with others, and that includes the hard times. And oh, by the way, when you put your faith in God, He’s always with you. You’re never alone when you’ve got God. He can give you the endurance needed for any trial.

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

The Author of Life Solves the Problem of Evil

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed. -Jonathan Swift

Children often pose difficult questions by simply asking ‘why’. Our daughter is currently four and is satisfied with the current, simple answers that we offer her, sometimes in haste but usually befuddled ourselves, seeking to give her something that’s pragmatic, concrete and to the point. She has yet to develop an understanding of the abstract. The spiritual world is a mystery to her and as her faith grows, so too her understanding . . . but still, why evil?

It’s a good question that we’ve all wrestled with, especially when evil’s afoot in our neighborhoods and households. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he tackles the issue head on and right out of the gate:

God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them (1:18-19).

For Paul, evil happens because people choose to reject God. This is a willful act, not one born out of ignorance, done in spite of God’s revelation of His “eternal power and divine nature”  through creation (v. 20b). Many of the Ancient’s, like Paul, understood that everything has an efficient cause; that is, a creator. Aristotle outlined all that is within the tenants of the four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. If God is rejected then so too are the last causes, which then depletes our understanding of good and evil to mean survival. If Materialism is all there is then the material universe is its own efficient. Merely existing or survival is then the standard of good and evil. It’s definitely part of a working definition but not the totality of it.

Being human isn’t only about survival - we yearn for more. Paul understood this and worked out some of the behaviors that would accompany the godless soul:

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy (v. 29-31).

It should be noted that some have pretended to believe and have lived godless in the past and that some believers have succumbed to temptation. There will always be hypocrites and failures. We all are always in need of God’s grace and the grace of others, for not only do we fail to live up to God’s ways but our own. We regularly act against our conscience and trip others up (purposefully and accidentally). And why . . . because we ultimately choose to.

But we can choose otherwise.

1 John 2:2 says, “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins - and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” Our step away from God and into evil always leads us away from the Author of life. Take steps towards God today by trusting Jesus with your thoughts and actions. Trust Him with your life and receive, life!