Adversity: It's role in the life of the believer, and what it reveals about God's character

Being part of a culture and society that avoids adversity at great cost, I thought it would be interesting to get others perspectives. I’m especially interested in hearing from my brothers and sisters who do not view scripture through western North American eyes.

I don’t have a question specifically, but I’m asking for participation in helping to build a theology of adversity. This includes adversity in all it’s forms such as suffering, pain, oppression, affliction, loss, etc.

I’m asking for a clear and concise thesis regarding adversity that can be supported by a scripture passage. Then a brief summary of how the passage supports the thesis statement. After this, please feel free to share any personal experiences relating to the topic. I would love to hear them. There is no limit.

My hope is that we can build this together, and bring our own rich insights and experiences to share with one another.

I’ll begin with a couple of examples just so we’re clear on the format.

Thanks in advance everyone!

  1. Adversity makes us sensitive to the suffering of others

    • Deuteronomy 24:17-22. “You shall remember that you were a slave…”
  2. God uses adversity for spiritual formation
    
    • Genesis 50:19-20. Joseph recognized God’s hand in all his sufferings.
    • II Corinthians 4:8-12. Adversity is intended to refine us, not destroy us.
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Hi Ken,

Thank you for your thoughts of getting perspective on how we view adversity.

I would say that Adversity shakes us to the core because it challenges our beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world - Scripture : Psalm 90:12 = So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. We live with little awareness that life is short.

Secondly, Adversity may show us that we are vulnerable, thus, we need a Savior. Scripture: Joshua 1:9 = Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." and Deuteronomy 31:6,8 = 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Blessings,

Elsie

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James invites us to “consider it all a joy” when the hard times come upon us. Like much of Scripture, this is, on the face of it, counterintuitive. Who enjoys suffering? But James is not saying that there’s no pain, rather that, in light of Eternity, it’s all worth it. Proven Character is the result. This is the fruit of a life submitted to Him at all cost, willingly enduring the Cross, knowing thet the reward is eternal.

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@kmoesker , first hi ken! Great to see you on here!
Really enjoy your first question what a wonderful topic to think of, as Christians.
adversity- difficulties/misfortune.
I wonder how often we take into account our own adding to our difficulties at times, and yet what a blessing it is that even in our prideful mistakes and adversity he works all things for his glory and our Good! Romans 8:28
This is something in my own life I cling to, as otherwise fear would tend to creep in and take away all strength to stand firm. Ephesians 6 gives us such specific directions on how we are to stand in His might! Giving us application for who our battles are truly against, reminding us of how we win these battles in our lives. With truth, Christ’s righteousness, peace with God, faith in Gods ultimate power and sovereignty, salvation, Gods word, perseverance in continually proclaiming the gospel!
It has been an incredible mystery unfolding to me the new desires that come with being a new creation in Christ. To see God mould us from the inside out is truly remarkable. It should be of great encouragement that as we go out doing his will, he takes personal interest in cleansing even more of his ‘ ‘temple’ so we can be even more pleasing Romans 12/2 Tim 2:21. This transformation we are guaranteed will take our whole life! I fondly look at Stephens final moments on this earth, Acts 6-7 V6:10 They could not dispute his wisdom. He then boldly tells of their need for repentance. All the while God giving him the very look of an angel! And then he boldly declares being able to see Jesus and asks for his persecutors to be forgiven!!!
If this isn’t ultimate adversity!
The whole point of us receiving good things from the father, is so we can go and do his will through out the land. Give us our daily bread, so we may be apart of seeing your kingdom come. We see Stephen so transformed from the inside out throughout his sanctification process that he is chosen to serve Gods church, he is given such heavenly wisdom he cannot be disputed, his very appearance is changed physically, he opens scripture up to those around him, and then he is martyred, and while dying his very final statement resemble the very one he so intensely served! This is my desire. All these transformations! I long to see all else laid aside for my saviour!
I can not begin to express who I was apart from trials, making me face the evil that lay under my own flesh, and then the continued trials that call me to trust God and his action plans over my own. Starting first most with his word and then with prayer! I have watched mountains move and dead people come to life! I desire to see even more of His spirit work through my pain and suffering if it means one more life, or one more of my own transformations that needs to happen!!! Thankyou for the opportunity to express the very real joy we possess in great trial! Never stop being thankful!
All blessings to you as you face your own adversity!
Abbi(sorry I am not from anywhere cooler) haha

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Thanks for your insights Dean.
So, if suffering and adversity have such incredible value, why do I (we) have such an aversion to it? Is it cultural or simply human nature? It seems to me that suffering is the normal way of things and the apostles even encourage us to embrace it. In fact, God’s plan of redemption involved suffering. You would think there would be a easier way.
Is it possible that we need adversity to flourish?

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Some keen insights here Elsie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I especially appreciated your first thesis. Adversity does have a way of forcing us to focus on reality with laser-like precision.

If I may, I’d like to add to your second thesis one of my own insights:

God uses adversity to break our attachment to things we depend on.

  • Exodus 14:10-12 (The Israelite’s at the Red Sea)
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Hi Abbi. Thank you for really leaning into the topic and drawing from a deep well of experience. It’s always encouraging to hear stories of transformation, renewal, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

Question: For the believer, is adversity the reward in itself or, the means to an end?
In other words, does suffering have to have a purpose?

Ill leave you with this thought.

Suffering is a way for God to show his love for us. He is completely devoted to our salvation. He will use whatever means necessary to that end.

  • Hebrews 12:4-11

Blessings,

Ken

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I would love to hear @mmingus36 thoughts on this second question you posed, For the believer, is adversity the reward in itself or, the means to an end? does suffering have a purpose?

you may disagree with me, i am not sure how well thought out i am, but i will give it my best go. I read the hebrews passage you placed and i understand the love of the Father that desires to see us purified and sanctified.

So I believe the answer is yes, always. There are different reasons for ‘sin’ in our lives. maybe its something we are born with or an accident that we had no control over, either way I do believe it is all under Gods sovereignty. Acts 17:26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us.
As you stated through the passage of Hebrews, God is concerned with us being sanctified. So very much so I believe he disciplines those he loves and with the right perspective (softened heart) we allow these hard ships to transform us to be more like our saviour. 2 peter 1:3-9 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our Knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
I have heard this sometimes voiced to the affect of, are we saved?..or is it that we are being saved? and both i believe can be said to be true.
But i also believe there is something very real to be said for God desiring his gospel to be preached in an authentic way. To show authenticity we are stripped further down at times to show the strength of the hope we cling to, and that the very person of Jesus we grow in our longing for more and more. I think of 2 corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-always carrying about in the boy the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may manifested in our mortal flesh. so then death is working in us, but life in you.
This is to show how through our adversity God reaches into the lives of those watching and transforms hearts, it also sets up the proper program for discipleship that Jesus calls us into and preforms through us. I know if i didnt see the changes happening in my Dad i’d still be a mess, but it was only through seeing his steadiness with God that I became open to the things he was trying to pour into me…otherwise i fear to most people we just become another clanging cymbol (and we have plenty of that in our era).
The passage in Romans 9:22-23 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
This is kind of an opposite view of the western church…but if God is to justly ‘show his wrath’ would it not make sense that these people who deny him Lordship need to be shown guilty of their crime? and can they be shown guilty if they were not by us confronted with their need of a saviour and then both refused and then sometimes became so violent that they became charged with massive crime? so sometimes we are winning others to christ through the adversity, and GLORY BE TO GOD!! but other times we are willingly participating to allow those who deny Christ to heap burning coals upon their heads Proverbs 21-22 for GODS GLORY.
I know as my Love for God grows naturally my love for fellow humanity grows as well, when i picture someone i just met in hell, it is propelling me into telling them the gospel. Because if i should receive persecution for Christs name in this life time, but not have to spend an eternity looking at all the people i had opportunity to tell, i do not want to have their blood on my head. Ezekiel 33:4
Hebrews 11:35b-40 Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these have obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart form us.
If we claim to know a truth, but live in hypocrisy. Not willing to forgo the comforts of this life to give to those who are lacking, either it be eternal life, or daily comforts; we make our Lord’s discipleship program a fail, and it should be a fearful thing to meet with our Lord on judgement day.
Galatians 6:7-8 do not be deceived: God is not mocked for whatever one sows, that he also will reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.
Most of this has been recently impressed upon me as i struggle with laying down my desire for people to ‘like’ me or think well of me and start getting about the Lords work in a way that is more about Him and less about me.
feel free to challenge me…like i said, i am not entirely sure but this is where theologically i believe to be true today.
abbi

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James never said trials are a riot
Only that the fruit is worth any suffering we go through. Romans 8:28-29. This is what He has in mind.

Hello Ken,

I think @Ladymanz has given a very good case for this subject. Suffering is indeed a work of sanctification in our lives, but I think it is more than that as well. But when we look at the verses mentioned by Abby, such as Hebrews 11, we see the dedication to the truth that many people have had for Christ. Christ told His disciples plainly in John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as it’s own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Jesus told His disciples very clearly what they could expect for loving and following Him. He told them that the world would hate them. At this time in history, this was not simply a call to expect to be disliked or spit on, the disciples in that moment would have understood that Jesus was telling them they would be killed for what they believed. The culture then was pagan in many aspects and, despite some protection that Jews were afforded for a time by the Roman Empire, anyone who did not conform to pagan beliefs, was often treated very horribly and killed very violently. So, the disciples knew that Jesus was telling them that they would suffer, and die, for Him. Today, we apply this verse to ourselves and it often does not mean we should expect death. We may lose friends, or be called names, or looked at with disdain, but death is not something we typically experience as Christians in countries such as the United States. Still, even today, there are many who go to their deaths in countries like the Middle East, because they are committed to Christ.

To get to the question that you asked: For the believer, is adversity the reward in itself or, the means to an end? In other words, does suffering have to have a purpose?

I want to look at a few verses real quick before we answer that. The first is from James 1:2-3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Acts 5:41, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

1 Peter 4:12-16, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him glorify God in that name.”

What we see from these verses is a few different perspectives on suffering, yet in all, we really see very little difference in the attitude we are to have. We should “count it all joy,” and “rejoice,” and “rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” Trials are never described as enjoyable, and it never says that we should enjoy suffering, but what we see here in these verses is that we should see through the suffering to the good work being done by Christ, and for Christ. Is suffering the reward in itself? I would not say so, but the focus of our minds in suffering is one of the rewards. If our minds are turned to Christ, despite the worst of circumstances, that in itself is a reward. That we are being refined and trained to trust in Him in all situations. Anyone can trust God in the good times, but when the darkness falls over you, do you grope for your own way through? Or do you feel for His hand, so that He may guide you?

In other words, can you trust God with the lights off? Can you recognize that even when you stumble against something in the dark, that He still has your hand? It may hurt, Christ never promises that we will go through our lives in perfect comfort, but He promises that He will always be there, and that is part of the reward of suffering, our learning that we can trust Him no matter what. Even when we can’t seem to understand why these things are happening at times.

So yes, suffering is a means to, not simply an end, but to the ends. Suffering produces in us the character of Christ, that is, it perfects us and sanctifies us, and helps us to grow, if we will only trust in Him and allow Him to work within us. No one ever grows when they are in their comfort zone.

However, I believe that our suffering holds an entire other purpose that we often forget to consider. In the verses from 1 Peter 4 we see that we should “rejoice and be glad when HIS glory is revealed. So, I see suffering as holding a twofold purpose. One: it produces within us the character that we are to have as Christians, it builds our strength to be able to serve Him, and it produces within us perseverance. The second, and I believe the most important purpose: It glorifies God.

Thomas Watson put it this way, We glorify God in a high degree when we suffer for God, and seal the gospel with our blood.
John 21: I8, I9. ‘When thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not: this spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.’
God’s glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs. Isa 24: I5. ‘Wherefore glorify the Lord in the fires.’ Micaiah was in the prison, Isaiah was sawn asunder, Paul beheaded, Luke hanged on an olive tree; thus did they, by their death, glorify God. The sufferings of the primitive saints did honour to God, and made the gospel famous in the world.
What would others say? See what a good master they serve, and how they love him, that they will venture the loss of all in his service. The glory of Christ’s kingdom does not stand in worldly pomp and grandeur, as other kings’; but it is seen in the cheerful sufferings of his people. The saints of old ‘loved not their lives to the death.’ Rev 12: 2: They embraced torments as so many crowns.
God grant we may thus glorify him, if he calls us to it. Many pray, ‘Let this cup pass away,’ but few, ‘Thy will be done.’

Thomas Watson - A Body of Divinity

The most important reward of our suffering, it’s most wonderful and glorious purpose, is to bring glory to God. We are to be joyful in our sufferings because we do grow from them, but more importantly, when people see us joyously going through our trials and giving glory to God, it turns their minds and thoughts to Him too. It brings Him glory. That should be our ultimate purpose in all things, is to glorify our King and to serve Him by declaring His glory through all of our lives.

Suffering is a means to ends, and it most definitely has a purpose. Sometimes we cannot see the purpose, and we may be hurt or frustrated, but if we trust in Christ, He will bring us through. He has begun a good work in us, and He will bring it to completion(Philippians 1:6). Let us focus on the most important aspect in all trials and tribulations, that we would be willing to say to our God, “Thy will be done.”

Soli deo Gloria - To God alone be the Glory

I hope that helps to answer your question Ken. I love the subject here because it is so vital that we understand the truths behind suffering and trials. Thank you for raising this important topic and if you have any other questions please ask them. God bless you and thank you.

Matthew

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Hello! Ken,
Regarding other perspective in formulating Theology of Adversity, permit me now on this discourse. I will be very succinct in my articulation but supporting perspectives theologically and existential (reference to self).
Bible Ref: Joseph’s story in Gen 38.
Joseph’s life was marked with many forms of adversity in the narrative. There were afflictions, pain, and the various categories of which you have afore named could as well be extrapolated from. Yet, the interesting part is that, they were all part of God’s eternal counsel. As he lived within the providence of God’s grace, we see in the end the glory of God, and how that God uses adversities as His supreme tool in Joseph’s life.

Now, my peraonal story: I am the last but one child of my father and the last child of my mother. My father was once a high ranked officer in the Ghana Prison’s service. In this sense, I could have a relatively easier life like the rest of my siblings but that never happened. My dad and mum shared the two children they had because they did divorce. I lived with my mum alone and did not even know the first name of my father for years up until my early teenage years I would say. Life with my mum was really had and the first time my dad saw me he was very unhappy. Details of all that stocked my life, time will not permit. But my mum raised me in the fear of God and into the knowledge of Christ. During my undergraduate studies in Ghana, my mother was kidnapper and murdered. Actually, that was the reason why I began living with my father because I had to changed the community I was then living. This means that I did not have friends anymore. Now, here is my point, although I still have the memories of my abiding scars, my mother went to the ONE who alone embodies love. I am currently living in the Netherlands and hoping for a PhD offer in Theology. As I look back into my history, I cannot miss the point that the Lord allowed many bitter pills and yet with HIS grace equipped me in obedience even when it hurt. In sum, adveristy is a beautiful tool carved by the mercies of God for all regenerate souls. Of course, most likely, we may not like it. But for all whom the Lord loves, He chastine with the anvil of adversity. Hopefully, this suffice a brief contribution. The Lord bless us all and help us not to buy ourselves the ease When HE has willed for us the place of adversity. This is because it is altogether good and will the God of all flesh not always do that which is right?

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Really loved your analogy of stumbling around in the dark but taking Christ’s hand and Christ’s kingdom does not stand in worldly pomp and grandeur as other kings but is seen in the cheerful sufferings of his people. Thanks for adding in

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Excellent contributions from everyone. Our Theology of Adversity is growing:

  1. God uses adversity for spiritual formation
    - Genesis 50:19-20. Joseph recognized God’s hand in all his sufferings.
    - 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. Adversity is intended to refine us, not destroy us.

  2. Resilience in the face of adversity can be a source of encouragement to others.
    - Hebrews 12:1-3. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Thank you all so much!

I’ve found it more comfortable at times to discuss something when I treat it as an abstract concept. Much more difficult when I put flesh on it. Consider Job 1-3 paying special attention to Job’s lament in chapter 3. Take the time to really enter into the story with Job and experience his loss. Remember that we know the whole story, Job did not. What might Job have to say regarding the role of adversity and what it reveals about God’s character?

Hi @kmoesker, everyone. Appreciated your thoughts and it’s very timely during the times we are in right now. The uncertainty and disruption we all face brought about by this pandemic provides a backdrop for this discussion and i hope you wont mind me sharing on this.

When i read all the verses shared in this post as well as the perspectives on the purpose of adversity and suffering, i am reminded of Nassim Taleb’s book Anti-Fragile in 2012 (i highly recommend reading it). It was fascinating to learn that while we have words to describe things that break in the face of pressure (fragile, sensitive, weak) and those that can withstand them (resilient, strong, unbending, unbreakable) we have nothing to describe those that not only flourish but get better and stronger when subjected to external pressures, hence the word “anti-fragile”.

Through this lens, i would like to suggest that the purpose of suffering and adversity is to constantly remind us that no matter how smart, technologically advanced, rich or whatever we have at our disposal, there is very little in life that we can actually control. It is in that state of humble acceptance and surrender that shapes our identity as we learn to put our hope and trust in God more and more and in the process become more “anti-fragile” through each adversity and suffering.

Blessings everyone :slight_smile:

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@jaywalking1968
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