Not long ago, I was driving my two children and some friends to school, when I noticed that one of the friends was snizzling and coughing … just a little. My inner “drab … oh rats” went off. Suddenly, I started to feel just a “little uncomfortable” about that little 4-year old boy sitting next to my 6-year old son. Would the 4-year old boy pass his germs on to my son? Suddenly, I thought of a ‘great’ idea: Have the 4-year old snizzling, coughing, boy, move and sit next to someone else, as long as it wasn’t one of my two children! But the thought also occured to me (at one and the same time, really) that, if I were to do that, then I would be exposing one of the other children to this boy’s snizzling and coughing, and that would be a rather selfish thing to do.
It was as though, on the one hand, the devil was speaking to me in one ear, saying, “Now go ahead and do it.” But on the other hand, the Holy Spirit was whispering in the other ear, saying, “Now don’t you even think of it.” And so the two thoughts passed through my mind, really, in an instant. And then, I remembered the lesson that God had taught me not many days before that. Now a few days before that, I had gone through an experience, in which I believe God was trying to teach me a lesson, that “bad things” are not always “bad things” in the end. Depending on the circumstances (such as I was in while driving my children and their friends to school), we may not be a position to really “do anything about it.” We have to “wait.” We have to “suffer through it all until the misery passes.” And then, we may even see a great blessing come out of it all … but not without first being patient and kind in the midst of it all.
In other circumstances, however, it may actually be entirely possible to “get free” from our misery, and that without sinning or being unkind, either. For example, if I was standing in line at a store, right next to someone who was wheezing and coughing and snizzling, I would have the opportunity to “get free.” I could easily “drop out of line” and pop into another line. I could do that graciously. It would not necessarily be unwise for me to do that at all. After all, many times in the Bible, God commands that sick people be separated (or quarantined) from others. We know now that this is because of the risk of spreading germs: “… then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague of the scall seven days.” (Leviticus 13:31) Again, Paul writes, “… if thou mayest be made free, [do so].” (1 Corinthians 7:21) Although the context here applies to slavery, I believe it can rightfully be applied to this example as well.
Yet at other times it is not possible to immediately gain our freedom. Similar to the “prison” that I felt when I was driving the children to school that day, a man or a woman may “earnestly” desire a better job. However, it may not be immediately possible to find that job. He or she must persist in the job that they are in (as long as this is not an abusive circumstance). A person in any type of “prison,” for that matter, desires to obtain freedom. He or she prays for it earnestly and may not obtain that freedom for some time. God has a purpose in allowing this. Sometimes it is to show just how gracious he is, compared with how awful “slavery to sin and bondage” is. A good example is provided for us in the book of 2 Chronicles, in which Israel is in slavery to this evil ruler Shishak. God could deliver them speedily, but instead, because of his divine purposes, decides not to. He has another idea. The “bondage” will lead to character development!
“And when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them [My people Israel], but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless they shall be his servants; that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” (2 Chronicles 12:7-8)
The key to understanding why exactly God would allow an evil ruler to “persist” in this situation is, I think, seen in the statement found in verse 8, “… that they may know my [God’s] service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” In other words, God is saying, “I have put you in this prison for a reason. You are not getting out until you really learn the lesson about who it is that I am. Because of my love for you, I am allowing you to go through this difficult trial, that you may understand just how good I am, that, when it is all over, you will be able to say, ‘what a difference between serving God, and serving anyone else. I gladly choose God.'” That, really, is what this statement is all about.
I want to caution people at this point in thinking that a ‘cure’ for all ills of the world is simply to be obedient to God and then God will remove the germs, or the bacteria, or the evil rulers that are in our midst (such as this ruler Shishak). This is, in a sense, a type of “MacDonald’s” theology — simply “give the word”, and 30 seconds later out comes what you asked for! But patience and perserverance is the “name of the game” when it comes to God’s kingdom. We may find ourselves in a rather “difficult” situation … a prison if you will … and it may not be because we are sinning at all, but, rather, because God has simply decreed that we should “learn character” through the experience. On the other hand, if we fail to act in a godly, upright, manner under such circumstances, then I think it is fair to say that we will certainly “prolong our suffering” needlessly.
No, but rather, what is God doing in all of this? He is developing character. And once one lesson has been learned — before you know it, it is time to move on to the next character-building lesson! Is sin the reason that we run into these trials time and time again? No, but character development is.