More about the Christian life

The Purpose of Adversity

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
—Galatians 6:9-10, NIV

It is easy to grow weary in well-doing. It is hard to wait for the harvest.

One of the problems of living like a Christian is that it is easy to imagine a circumstance under which it isn’t practical. Jesus tells me that I am never to reciprocate an evil deed, if someone does evil to me, I am to retaliate with kindness. But if I always turn the other cheek, I’m liable to get beaten up; if I always go the extra mile, I’m liable to be abused; if I always bless those who curse me, they will think I am a wimp and take advantage of me mercilessly.

So some people think there are limits; that there is a point at which a Christian can rightly draw the line, when a Christian can put a halt to all this cheek-turning and demand justice. In fact, Jesus’ disciples saw the need for such limits themselves. They understood Jesus’ teaching that they were obligated to forgive whoever repents and seeks forgiveness, but they wondered what they should do if the wrongdoer wises up and takes advantage of this genuine forgiveness with sham repentance. If the penalty for wrongdoing can be erased simply by saying, “I’m sorry,” then some wrongdoers are going to say they are sorry when they are not, just to escape the consequences of their deeds. So in Luke 17:3-4, they asked Jesus what to do if someone takes advantage of them in this way. Jesus’ answer wasn’t very comfortable. He didn’t give them the escape clause we’d all like to hear. Just as we are to respond to evil deed with good deeds and to repentance with forgiveness, we are to return insincerity with sincerity and fakery with genuineness.

So now we squirm under the implications of this teaching as much when we read about it as the disciples must have squirmed when they heard it from Jesus’ own lips. The protest forms within our minds: “But Master, if I do that, people will take advantage of me! People will hurt me! People will take away everything I own! People will think I am a wimp!” I imagine if the disciples had thought to protest to Jesus in this way, the words would never have left their lips, for in their Master’s face they would have seen the rebuke to their little faith.

Suppose a burglar breaks into your house and holds your child hostage until you disconnect your television set so he can steal it. Would you not sacrifice the television set for your child? Of course you would! In fact, you would probably plea, “Take the television set! Take the VCR! Take the stereo equipment! You can even shoot me if you want, just leave my child alone!” When a burglar breaks into your house and demands your valuables, your priorities become crystal-clear. You have no difficulty sorting out what is replaceable and what is irreplaceable, what is important and what can be sacrificed. When it is over, you can reflect upon your behavior during the crisis to learn what is truly important to you.

This is why God allows adversity to break into your life: it is a sort of fire drill to reveal to you what your true values and allegiances are. For adversity holds your spirituality hostage while it demands your possessions, your health, your dignity, or even your life. Your reaction betrays what your true values are, and when it is all over, you can ponder your reaction and reorder your priorities. Did you plea, “Take the television set! Take the VCR! Take the stereo equipment! You can shoot me if you want, but I will never deny my Lord Jesus Christ, either through my lips or through my disobedience” ?

Whatever you are not willing to sacrifice is your greatest treasure, and wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Adversity strips away the pretense and self-delusion and shows you what you treasure the most and where your heart truly is.

Therefore give thanks to God in all things, especially for adversity, which gives you a chance to see yourself as you really are and to make corrections before it is too late. And do not grow weary in obedience, for in due season you shall reap, if you do not lose heart.