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FIRST-PERSON: God’s purpose in suffering

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. …” (Romans 8:29, NIV).

Did Jesus suffer? Was Jesus sometimes lonely? Was He tempted to be discouraged? Was He misunderstood, maligned and criticized unjustly?

If you see Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of The Christ,” then you’ll know the answer to all these questions is YES.

So, what makes any of us think we’ll be exempted from suffering, or loneliness, or discouragement, or unjust criticism?

The truth is, God is developing within you the character of Christ, and in order to do this He must take you through all of the circumstances in life that He took Christ through.

This means God is more interested in your character than your comfort, and He’s more concerned about your holiness than your happiness.

So, the question is not IF you’ll go through dark times in life; rather, it’s WHEN you’ll go through them.

Now, does God cause these tragedies? No. God is good, and He cannot cause evil or do evil.

BUT God can USE these dark and stressful times for good; He’ll use them to build a Christlike character within us.

So, what should you do when you go through difficult times?

— Refuse to be discouraged. King David said, “I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). Will implies a choice, an act of decision. In the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, you clearly see that He made a CHOICE to follow God’s will; He made a CHOICE to face down fear; He made a CHOICE to ignore despair.

— Remember that God is with you. David said, “For you are with me” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). God not only promises His power; He promises His presence. We will never go through a dark day alone. Jesus knew He wasn’t alone as He walked out His passion.

— Rely on God’s protection and guidance. David said in Psalm 23:4 that God’s rod and staff comforted him. The rod and staff were basic tools a shepherd used to protect and guide the sheep. God will be with you, and He’ll protect and guide you. Jesus could have called down 10,000 angels; He could have called His disciples to arms; instead, He relied on God to protect and guide Him.

No matter who you are, whether you’re a believer or not, we all eventually go through difficult times. The difference for the Christian, then, is not the absence of the shadow but the presence of the Light.
Rick Warren’s column appears each month in Baptist Press. He is pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the best-selling “Purpose-Drive Life.” Resources from Warren’s ministry are available at www.pastors.com. For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.

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  • Rick Warren