We’ve just had a cold wet week (about to become a very hot weekend) in the middle of harvest. Which means that harvest stops, the condition of the crops may deteriorate, volumes reduce, and the return for the year’s work diminish. These are the realities of farming, and when these things happen, it produces a real hardship.
A similar type of thing can happen in other areas too. People who follow sports know that the entire season can turn on a few minutes in the grand final. Plenty of parents have watched their children make good choices all their lives, only to end up in all sorts of trouble and misery because of bad decisions in a short period of time. Being cut down by a serious illness like leukaemia or some other sort of cancer, that is unrelated to our behaviour or action in any way. A fire. Flood. Cyclone.
Hardship feels most unfair when it appears at the end of what has been a long run of things going well. And if you are a believer, you can wonder what on earth God is doing. Why is he doing this to you now? What lesson is he trying to teach you? What sin is he punishing you for?
These are the questions that naturally arise for us. As they did for Jesus’ disciples at various points in his ministry. John 8 – the man born blind. “Why did God do this? Whose sin was God punishing?” Luke 13 – the execution of a number of Jews by Pilate. Or those on whom the tower in Siloam collapsed. “What had they done? Why did God do this?”
“Why is God afflicting me with such hardship?”
The answer Jesus gives is two-fold.
First, we live in a world afflicted by sin. In God’s mercy, we get small reminders (small in the scheme of things, as they often don’t feel small to us at the time) of the terrible judgement for sin that is coming to the whole world. When we suffer hardship, we should be reminded that eternal hardship is the destiny of all who disregard God, and that we should all do whatever it takes to avoid that.
Second, Jesus says that God has a purpose for hardship beyond just a warning of judgement to come. As with the man born blind, Jesus says that God’s purpose for this man’s hardship was to reveal God’s glory. The story goes on to detail how God’s plan was for this man to come to faith in Jesus through his healing, and later persecution by the Pharisees, as the power and authority of Jesus is revealed.
We need to understand that the hardship we go through, whether a bad harvest, sickness, accident, children going of the rails, or whatever it might be, has a purpose in God’s plans. Sometimes we’ll see it clearly. Other times we won’t. Either way, its important for us to remember that the key to enduring hardship isn’t knowing how God is using it, but its remembering that our reward for trusting Jesus is eternal, and not of this earth.
Jesus taught is followers to store up treasure in heaven, and not on earth. Keeping our eye on this goal does not make suffering pleasant, or easy. But it makes it endurable, as we ask ourselves “how would Jesus have me respond in this situation?”.
When you think about the season that is and could have been, and the problems you are going to have as a result next year, remind yourself that this life is going to be one of hardship until Jesus returns, and that God has a purpose for whatever you are going through. Then think of the eternal future Jesus guarantees by his resurrection, and ask “how would Jesus have me respond in this situation?”.