In other words, we challenged our son and daughter to own their part of a bad experience.
If a teacher singled them out from a group of misbehaving students, they were to understand that their behavior was wrong, whether done individually or in a group.
If they got into an argument with a friend, they were to review the conversation and see how their words contributed to the dust-up.
If someone stole a pair of gym shoes from their locker, they learned the wisdom of using the combination lock we provided for them while they paid for new shoes out of their allowance.
Like us, many Christian parents swim against a strong cultural current of victimhood, which values freedom over responsibility and leads inevitably to an entitlement mentality. The line between right and wrong is blurred. Good and evil are subjective realities, not objective standards. And when things go badly, there are always other people to blame.
Rev. 12:7 – Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, 8but he could not prevail, and there was no place for them in heaven any longer. 9So the great dragon was thrown out – the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before God day and night. 11They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. 12Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
We are taken from the “great signs” of the pregnant woman and the great fiery red dragon (vv. 1-6) to a cosmic battle between Michael and the dragon involving good and evil angels. The conflict is severe, and Michael emerges victorious. Satan and his angels are thrown to earth. No longer does the “accuser of our brothers” have access to the throne of heaven. While the victory is won at the unseen level, John is careful to record that the Devil is conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” and by the testimony of Christian martyrs. The heavens rejoice in Satan’s defeat, but the earth is warned that the evil one descends with fury, knowing his time is short.
Who is Michael? When and where does this war in heaven break out? Whose loud voice in heaven do we hear? And why are the earth and sea warned of the Devil’s final days in power? These six verses are shrouded in mystery, yet they tell us a great deal about the angelic host and the ongoing battle between good and evil.
Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1800s and a friend of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. While Spafford was both respected and comfortable, he was not free from severe hardship. First, he lost his four-year-old son to scarlet fever. Then his real estate investments along Lake Michigan literally went up in flames in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Not long after that, his four daughters drowned in a shipwreck, and his wife Anna survived the ordeal only because the ship’s debris buoyed her as she floated, unconscious, in the Atlantic Ocean.
Crossing the sea to join his bereaved wife, Spafford was called to the captain’s deck as the ship sailed past the foamy deep where his daughters were lost. The captain informed him that the waters there were three miles deep. Returning to his cabin, Spafford penned these words to the now-famous hymn:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
Why did such tragedy befall this godly man? Spafford may have wondered why, but ultimately he rested in the sovereignty of God.
Everyone can better appreciate God’s sovereignty, even in the darkest nights, by observing 10 reasons we suffer, according to scripture. These reasons are briefly highlighted here.
Reason 1. We suffer because we sin. All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). Unbelievers live lifestyles of independence from God, while believers experience moments, or seasons, of independence. Spiritual discipline is designed to target sin in a believer’s life, and that discipline may be severe, including death (1 Cor. 11:29-32).
Reason 2. We suffer because others sin. Spouses and children suffer at the hands of an abusive parent. Citizens suffer at the hands of corrupt leaders. Rarely does our sin remain confined to ourselves. King David numbered his troops, and 70,000 people suffered the consequences. Jesus suffered through no fault of His own but gave His life for our sins.
Reason 3. We suffer because we live in a sinful and fallen world. Accidents happen. Natural disasters take the lives of millions each year. The apostle Paul writes that the whole world is groaning beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22).
Reason 4. We suffer because God allows us to make real choices. The sovereignty of God and the ability of people to make meaningful choices are two Biblical truths. We are not robots; we actually can and do make choices for which God holds us accountable. Sometimes these choices result in suffering — for us or others. Randy Alcorn writes, “If God disarmed every shooter and prevented every drunk driver from crashing, this would not be a real world in which people make consequential choices … In such a world, people would die without a sense of need, only to find themselves in Hell.”
Reason 5. We suffer to make us long for eternity. This world is not our home; we are strangers here. Our citizenship is in heaven. The writer of Hebrews records, “These [heroes of the faith] all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed the they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth (11:13).” When we suffer, it helps prevent us from clinging to this world, which is passing away.
Reason 6. We suffer to keep us from something worse. Pain and suffering lead us to focus on the cause, and to fix it before it gets worse. A fever sends us to the doctor, where our illness is diagnosed and the remedy prescribed. On a grander scale, suffering tells us there is something wrong with us, and with the world, and often leads us to the all-important search for Christ. Darkness, pain, suffering, loneliness, abandonment — all help us grasp the reality of life, now and eternally, without Christ.
Reason 7. We suffer to share in the suffering of Christ, and thus to be more like Him. Christian martyrs, and those persecuted for their faith, share in what Paul calls “the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil. 3:10). When we suffer, it also enables us to comfort others, who suffer. Paul also writes, “seeing that we suffer with Him … we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17b). Finally, the apostle says, “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Reason 8. We suffer to honor God. Jesus tells us to take heart when we are persecuted for His sake (Matt. 5:10-11). And He warns us the world will hate us because it hated Him first. In Hebrews 11, some heroes of the faith are blessed with wealth and success, while others are tortured or killed. God doesn’t divide these heroes into categories according to their circumstances; He honors them together for their faithfulness. If Christians had easier lives it would make the gospel more attractive for the wrong reasons; God would become a means to an end rather than the end of all things Himself.
Reason 9. We suffer to grow spiritually. Jesus, who was perfect in His humanity, nevertheless “learned” obedience through suffering. Paul writes that he has “learned” in whatsoever state he is, to be content (Phil. 4:11). And Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is designed to keep him from boasting (2 Cor. 12).
Reason 10. We suffer to better anticipate the glories of heaven and the world to come. In Rev. 21:4 we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
There are many reasons we suffer, and sometimes it’s difficult to know the exact cause of our suffering. Job, it appears, never knew about God’s wager with Satan. But hold on to these truths:
- God is sovereign over our suffering.
- He is present with us in our suffering.
- He is working in us through our suffering.
- If He wants us to know the reason, He’ll tell us (or His word will).
- God works through evil and suffering to produce good, ultimately thwarting the worst that Satan, demons and wicked people can throw at us.
- A day is coming when suffering will be a “former thing” — a distant memory that leads us to rejoice in the comfort of living eternally in His presence.
Randy Alcorn writes, “Our fates do not rest with people who file lawsuits against us, or with unjust politicians, lawyers, teachers, coaches, military officers, or employers. They can do their worst against us — and God is fully capable of turning it around and using it for our best (no matter how much it hurts in the meantime).”
(These are notes from a message delivered July 10, 2011, at Mapledale Baptist Church, Sheboygan, Wis.)