Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Figuring Out Why

Do you ever wonder about (1) your purpose in life, or (2) God's purpose in allowing hardship and sorrow into your life? I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that Christians of yesteryear didn't overly concern themselves with those questions. I think the reason is that more of them were acquainted with the big themes of Scripture, which end up answering those questions very satisfactorily.

The Bible had taught them that their purpose in life as the redeemed of God was to let their lights so shine before men that men would see their good works, and so glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16); to tell to the next generation the glorious deeds of God, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4); to love one another, fervently and from the heart, rejoicing with those who rejoiced and weeping with those who were weeping (Romans 12:15). Stuff like that. And all that stuff was summed up in Romans 8:29, which told them that God was at work through all things to make them more like Christ. They knew that their purpose in this brief life was to sojourn faithfully, as pilgrims and aliens "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). They were to help each other along this troubled (but blessed) journey, and they were to bring along as many as they possibly could, strengthened for the task by God himself. That's quite a purpose!

So that's the purpose for every Christian; but what about God's purpose for allowing all the hardship and sorrow in our lives? The Bible had given those stalwart saints of yesteryear all they needed to know about that, too. It's important to know that they didn't ask for tailor-made answers to their individual circumstances... they understood that the only real answer to "why" came from Scripture, and though it was the same answer for all believers, it was wonderfully sufficient.

The Scriptures told them that not only was their purpose to live a life of increasing conformity to Christ, but that God's purpose in it was for a very exciting outcome: "So that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7), and so that they may be presented "blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 1:24). God's main purpose for them in this life, having delivered them from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1:13), was to prepare them, through this (comparatively) "light, momentary affliction", for "an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). If we are God's children then we are heirs with Christ to this eternal weight of glory, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). God's purpose in our suffering? Future glory with him!

Christians of yesteryear understood these things, often going back to the message of patient Job, who did not, in this life, know the full story about why the hard trials had to come his way; but who trusted the God who knew. These saints of old didn't fret it, and neither should we. "Farther along we'll know more about it... farther along we'll understand why." God has given us his word to cheer us on our way as we travel with hope toward the coming resurrection of the body and of the glorious new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells-- where we shall no longer see as through a mirror, dimly, but shall at last see "face to (beloved!) Face". "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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