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WHAT IF GOD...? Thought-Provoking Reflections About God (Click on title for more information)
WHAT IF GOD HAD NOT ALLOWED THE GREAT SUFFERINGS OF PAUL?
Before his dramatic conversion, the apostle Paul was an aggressive and brutal man. Being a fanatical Pharisee, he was an enemy of Christians and persecuted them without pause. “Saul (Paul) was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and gladly consented to the death of Stephen” (Acts 9:1). Yet God, in His mercy, began unfolding a plan that was to bring Paul to Christ and then turn him into a dynamic, unstoppable force for the spreading of the Gospel around the Roman Empire.
But God also had in store a long series of trials and tribulations that were to make his Christian experience an enormously difficult and challenging one.
What if God had not added all the many trials to Paul’s Christian experience? What if He had simply helped him carry his gospel responsibilities without having to also bear all the suffering he also had to endure? Would that not have been fairer? Would that not have made it easier for him to perform his evangelistic duties?
Paul’s life was overturned when Christ appeared to Him on his way to Damascus. A bright light shone and he fell off his horse. Immediately he lost his sight and became blind. The forceful, brutal man was now ready for some transforming.
After three days of blindness, Christ sent a messenger to Paul telling him the good and bad news. He had been chosen to bring the Gospel to “the Gentiles, Kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:14)—this was the good news. The bad news was that he was going to suffer “many things” for Christ’s name’s sake---and he did. Most of the Book of Acts is the story of Paul’s sufferings as he goes about preaching the Gospel. Paul finally summarizes many of his sufferings in II Cor. 11: 25-28).
“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—28
Besides the many persecutions Paul had to bear an infirmity we know little about. He fervently beseeched God for healing but he got a firm no each time. “…a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me....” (I Corinthians 12: 7). All in all, Christ’s prophecy about Paul’s sufferings were fulfilled.
Obviously if God decided to add all the suffering to Paul’s life He had to have a good reason. To bring about a true lasting transformation, Paul needed intensive spiritual therapy.
Paul was forceful and fiery. God, therefore, made sure he had plenty of trials that would test his patience and would produce longsuffering.
Paul was harsh and judgmental. God made sure that his many painful experiences would tenderize him.
Paul had tendency toward pride and arrogance. God made sure his preide was squeezed out of him.
Paul understood that God knew what He was doing, and that His intentions were only good. Paul knew that all things would work out for his best and thus took all the afflictions with gladness. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak then I am strong” (II Cor. 12:10).
Paul needed God’s intensive and transforming program. He had to be cleansed, purified, solidified, and perfected. Had God not arranged for the many trials and afflictions to befall him, he would not have been a proper and mighty tool in God’s hands, and God would not have used him as powerfully as he did.
Because Paul endured and did go along with God’s training program, at the end of his life he was able to confidently assert, “For I am already been poured as a drink offering and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day…” (II Timothy 4: 6-8).