By Cora L. Hogue
This story of God's grace in affliction first appeared as a Tenth Press article June 26, 2005.
It was a rough year. Between August 2003 and the end of July 2004, my apartment building was destroyed in a fire, my mother died, I had major surgery, and three weeks later a routine mammogram revealed a “suspicious lump” that turned out to be cancer.
The Bible tells us that no testing comes upon us that is not “common to man,” something that everyone else goes through. All my neighbors, both Christian and non-Christian, lost their homes in the fire. In a fallen world, most of us will someday lose our parents. I was not the only person scheduled for surgery last summer, and when I visit the oncology department, the waiting room is usually full of people. However, as a Christian, we have at least three advantages over our unbelieving friends.
First, we have the promise of God’s own presence: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4 ESV).
Second, we are part of the Body of Christ, and have the ministry of all other believers. After the fire, for example, it was a family in the church who took me in, and there was a great outpouring of love from people in the church. When I went for surgery last summer, a friend from the church took me to the hospital, sat with me in the waiting room, and waited for me during the surgery. People sent flowers and cards (I have a whole shopping bag of cards from last summer!), and most importantly, prayed for me. I felt sustained by your prayers, which are a very precious gift to me.
When we go through times of trial, we also know that our trials have meaning and they are accomplishing something. Paul, who had his share of trials, wrote: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16–17 ESV). In the midst of my trials, the Lord reminded me that each was a “light and momentary affliction,” no matter how big and overwhelming it seemed at the time. This life is not all that there is. We are made for eternity, and the Lord is at work in us to make us like himself so we can dwell with him forever. In the light of eternity, then, anything that happens to us here is, by comparison, “slight and momentary.” What the Lord promises us is an amazing exchange: what is light or “slight” for something that has weight and substance; what is momentary (and in the light of eternity everything is momentary) for what is eternal; affliction for glory. This is all well worth having!
How we respond to the things that happen to us is also part of the spiritual battle. The book of Job tells us about this. We can choose to trust God or to deny him. God is glorified when we trust him in affliction.
In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis records the correspondence between a senior devil and a junior tempter, instructing him on how to gain possession of a human soul. In the eighth letter, he tells him that humans pass through peaks and troughs. It is, surprisingly, the troughs that the “Enemy” (God) uses to make human beings like himself. Some of the people with whom he is most pleased have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. He ends by saying, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do the Enemy’s will, looks about a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, asks why he has been abandoned, and still obeys.”