This is in response to further comments about The Secret:
There is a false and insidious concept floating around today’s church: that God wants to express his love for us by making us happy and comfortable.
Earthly happiness is not God’s goal for us. Quite the contrary: God wants us to become like Jesus. And what do we know of Jesus? His life was about suffering.
Jesus left paradise to come to earth. He left a place where all is good and right. He went to an earth that is filled with pain, sickness, and suffering. When Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, the offer is to alleviate that suffering. Jesus is hungry, as he hasn’t eaten in 40 days; Satan suggests that Jesus end that hunger (suffering) by allowing himself to have the comfort of food. But Jesus says no—God is his priority, not the ending of his suffering. Satan offers to give Jesus riches and power. Again, Jesus says no—God is his priority. He goes on to live a life of poverty, indeed homelessness. (Remember, the Son of Man doesn’t have a home or a place to lay his head.)
Satan also tells Jesus that he’s powerful, so surely he can throw himself off the cliff and he’ll be OK. I believe this is the same temptation posed by The Secret today. The law of attraction asserts that we are powerful. We instead need to continually proclaim truth: God is powerful. We are weak creatures who long for comfort so much that we make it an idol that becomes more important to us than God.
Jesus is pursued by his enemies, constantly threatened with death, and insulted at every turn. He is betrayed by his closest friends. And we all know what happens at the end of his life.
Additionally, we don’t have to guess about what it looks like to be a follower of Christ: We see what happens to his followers in the early church. Paul is repeatedly beaten, thrown in prison, and his life is threatened everywhere he goes. He is beheaded by Nero in Rome. Matthew is killed by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark is dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria. Luke is hanged in Greece. Peter is crucified upside down. Christians worldwide continue to suffer and die for their faith today.
Throughout the New Testament, we’re told that the Christian life requires suffering. We should not desire to escape from it, because God uses suffering for his higher purposes. Here are some (I’m quoting Dr. John Hutchison, chair of the Bible exposition department at Talbot School of Theology, as he summarizes this beautifully):
1) To show genuine faith and glorify God (1 Peter 1:6-7)
2) To discipline for personal sin, producing a life of righteousness and harmony with God and others (Heb. 12:7, 11)
3) To develop perseverance, character, and maturity (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)
4) To prepare us to comfort others who go through suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
5) To provide opportunities for the advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12)
6) To follow Christ’s example and show his glory to others (1 Peter 4:12-14)
In 2 Cor. 12, Paul speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh.” Dr. Kevin Huggins, a therapist, pastor, and educator, explains what Paul means:
“A ‘thorn in the flesh’ is any kind of suffering or affliction that attacks or weakens our capacity to live independently of God (2 Cor. 12:8-9). According to Paul, thorns in the flesh come in at least five varieties (12:10): ‘weaknesses’ (physical infirmities), ‘insults’ (relational difficulties), ‘hardships’ (natural disasters and economic difficulties), ‘persecution’ (physical violence), and ‘difficulties’ (emotional distress).”
While we’re not called to pursue suffering (to intentionally have it inflicted on us or to physically abuse ourselves), we’re not supposed to be purposely avoiding it, either. If you aren’t experiencing any suffering in your life, you need to ask yourself, “Why not?” Why are you making great efforts to avoid the thing God specifically says he’s going to use to shape you and make you more like Jesus?