By Li Tong
Many Christians feel confused: God is love and He is almighty, so why does He allow us to suffer? Could it be that He has abandoned us? This question always used to puzzle me, but lately, through prayer and seeking, I’ve gained a bit of enlightenment and light. This has resolved my misunderstandings of God, and I’ve come to understand that suffering is not God casting us aside, but instead is very carefully arranged by God in order to purify and save us. These trials and refinement are God’s greatest grace for us!
Trials and Refinement Are God’s Greatest Grace
God says, “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people: and they shall say, Jehovah is my God” (Zechariah 13:9). “Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). And in 1 Peter 5:10, it says, “But the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.”
We can see from God’s words and the scripture that there is God’s will in His allowing us to suffer, and it is entirely to purify and save us; it is a precious treasure bestowed upon us by God. Before trials and refinement come to us, we all think of ourselves as people who uphold God’s way, and some of us even feel that by forsaking, expending, laboring, and working for God, by suffering and paying a price, we are completely considerate of God’s will, that we are the people who love Him most, and that we are the most devoted to Him. We believe that no matter who else might become negative and weak or betray God, we could never do such a thing. But the reality is that when we are faced with difficulties like losing a job, or financial straits, we complain against God, lose our faith, and even become unwilling to expend for Him anymore. When misfortune strikes our families or some calamity occurs, we may still complain about God because something impinges on our personal interests. We argue our case and put up a fight, and in serious cases, betray God and forsake our faith. God has stated on many occasions that He requires us to follow His way, and has demanded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). However, we always calculate to further our fleshly interests, and treasure them over our love for God. When God acts in accordance with our notions, we thank and praise Him, but when He doesn’t, we develop misunderstandings and complaints about God, or even betray Him. This shows us how deeply Satan has corrupted us. We always pursue blessings in our faith, which is essentially attempting to transact with God—to do this truly is selfish, despicable, and entirely lacking in reason! At this point, we can gain some true understanding of the satanic dispositions of rebelling against and opposing God within us, as well as some discernment over the mistaken motives and notions in our faith. We can see that what we live out is a far cry from what God requires of us, and that we are entirely unworthy of receiving God’s blessings and approval. Likewise, through such trials and refinement, we can experience God’s holiness and righteousness, and feel how many adulterations there are in our faith in Him. If we continue to believe in Him with the intention to seek blessings, we will only cause God to be disgusted with us and loathe us. Once exposed through trials, we are able to see that our corruption is too great and our shortcomings too many, and thus we can begin to come before God in prayer, read His words, and then reflect on and know the places within us that don’t accord with God’s will. We can seek out how to satisfy God and stand witness for Him, and unconsciously, we develop a much closer relationship with God. After such experience, we not only gain understanding of ourselves and some understanding of God’s disposition, we also become more stable and mature. Our impulsive, arrogant, selfish, and deceitful dispositions are ground down, and only then can we truly understand that while trials and refinement cause us some fleshly suffering, the fruit it bears in us is salvation and purification, which are very beneficial and edifying for our lives.
We can also see this from the experiences of saints throughout the ages. Before God made use of Moses, He first had Moses tempered in the wilderness for 40 years. In that time, Moses endured all manner of hardship, there was no one for him to speak with, and he was frequently faced with wild beasts and harsh weather. His life was constantly in danger. He certainly suffered greatly in such a harsh environment. Some people might ask, “Couldn’t God have just directly put Moses to use? Why did He have to send him to the wilderness for 40 years first?” In this we find God’s benevolence. We know that Moses was a straightforward person with a sense of justice, but he had a temper and a tendency to act impulsively out of his idea of righteousness. When he saw an Egyptian soldier flogging an Israelite, he struck the Egyptian in the head with a stone, killing him. Moses’ inborn temper and heroic spirit were not in accord with God’s will, so if God had directly used him, he would have continued to rely on these characteristics in his actions and never would have been able to complete what he was entrusted with—leading the Israelites out of Egypt. This is why God had Moses stay in the wilderness for 40 years, so that he would be more fit for God’s use. In such an arduous, hostile environment, Moses was not only constantly praying and calling out to God, but he saw God’s omnipotence and dominance, and relied on God for his continuing survival. The temperamental, natural elements of him were worn away, and he developed genuine faith and submission to God. So, when God called upon Moses to undertake His commission, leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was able to accept and obey without any resistance, and with God’s guidance, he smoothly carried out God’s commission.
There’s also the story of Job in the Bible. Job underwent the trials of his possessions being stripped away, his children destroyed, and he himself developed boils all over his body, yet in spite of his suffering, he never sinned with his words; he did not complain about God, but accepted everything from God within his heart. He was also able to seek God’s will, and ultimately said, “Jehovah gave, and Jehovah has taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah” (Job 1:21) and “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). He relied on his faith, fear, and submission to God to say these things, and thereby stood witness for God. The reason Job was able to stand witness through such great trials was that he believed that God rules all things, and that his belongings and children had all been given to him by God, so it was God’s right to take them away. As a created being, he ought to accept and submit. Job’s ability to stand in the position of a created being and unconditionally obey the Creator was standing witness for God. God later appeared to Job in a storm, and Job saw the sight of God’s back and heard God speak to him with His own mouth; he gained genuine understanding of God. Job reaped a bounty he never would have gained in a comfortable environment, and this was the greatest blessing bestowed upon Job through trials and refinement. Just as Job told his friends after his trials, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
This shows us that trials and refinement are actually God’s true and real love for us. Only through them can we be purified and saved by God, thereby becoming people who are in accord with God’s will. This is the reason God allows these things to befall us.
Can Material Grace Help Us Grow in Our Lives?
Oftentimes, we lack understanding of God’s good intentions, and hope that things go as we wish them to. We are particularly unwilling to undergo trials and refinement. Instead, we hope for an entirely peaceful life without any catastrophes in our lives or our loved ones’ lives. We want everything to go smoothly, and to enjoy God’s blessings and grace. But do we ever consider whether a comfortable environment can allow us to cast off our corrupt dispositions? Can material blessings really help us know God’s disposition and being? If we only enjoy His mercy and grace, can that increase our faith in Him and allow us to develop true love for and submission to God? God’s words say, “If you only enjoy the grace of God, with a peaceful family life or material blessings, then you have not gained God, and your belief in God has failed. God has already carried out one stage of the work of grace in the flesh, and has already bestowed material blessings upon man—but man cannot be made perfect with grace, love, and mercy alone. In man’s experiences he encounters some of God’s love, and sees the love and mercy of God, yet having experienced for a period of time, he sees that God’s grace and His love and mercy are incapable of making man perfect, and incapable of revealing that which is corrupt within man, nor are they able to rid man of his corrupt disposition, or make perfect his love and faith. God’s work of grace was the work of one period, and man cannot rely on enjoying the grace of God in order to know God” (“Only by Experiencing Painful Trials Can You Know the Loveliness of God”).
God’s words are crystal clear. If we’re just focused on enjoying God’s mercy and grace, not only will we be unable to be freed from our corrupt dispositions, but we won’t grow in our lives, nor will our faith, love, and obedience possibly be perfected. The Bible says, “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them” (Proverbs 1:32). If we live constantly within a comfortable environment without any trials or refinement, our hearts will gradually grow distant from God and we’ll be very likely to become depraved as a result of our greed for creature comforts. We’ll live within our corrupt dispositions with our bellies full of food and our minds empty of worries, ultimately accomplishing nothing, frittering away our lives. It’s just like being a parent—if you always coddle your child and are forgiving and tolerant no matter what they do wrong, at what point will that child be able to change their negative traits and mature? So, a comfortable environment is not at all beneficial for our growth in life; on the contrary, it will make us greedier and greedier for enjoyments of the flesh and we’ll just constantly demand God’s grace and blessings, becoming ever-more selfish, greedy, evil, and deceitful. If we want to escape from our corrupt disposition and become people in accord with God’s will, we cannot be content with basking in God’s grace and blessings and believing in God in a comfortable environment, but we must also go through more trials and refinement. That is the only way we can get rid of our corrupt dispositions and be cleansed by God.
How to Go Through Trials and refinement
God’s words say, “When you face sufferings you must be able to not consider the flesh and not complain against God. When God hides Himself from you, you must be able to have the faith to follow Him, to maintain your previous love without allowing it to falter or disappear. No matter what God does, you must submit to His design, and be more willing to curse your own flesh than to complain against Him. When you are faced with trials you must satisfy God in spite of any reluctance to part with something you love, or bitter weeping. Only this can be called true love and faith. No matter what your actual stature is, you must first possess the will to suffer hardship as well as true faith, and you must have the will to forsake the flesh. You should be willing to personally endure hardships and suffer losses to your personal interests in order to satisfy God’s will. You must also have a heart of regretting yourself, that you weren’t able to satisfy God in the past, and be able to regret yourself now. Not a single one of these can be lacking and God will perfect you through these things. If you lack these conditions, you cannot be perfected” (“Those Who Are to Be Made Perfect Must Undergo Refinement”).
God’s words give us a path of practice. When we encounter hardships, our attitude toward God’s work is critical and is directly related to whether we’ll be able to stand witness for God, and be purified and saved by Him. If we rely on corrupt satanic dispositions and are greedy for fleshly comforts through trials and refinement, always considering and planning for the sake of our own interests, we will very likely develop complaints about God; we’ll fight against and oppose Him, or even do things to rebel against or resist God. Then we are a laughingstock for Satan and we entirely lose our testimony. But if we are able to accept and submit to God’s work through hardships, and seek God’s will and requirements of us within them, if we can forsake the flesh and put the truth into practice, preferring to suffer in the flesh and stand witness for God, if we can experience these environments with love for God and a desire to satisfy Him, then we’ll be able to understand more truths through these trials, our corrupt dispositions can be cleansed by God, and we can become people who are in accord with God’s will.
Not long ago some troubles cropped up in my family—my husband lost his supplier for our business, my kid was having difficulties at work, and there were constant problems in business. I was really upset and depressed and I just couldn’t stop myself from grumbling to God. I felt that I spent every day working hard for God, hitting the streets to share the gospel and expending myself, so why would these things be happening in my family? How come God did not protect my family? Over that period of time, I spent less time reading the Scripture and even though I continued attending gatherings and working, my heart was always full of bitterness and I didn’t know what God’s will for me was in that environment.
Then, I prayed to God in seeking, and read these words from Him: “How many believe in Me only so I would heal them? How many believe in Me only so I would use My powers to drive unclean spirits out of their bodies? And how many believe in Me simply to receive peace and joy from Me? How many believe in Me only to demand from Me more material wealth, and how many believe in Me just to spend this life in safety and to be safe and sound in the world to come? How many believe in Me only to avoid the suffering of hell and to receive the blessings of heaven? How many believe in Me only for temporary comfort but do not seek to gain anything in the world to come? When I brought down My fury upon man and seized all the joy and peace he originally possessed, man became doubtful. When I gave unto man the suffering of hell and reclaimed the blessings of heaven, man’s shame turned into anger. When man asked Me to heal him, yet I heeded him not and moreover felt abhorrence for him, man went far away from Me and sought the way of witch doctors and sorcery. When I took away all that man had demanded from Me, then all disappeared without a trace. Therefore, I say that man has faith in Me because I give too much grace, and there is far too much to gain” (“What Do You Know of Faith?”).
I couldn’t help but weep as I read God’s words—I was gutted and felt pained, as well as embarrassed. I saw that my perspective on faith was all wrong, and that it was just to seek blessings and grace. When God blessed me, I enthusiastically went out and shared the gospel and expended myself and feared neither difficulties nor exhaustion. But when difficulties cropped up in my family, I started living in weakness and negativity, developing complaints about God and blaming Him for not protecting my family. I put up a wall against God in my heart. I had to do some soul-searching, asking myself, “My hard work isn’t to repay God’s love but is just in exchange for God’s blessings—isn’t that conducting a transaction with God? How could that kind of faith—full of incorrect motivations and adulteration—gain God’s approval? I was constantly breathing in the very breath of God, enjoying the sun and rain that He created, and living off of the bounties of the earth made by Him, but I had no thoughts of repaying God for anything. Instead, I just made constant demands of God. Isn’t that completely lacking in reason?” Only then did I see how despicable and contemptible that kind of faith in God is—I absolutely was not standing in the position of a created being in worship of God. I also came to understand that in order to be obedient to God, I had to first stand in the position of a created being, and no matter what the Creator does, whether He gives or takes away, I had to obey and submit without arguing my case. Only that is the kind of reason that a created being should possess. Once I understood that I resolved to God that no matter what happened in my husband’s or my son’s work situations, I would be willing to submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements and not complain about God. Once I realized all of this I felt much freer and gradually came out of my negative state. I was no longer disturbed or constrained by these issues, but was able to calmly work and expend myself for the Lord.
This experience really showed me how incredibly beneficial trials and refinement are for our growth in life. Even though we suffer a bit through them, we reap very precious treasures in life, and our faith and love for God grow. I’m sure that all brothers and sisters who seek to gain God’s approval now understand God’s earnest intentions and no longer hold misunderstandings of Him, and that they’ll be able to face any hardships, unperturbed. In whatever trials or undesirable things we face in the future, may we quiet ourselves before God and seek His will and seek the truth. This way we can experience the blessings brought to us by God through trials and refinement! Thanks be to God!