Jesus spoke: “Bear your cross and follow Me.”
“Just come to Jesus and your life will become easy with no discernable problems.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? It sounds great except that it’s a gross misrepresentation of what it means to be a follower of God. That false type of gospel is peddled around the globe on a daily basis but it has more to do with Satanic influence than it does being spirit led.
It’s the conflicting notion that you can, all at once, do what God wants and live life on your own terms. Yes, from a human perspective, comfort and security at all costs make sense. But from a faith-centered viewpoint, making life about easy living amounts to missing God’s will for your time on earth.
Jesus made it clear in the Gospel of John that his disciples would have trouble in this life. All of God’s children can expect the same thing:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
The world and its corrupt, sin-filled system sought to destroy our very souls but Jesus had great news. He reminded the disciples (and us) that He’d already overcome the world. Even before He died on the cross and rose from the grave as our sin substitute, in a profoundly real sense, his saving work was already finished. It’s not that it could’ve been left undone but that God isn’t restricted to time as we are. The world would not triumph over God’s children in the end. Along that path, however, there would be ongoing problems for God’s adopted kids without exception.
Obviously, no one wants to go out of their way to experience hardship. To be Christian isn’t synonymous with being masochistic. God followers are still human and not exactly stoked about going through trials and pain. They’re not out there trying to add more hardship to their lives—it just goes with the territory. The truth, however, is there will be pain regardless of the path we choose. In the long run, being a God follower involves infinitely less pain and struggle than rejecting God. Through the eye of faith, we recognize that fact and choose a different path than the majority.
If God Loves Me, Why Isn’t My Life Easy?
Why must God’s children struggle so much in life? Why must they suffer? Doesn’t God care? These are questions people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. Thankfully, the Bible provides some solid answers as we wade through the hardships of life.
To many, it’s understandable why someone who hates God may struggle through life (although they sometimes fare far better this side of eternity as Job, Asaph and others in scripture vividly pointed out). But someone in a saving relationship with God? Even though the scriptures warn us that the Christian life won’t be easy, the depth of difficulty we experience can sometimes be shocking and disillusioning even for the closest God followers. Our Heavenly Father can start to feel more like a wounder of his children than healer as Job wrestled with.
Why Suffering as a Christian, Humanly Speaking, Can Feel Disillusioning
By faith, we eventually recognize God still loves us despite the storms coming our way (although this view rarely comes without a significant struggle first). In light of a perfect Father who doesn’t always allow things to go as we’d hoped, let’s explore the flawed thinking we’ve all struggled with before going any further.
The “if God Loves me, why isn’t my life easy” question is a common one for God’s children, but taking it too far can become dangerous. The slow gravitation towards unbelief is subtle and that’s what makes it so lethal. The most believable lies have some truth mixed into them. Yes, God does want us to be happy in the end. No, that doesn’t mean an ever-elusive and meaningless pursuit of a “utopian” earthly life will get us there. Satan has thousands of years of experience duping people and knows what works (and what doesn’t). The rationale about hardships we’re tempted to believe goes something like this:
- Because I’m God’s child, He wants what’s best for me.
- Since God wants what’s best for me, He should make my life as pain-free and enjoyable as possible.
- If God doesn’t make my life as enjoyable and pain-free as possible, there’s something wrong. Either God doesn’t care about me as much as He claims or isn’t powerful enough to stop the pain. Or, perhaps I’ve done something to upset God so now He’s punishing me.
There are several reasons why this way of thinking is so common. First, this rationale seems to make logical sense from a limited, carnal and sinful human perspective (Do things to make God happy, and He’ll make you happy). Secondly, we often don’t read, understand and believe the scriptures as we should. A life of comfort and ease for God’s children definitely isn’t what’s portrayed in the Bible. Lastly, this viewpoint is so common in our cultures (inside and outside of the church) that it’s easy to embrace the same false perspective without even realizing it.
By digging into the Bible, we can right the ship, however. We can easily see a number of reasons why God hasn’t promised an easy life for his children. We can also see why, in the long run, our struggles work to perfect us. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why God hasn’t promised an easy life for his children.
God Allows What Feels Like Pain to Protect His Children from Harm
This one could probably be true of several of our next points but is important to mention in its own right. God being the infinitely knowledgeable and loving Father He is, it stands to reason there’ll be times He thinks something is best for us that we don’t agree with. Even flawed earthly parents regularly make those sorts of choices for their children.
For instance, a young boy may think the best thing for himself is to play near a flooded river. The parent, seeing the potential danger, however, strongly disagrees and doesn’t allow it. The child becomes upset because he wanted to catch frogs along the riverbank. The parent overrides their son’s perception of what he believes would make him happy over serious concerns for their child’s safety. What seems a senseless refusal of happiness to the boy actually turns out to be love.
If an earthly parent can “disallow the happiness of their child” because of a far greater good their child cannot perceive, how much more can we expect that to happen with God and his children. God’s ways are so far above ours that it stands to reason such happenings are simply par for the course.
Still, we can have confidence that similar disappointments and pain have meaning and will be worked for the good of God’s children. The scriptures share exactly that with an example coming from the Apostle Paul:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Unlike our imperfect earthly parents, God’s abilities are so great that He orchestrates everything together for the good of his children. Everything includes all the bad things that happen to us. This even includes the sinful choices and terrible consequences of our wrongdoing although it would’ve been better to never have sinned in the first place. In Romans 8:28, everything means everything.
We Have to Endure Suffering to Prove We’re Really God’s Children
These days, there’s often a lot more focus on sharing in Christ’s glorification (Heaven) than there is participating in his suffering. Yet, scripture is clear that we must first share in Christ’s suffering before we can experience the “good stuff”. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He went through immense suffering but it wasn’t without purpose. He was providing a way to salvation for sinful humanity and knew that He’d eventually be glorified.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul. (Mathew 16:24-26)
We Currently Live in a War Zone
Another reason God hasn’t promised an easy life for his children is we live on a planet that’s under siege by Satan and his demons. The world is more than cursed. It’s controlled by a completely evil hierarchy of beings that seek to thwart God’s plans and to destroy the eternal souls of mankind. The book of Ephesians gives us a vivid account of this warfare.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Those who fought in World War II and other wars knew without a doubt they weren’t on vacation. Anything but, in fact. They had to continually stay vigilant because their enemy wanted to destroy them. God’s children can learn a lot by thinking on the lives of soldiers from history’s past.
We live in a perpetual spiritual war zone, but often sulk and blame God when it doesn’t feel enough like a vacation. Ironically, the spiritual fight surrounding us is far more serious than any mere physical war zone. We exist in the struggle over where each of us will spend eternity. Eternal bliss and eternal suffering are the only available destinations.
At the right time, God will put an end to the evil spiritual rulers. Until then, it’s no small wonder that life in this world is hard. When we become children of the true God, we cease being children of Satan. That puts us continually at war with our enemy. By God’s power, we can overcome the attacks of the devil. That certainly doesn’t mean the Christian walk will be easy, however.
Sometimes Life is Hard Because God has to Discipline Us
The reality is that every earthly parent has to give consequences for their child’s actions. Sometimes that means taking desired things away or letting natural consequences play out. In the same way, our perfect Heavenly Father disciplines his children. And that doesn’t mean he does so only for the “really bad” ones. It means every true Christian will be disciplined.
This can be a tough one for many Christians to come to grips with. Much of this is because all of our earthly parents were far from perfect and some of them were even abusive. In light of our earthly experience, It’s difficult for us to wrap our minds around what discipline from a perfect Father would look like. The temptation is to go into the process fearful, jaded or discouraged. What we have to keep in mind is that God always disciplines his children for their absolute good. And, as the book of Hebrews shares, God’s discipline is a wonderful thing in the end because it proves we are really his children.
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live. (Hebrews 12:7-9)
For obvious reasons, We want to avoid reading too much into why someone may be going through hard times. Sinful people can be tempted to jump to the conclusion that it’s because of discipline. This isn’t always the case. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of our suffering brother or sister in Christ and provide encouragement to those struggling. Too often, people cause even more suffering because they “pick at the wounds” of the hurting instead of bandaging them.
The story of Job is a perfect example of this. Job’s supposed friends came to comfort him but wound up causing him even more heartache. He called them miserable comforters after they repeatedly blamed him, saying Job’s sinful actions were the cause of his terrible distress. In the end, the Lord rebuked Job’s friends for their actions. Even if the cause of someone’s suffering is because of God’s discipline, it doesn’t negate the responsibility of other believers to minister to that person. As James says, we all stumble in many ways. To that end, our perfect Father uses discipline to lovingly teach each of his children a different and better life path to take.
God is More Concerned About Character in His Children than Comfort
God chooses character over comfort for his children. He wants his children to continually mature and much of that character building only happens by going through difficulty. We can all be thankful Jesus didn’t take the path of least resistance or there would’ve been no hope of salvation for us.
Instead, Jesus gave up the fleeting opportunity for an earthly kingdom offered by Satan if He’d worship him. Jesus took up a crown of thorns instead of a crown of gold. And in doing so, was glorified and gained an eternal kingdom at the proper time. A kingdom so great that an earthly one, which is quickly lost, would’ve seemed like less than nothing in comparison.
All along, Jesus knew his earthly life wasn’t about his comfort. It was about obedience to his Father even when that obedience was excruciatingly painful as it was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus serves as the ultimate example for all of God’s children. He lived a life of self-sacrifice and God’s true children are to follow his example.
A man well-acquainted with trials, the Apostle Paul shared about the connection between struggle, stronger character and increased hope. Here’s what he had to say when writing to the Romans:
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
An earthly parent may challenge their teenage child to persevere in a summer job they don’t like for a season to teach them perseverance and to build character in them. That certainly doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t care about their child. Quite the opposite, actually. The parent cares too much about their child to see them quit every time something gets hard in life. In the same way, God, our perfect Father, allows difficulty in his children’s lives to teach them to persevere. The end result is a powerful hope that their earthly struggle will be resolved at the proper time, which brings us to our next point.
Now Isn’t the Time for Complete Satisfaction
This is, perhaps, the hardest thing to remember. God will eventually say “enough” to all the pain of his children. Don’t let the fleeting tough times of today turn you from the One who’s currently planning your escape and triumph from the sadness of this world. He understands your weakness. He understands this life is hard and that you long for a release from it. And, at the proper time, He won’t disappoint in providing you just that.
When things appear to go badly for us, it can be tough to handle. Sometimes, knowing there’s an all-powerful God who allowed a difficult circumstance to enter our lives isn’t exactly comforting. Still, it’s important to remember a few things.
First, there’s a time coming very soon when complete satisfaction, relief from suffering and all-encompassing joy will be the eternal theme of God’s children. The book of Romans shares that all of creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth because of the suffering on this earth:
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:22-23)
God doesn’t call his children to pretend like painful things don’t really hurt that bad. Delusional thinking certainly isn’t the end goal for his children. Life is often difficult and we all desperately long to be free from the painful struggles of this world. We won’t fully understand how heavy this life was until we’re finally released from it. God compassionately understands the hardships of his children. He isn’t indifferent to that struggle as it can sometimes feel. Rather, it isn’t yet time for the fulfillment of relief from difficulty.
That time will be here soon enough but, until then, our job is to walk as Jesus did. He is now glorified in Heaven and that will be the experience of true believers in the near future although we’ll never come close to the glory that exists in the Godhead.
The Apostle Paul, after getting to see Heaven and all of its splendor, struggled with two opposing feelings. On one hand, he desired to be in Heaven which was better by far. On the other hand, God had entrusted him with an important work to do on earth. It was a ministry he wanted to do his best at and didn’t want to leave earth until God decided it was time.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)
Make no mistake, God does want you to have a struggle and suffering-free life. Now is not the proper time for it, but it will quickly arrive. That’s what gives us hope in the midst of an often painful life. For millennia, God’s true children have drawn hope from the thought of eternal life with their Savior and God. They longed to be wrapped in his unconditional love and to be out of the cheap, conditional “love” of this world.
We can hold to the same hope. Because of Jesus, we can enter Heaven in right standing with God and never have to experience any more of the difficulties we faced on earth. Until then, we live in the midst of suffering knowing, as God’s child, that not a single shred of it is wasted by our perfect and Loving Father in Heaven.