Late last October, I challenged myself to read through the entirety of Scripture in a year. Today, I read the story of Ahaz, king of Judah, as told in 2 Chronicles 28, and it gave me a lot to think about.
Ahaz was one of the many apostate kings who abandoned the law and clung to idols—even sacrificing his sons as a burnt offering(!). And God’s wrath was upon him.
Verse 5 says that Judah was given into the hand of Syria and Israel. 120,000 men of Judah were killed by Pekah the son of Remaliah, and the men of Israel captured 200,000 of their relatives, women and children, along with “much spoil.”
The Edomites invaded. The Phillistines raided.
Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help, giving him tribute (read: cash). But instead of helping Ahaz, he took the money and he too went to war against him!
So what did Ahaz do? Verse 22 tells us: “In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz.”
“For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, ‘Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me'” (verse 23 a).
“But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel” (verse 23 b).
God’s wrath was upon him, and Ahaz suffered mightily.
Many people ask the question, “Why do we suffer? If God loves us, why do bad things happen?”
I think the answer can really be found in verse 22: In our times of distress we need to not become more faithless, but to trust God even more.
Not all suffering is a consequence of our sins. Suffering also comes from sins commited against us (to say nothing of the unexplainable hardships that occur). All suffering is meant to show us our dependence on God and to cause us to move closer to him.
Suffering ultimately leads to joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness” says James 1:2. According to Romans 5:3-5, our steadfastness (or endurance) that comes from suffering produces character, which in turn produces hope. “[A]nd hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Suffering is hard. Enduring it is even harder, especially when it’s so tempting to look for any exit. My wife is a stay-at-home mom (and part-time illustrator); we know with certainty that this is what she’s supposed to do, as Titus 2:4-5 says that that her primary ministry is to be in the home. But I’ll be honest, it’s really hard a lot of the time to make ends meet, and it gets sorely tempting for Emily to find a full-time job sometimes. Yet, we know how much this would damage our family were we to do this.
We perservere. And it hurts when I have to say no when my wife asks for something, especially if I’ve been handling money sinfully that day.
But our perserverence is building character. We are slowly and painfully learning how to make the money I make go as far as it can. And we have hope that God will provide for our needs because we’ve seen that He is providing. Despite my folly, despite my foolisness, He provides still. This causes us to move closer to Him, to see how dependent we are on Him for everything. And it causes us to give praise.
David, the suffering prophet-king of Israel, reminds us of this in Psalm 40:1-3:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
When we suffer, though it is tempting to take matters into our own hands, will we be an Ahaz, who became more faithless, serving false-gods who were really no gods at all, only to have it be the ruin of him? Or will be a David, who waited patiently for the Lord to deliver him; a James, who counted trials as joy because they are meant to build our faith; a Paul who saw that suffering led to hope, not shame, because God’s love is poured out over us in our suffering?
Which will you be?