“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)
YHWH moved the government to situate Joseph and Mary, so that Christ could be born in Bethlehem. We always celebrate such divine power, and Sovereign rule of God in that narration of Christmas. But ironically, we also learn that Joseph and Mary failed to find an inn. The skeptic in us is quick to question: if God is so sovereign how come He failed to arrange an inn? Or perhaps, why choose a poor couple? Why wasn’t Christ born in a more influential family? These questions are quite similar to the ones we raise for own sake as well. God if you are so powerful why do you let bad things happen to me? John Piper answers: “the question is not (about) ‘what God could do’, but ‘what he willed to do’”. (pg. 9) Of course, there is nothing that God cannot do. But if indeed, He did everything – no purpose, no prophesy of His, would have been fulfilled. We won’t have received salvation, and God wouldn’t been glorified. But it is for our sake, that the KING and LORD of all Creation willed to be born among the lowest of low, and suffered everything a human being could suffer. And in all of these, He showed His divinity in demonstrating blameless obedience to the Father. Why? So that His righteous life could be a substitute for our sinful life – so that salvation could be secured for us.
Similarly, the sufferings we endure in our lives, aren’t just something God allowed, but is something that He has ordained it. “Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Ps 66:8-10, ESV) God allows our suffering for our sanctification – so that we could be conformed to His image. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Php 3:8-11, ESV)
But this suffering is a peculiar kind of suffering. It is not the suffering of breaking up with your lover, or that your children are disobedient, or that your business has failed, or that you’re not popular, et cetera… and so on and so forth. This suffering is not the one born of personal folly over personal worries. This suffering that the scriptures are talking about is a suffering that comes from godly sorrow. This is a suffering of the saints – it is the pain of pursuing Christlikeness amidst a Christless world. (2 Cor 7:10)
Summing up. It is true that there is a fair share of suffering allotted to us in our godly sojourn. But the good news is – Christ, who is called Emmanuel – is with us. (Mat 1:23) He not only overseas our sufferings, He also pleads for us for the times we fail (Heb 7:25). And not only that, He also strengthens us so that (2 Cor 12:9) we could endure till the end. So, the next time when the skeptic in us questions God’s sovereignty in our sufferings: let us remind ourselves – it is not about what God can do, but what God wills to do. It is in His will that He chooses to sanctifies us, and conform us, to His image – so that we could be saved.
Note: All of Piper’s quotations are from “Good News of Great Joy“
Read previous entries in this Series:
(i) Introduction: What Christ wants this Christmas (ii) December 1: Prepare the Way (iii) December 2: Mary’s Magnificent God (iv) December 3: The Confidence of Redeeming Hope (v) December 4: A Big God for Little People