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Good suffering vs bad suffering

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Last month when I was reading my Bible, I came upon Deuteronomy 8.

In verse 3, it says:

So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NKJV)

There are a few things that I want to highlight.

The Lord allowed the Israelites to go hungry in the wilderness.

Why did God allow the Israelites to starve in the wilderness? Isn’t that a cruel thing to do from a loving God? God is very loving. He wanted the Israelites to learn a crucial lesson. The lesson is that man lives by the word that comes from the Lord.

Often, when we pray to God, it is to get something. Maybe get into a relationship. Maybe get a job or a home. Yet, the most important is not about getting things, or food, which the Israelites needed. What we need is the living word from God.

When Jesus was in the wilderness and was hungry, Satan also tempted Him. Satan asked Jesus to turn the stone into bread. How did Jesus respond? This exact verse in Deuteronomy 8:3:

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)

In Deuteronomy 8:5, it says:

You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.

Deuteronomy 8:5 (NKJV)

Chasten can also mean discipline. We often think discipline is a negative thing. I get it. I grew up where my parents disciplined me out of anger when I did something wrong. But the Lord views discipline differently. It is out of love when God disciplines us, not out of anger. So all the people who say God is an angry God in the Old Testament are not entirely true. This is not just about the Old Testament, it applies to New Testament as well. In Hebrews 12:7-11:

7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 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? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:7-11 (NKJV)

We see that if we are legitimate children of God, He will discipline us. In the context of Hebrews 12, it is about persecution.

I’ve been reflecting on this verse for a while. When bad things happen to us, we often ask why? Why do I have to suffer? We tend to lump all suffering into one reason.

Sometimes, it is because God wants to discipline us. Just as how He led the Israelites into the wilderness and they went hungry, God wants to bring us to a level where we learn to trust in Him, or the Words that come out of His mouth, more than just bread. Following God will lead to this suffering. It feels like suffering but it is not because He hates us. Hebrews explained it very well, He loves us that’s why He is chastening (disciplining) us.

We also need to learn to distinguish between good suffering and bad suffering in our Christian life. In triathlon, we learn to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. When you exercise, and you are sore, that’s good pain. That’s natural and normal. But if you twist your ankle and keep running, that’s a bad pain because your body tells you that you are injured. The solution is to rest.

Bad suffering is when one intentionally commits sins. This is not God’s type of discipline. We need to be mindful of that and avoid it. Do note there is ALWAYS a consequence when someone sins. James said it produces death in James 1:15

 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

James 1:15 (NKJV)

But if God is taking us into a season of wilderness where there is hardship and difficulties, may we learn to trust His Words and yield the fruit of righteousness.

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