What makes suffering different from pain? Pain can be localized, like a cut finger or broken bone. Its message can simply say, “that’s hot,” “be careful,” or that I need to heal. But suffering seems to take pain to another level. It engages a deeper reality of the soul we otherwise prefer to ignore, that “in this world there will be trouble” (John 16:33).
“Trouble” – pressure, oppression, affliction, distress – is an inescapable reality on this earth we call home. For not only are we raised in a disease-laden culture with bodies born to die and minds veiled with deception, but a force of destruction rages against us. As Christians, we believe in a dark power that rules the face of this earth, coming upon the sons and daughters of Eve with aggressive – though sometimes veiled – force. This thief exists in the shadows with a single goal, “to steal, kill, and destroy” the treasured children of God.
This may sound like an archaic belief, as practical as believing in ghosts and Ghostbusters. Why would we personalize the world’s troubles or personify the world’s darkness? Why would we focus on an evil when we could simply enjoy the good? Our society prefers positivity and alternative explanations for our reality. We focus on managing stress, performing under pressure, overcoming obstacles, and caring for the soul, without asking why this “stress” (trouble) exists in the first place particularly if the human race is supposed to be fundamentally good.
Everyone knows the world is in chaos, but who would dare to ask, why?
But when a person is involuntarily introduced to a soul-level kind of suffering, this question becomes an obsessive response to their pain. “Why?!?!” It echoes over and over in their minds, robbing them of peace and stealing whatever was left of their joy. And who can answer it? Who looks into the eyes of the sufferer and speaks satisfying answers that run cool and wet to the thirsty soul?
THE ENEMY OF MY SOUL
I acknowledge many reasons for suffering, but today give credit to only one, the “enemy of my soul.”
I do not believe in over-crediting a defeated foe. This enemy we speak of has already lost the war. This is the gospel. This is the message of Christ. He paid the price and set us free from sin, suffering, and death itself. Still, here we are in what we often call, “the now but not yet,” where the enemy rages on, “because he knows his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).
Usually, I defeat my enemy by exalting Christ, worshipping Him as the Almighty One. Often, I can ignore the enemy, barely needing to lift a finger because he knows that I know… “I know in whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).
Been then there are those times. Only twice has it happened, when I have turned to face my enemy, eyeball to eyeball, and said, “This… This. is. personal.”
He hunted me, studied me, influenced the circumstances around me, and carefully laid a trap in the exact place my foot would fall…
This is one of those times.
“Pull me out of the trap the enemy has laid for me, for you are my God! Into your hands I commit my spirit…” (Psalm 31:4-5).
Beloved, the human race lives in two worlds, not just this one. Three, if we really want to break it down… In our NATURAL REALITY, where our feet touch the ground, we are human beings with an intricate sensory system, a very real soul, and an extremely active mind (though we’re told it functions at only 10% of its capacity – something I find extremely interesting). Our bodies may be dying, but we are alive to an authentic human experience. Here, everything that happens, every piece of data our senses collect and our minds discover mark the soul. But here it gets complicated, because that very soul, now weathered and marred by the troubles of this world, influenced by sin and THE POWERS OF DARKNESS, was built to inhabit the presence of the Living God. It was built as a place of intersection between our world and THE KINGDOM OF GOD… It was built for oneness with the Source of Life Himself, designed to enthrone the King of kings and Lord of lords. And it has thus become our battleground.
We are the place He seeks to make His home (Isaiah 66:1-2), where the kingdom of heaven comes to earth. And when it does, when “Christ [makes] his home in your hearts” (Ephesians 3:17), everything changes. We find our earthly human existence straddling the massive distance between these two other realms, one set on our destruction, the other set on our eternal glory. Thus, “in this world there will be trouble, but you must be courageous, for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33).
TEMPORARY POWER vs. ETERNAL AUTHORITY
There is a hierarchy of power in this mash of kingdoms. The Devil does things. He influences people to do things. But when it comes to the sons and daughters of the Living God, he has to ask permission. He asked permission to bring terrible suffering to God’s servant Job. He asked permission to “sift [Peter] as wheat” at the time of Christ’s death (Luke 22:31). And the God of all gods grants it.
(I am not one who praises the sovereignty of God in the daytime and denies it in the night. God is in control, even in suffering, and the kingdom of heaven reigns over and above whatever dark power afflicts us. More on that in later posts, and in my book!)
Still, the enemy has a temporary power that wields real influence. In Daniel 10:13, an angel of the Lord arrives at Daniel’s side, confessing that his answer to prayer had been delayed for 21 days by “the Prince of the kingdom of Persia!”
THE GREATER POWER IS IN ME
The devil may have a temporary power, but when “Christ [makes] his home in your hearts” (Ephesians 3:17), God’s eternal power lives inside of you! When I put my faith in Christ for everlasting Life, both now and forevermore, “the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me also” (Romans 8:11). He has lit the candle of my soul with everlasting Life and made my spirit alive in Christ. I am in Him – “seated… with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6), and He is in me – His kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven. This is why the apostles rejoiced, that no matter what happened in the realm of the dead, their names were “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
I love the way Graham Cook put it, “He calls us out as lambs among the wolves [referencing Luke 10:13]. Why? Because the Lion is padding by our side.”
We are lambs moving through grassy fields replete with venomous wolves. There is a real enemy lurking in the shadows to “steal, kill, and destroy.” And yet, “The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in me also” (Romans 8:11). “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
DO WE HARNESS OR DENY THAT POWER?
These days, I’m wondering… What does it mean to wield that power? Why should a child of God be overcome, when the greater power lives in us?
I say this with zero shame or behavioral expectation, but does the sin that pervades our bodies of death weaken us? Is this what Jesus meant when He said to Peter, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 6:21)?
I think there is a way to “deny” the power of God in our lives (2 Timothy 3:5).
Does this strengthen the powers of darkness in the world around us? Does our sinful living affect not only ourselves, our families, and the visible consequences of this natural world, but also the strength of hell’s armies as they come against the people of earth?
Is that too Frank Peretti – for those of you who were born in the 80’s! (I loved those books!)
JESUS IS OUR PEACE
In this world, there will be “trouble.” But here is our peace:
“everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, The Passion Translation)
I close my eyes, and remember “everything [he’s] taught [me].” I sift through my toolbox and remember our past victories…
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
We play a part, but “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). I remember and rest in Him.
Father, keep me pure and blameless before you, as I rest and trust in You. Overcome the enemy of my soul as I rest in your peace.