Monday, June 21, 2010

In Search Of Truth, 2 Corinthians 7-10


Why does God allow suffering in the life of someone who has chosen to put their trust in him? This is a broad question that might be handled poorly with a broad answer. If God were to answer that question for us, he would likely provide a different specific answer for each specific instance of suffering.

But the Bible does give us some insight on several of these kinds of instances that can at least provide us with a few broad answers. For example, allowing suffering does not necessarily make God cruel. Cruelty is only one possible reason to allow suffering. And in 2 Corinthians 12 we are presented one of many alternative reasons.

Paul says that because of the amazing things God revealed to him, he was also given a "thorn in the flesh", to keep him from pridefully showcasing himself.(v.7)

The nature of this "thorn" is unclear. Many have concluded that it was some form of physical ailment. Paul may have also been referring to the persecution he experienced in general. Paul also calls this thorn a "messenger of Satan".

The Greek word for "messenger" is "Aggelos. "It can refer to a messenger in the typical sense or an angel, fallen or otherwise. Given that this "messenger" was from Satan, we can probably assume that Paul refers to a fallen angel. Though he is still unspecific regarding what difficulty or pain this fallen angel (or demon) is bringing about.

At this point, you may have noticed something interesting. A servant of Satan is sent to Paul to keep him from being prideful. Why would Satan want to keep Paul from becoming prideful? The answer should give us a lot of comfort.

People often think of God and Satan as two equally opposing forces in the cosmic battle between good and evil. But this verse demonstrates that ultimately God is in control of the behavior of even his enemies.

It's likely that fallen angels would take every opportunity to harm humans. We all bear the image of God, whom they hate, but we are vulnerable, while God is not. Satan may have had vastly different reasons for wanting to torment Paul. We don't know what those reasons are. But God allowed this to serve his own agenda. An agenda that would make Paul a better person and that would draw more attention to the power and character of God.

God is in the business of taking evil behavior and forcing it to serve his agenda. (Genesis 45:4-8) And no matter what Satan or any fallen angels may plot against us, God is aware of it and they are only permitted to harm us as far as God allows. (Job 1:9-12; 2:3-6)

Of course, knowing this doesn't make our suffering go away. In fact, Paul asked God three times to take this suffering away from him.(v.8) God told him that his undeserved favor(grace) was enough for Paul.

Grace is favor from God that can take an almost infinite number of forms. It's "good stuff" from God that happens or that we receive, even though we didn't do anything to earn it. Health, emotional strength, an unexpected work bonus, knowledge, fun. The list goes on.

God also told Paul that "power is perfected in weakness".(v.9) What in the world does that mean? The Greek word for "power" here is "Dunamis". It can refer to capability or strength. It can also refer to miraculous power or acts from God. The Greek word used here for "perfected" is "teleo" and refers to "carrying out completely". It wouldn't make sense for Paul's own strength or capability to be carried out to completion by his weakness. So we should assume, as many translations do, that the "Dunamis" here refers to God's miraculous power, which is made complete the less our efforts are involved.

When God uses our abilities to accomplish something, someone who denies the truth of the Bible can say, "Wow. Look what humans can accomplish when we put our minds to something." But when God uses someone who is weak and uses them to accomplish something outside of their realm of strength, it becomes more obvious to everyone that God is involved and that he is powerful.

Paul recognized this truth. He knew that God's power would also become more obvious to himself and others during the times God used him despite Paul's weakness. So Paul began to look forward to opportunities to talk about his weakness, knowing that those were the times Christ's power was most present in his life. (v.9-10)

Next Week- Paul's ministry in the midst of criticism

Coffee House Question- Can you think of a time God showed his power in your life when you were weak?

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