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As I prepared for the current sermon series on suffering, one particularly moving passage I read was this one from Joni Eareckson Tada’s “When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty”:
Suffering fashions us into a “holy and blameless” image of Christ (Ephesians 1: 4), much like a figure sculpted out of marble. An artist in Florence, Italy once asked the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo what he saw when he approached a huge block of marble. “I see a beautiful form trapped inside,” he replied, “and it is simply my responsibility to take my mallet and chisel and chip away until the figure is set free.” The beautiful form, the visible expression of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is inside Christians like a possibility, a potential. The idea is there, and God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you. God chooses as his model his Son, Jesus Christ, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8: 29).
Over and over again in the Bible, it is clear that God matures and strengthens us not primarily through painless mountaintop experiences, but through painful suffering. Images like the fiery furnace, the refiner’s fire, and the potter and the clay, remind us that beauty is forged through affliction. And like Joni Eareckson Tada put it, “the beautiful form, the visible expression of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’” is inside of you, “and God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you.”
Preaching this series has been powerful for me, as I have grown to trust God more in the midst of my own suffering. If you have listened to these sermons, my hope is that it has given you both truth and hope in the midst of your trials. The truth is that God loves you. He is not the author of suffering, but He never wastes it, using it instead for our sanctification and for the salvation and comfort of others, as our suffering humbles us and allows us to empathize with others. And the hope we have is not only that no suffering is meaningless, but that this is not the end of the story, that one day suffering will be no more and we will experience eternal joy and peace for our grieving and weary souls forever and ever.
So take heart, and trust in the Lord, your good and loving Father. Remember Jesus Christ, suffering and dying for you, so that you could have eternal life and hope for today. Lean on the Holy Spirit, God in you, pointing you to the truth and guaranteeing the future joy that will one day be yours. And keep on walking through your trials.
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