“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
GOD’S LOVE IS A STRONG THING, AND STRONG THINGS ARE NOT FULLY APPRECIATED UNTIL WE ARE SURROUNDED BY WEAKNESS. The ugly, painful hardship of human experience does not contradict or call into question the love of God. To the contrary, that is where we learn God’s love the best. The way to God is not over, under, or around our difficulties — it is through them.
Job is the classic example of how this works. He was not anything less than a godly man before his sufferings began (Job 1:8), but it was only afterward that he could say, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5,6). God’s trustworthiness had become so much more real to Job that he was ashamed to think how little faith he’d had before. Likewise, when Paul prayed for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh,” God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
But if God’s love for us is best learned in hardship, the same is also true of our love for God. We value most highly those things that have cost us something significant, and it is not likely that we’ll love God deeply until we’ve passed through some serious suffering with His love as our guide. When Jesus explained to Peter that Satan would sift him as wheat, He said, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32).
When we live for no higher goal than to be pain-free, supposing that God “loves” us too much to let anything “harmful” happen to us, what happens is something very harmful indeed: we lose our best chance to learn what God’s love really means. The best things in life get away from us when we grasp them too tightly. Life is found in the losing of it. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake,” Paul said. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“The love of God is the ultimate reality, the deepest and strongest force in the universe; and it is revealed to the man who resolutely girds himself to the conflict” (David Smith).