I'm teaching in a few weeks about God's goodness so I've been thinking a lot about it. I'm reading 2 Corinthians right now and today read in chapters 11 and 12 where Paul talks about his hardships. Paul had incredible faith. Never once does he doubt God's goodness, and yet he saw more suffering in his lifetime than most people ever do. He says:
"23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?"
And yet, he also says, "rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice!" as he wrote from a prison cell. How is this possible? In most of my experiences with suffering, our belief in God's goodness is dependent on our circumstances. I lose my wallet, and God is not good. I cannot pay my rent, and God is not good. I am unjustly accused, and God is not good. I get cancer, and God is not good. I am 40 and still single, and God is not good. I struggle with temptation, and God is not good.What made the difference, for someone who suffered not only one of these things, but all of them multiple times and still had an unshakable faith in the goodness and love of God?
If we look in the following chapter, Paul continues on saying that in order that he wouldn't begin to think too highly of himself for persevering through all these trials, God gave him "a messenger from Satan"and, though Paul asked, God would not take it away. God's response was: 9"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:9-10
Paul knew that God was enough. God is good, so we don't have to look for satisfaction elsewhere. God's goodness was not dependent on his willingness to alleviate Paul's suffering, but was proved in his grace and his provision of strength to enable Paul to persevere. God did not offer Paul a comfortable life; he offered him Himself. In this way, Paul knew and experienced the goodness of God and could rejoice, praise God and be full of faith in his goodness even in the midst of apparent evil. God's grace is sufficient for us; He offers Himself, and satisfies the thirsty soul.