Growing up in the church, I was taught ‘bad’ situations in life, such as losing a job, financial strain, or someone else acting against me, were all Satan’s attacks. I was taught that God wanted me to live a stress-free, prosperous life. Even thoughts of stress and worry were Satan ‘attacking’ and the only weapon against those thoughts was rebuking Satan “in Jesus’ name.” The churches I visited over the course of fifteen years never taught it was possible to completely overcome those thoughts.
It wasn’t until I began learning the deeper understanding of the Word and reading the writings of the Ante Nicene fathers that I began to understand the necessity of trials and tribulation in the Christian life and how overcoming the vices that tribulation exposes is vital on the journey to perfection.
The necessity of tribulation is made quite clear by the Apostle Paul in this passage in Acts 14:22. The day after being stoned by Jews and left for dead, the Apostle Paul writes this to exhort the disciples:
“strengthening and establishing the hearts of the disciples; encouraging them to remain firm in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many tribulations and hardships that we must enter the kingdom of God.’Acts 14:22
I quickly learned that overcoming trials and tribulation is not simply accepting a situation and learning from it, but when a situation arises, first recognizing what vice is triggered inside me (whether anger, frustration, loneliness, depression, fear, etc.) and asking the Lord to show me what is the root cause of my reaction. Oftentimes, a reaction can have an underlying cause dating back to a situation in our childhood. And lastly, seeking the Lord for revelation of His nature and character to truly overcome that vice with His virtue.
Origen explains this divine wisdom of God in more depth:
“God also, who knows the secret things of the heart, and foreknows the future, in much forbearance allows certain events to happen, which, coming from without upon men, cause to come forth into the light the passions and vices which are concealed within, that by their means those may be cleansed and cured who, through great negligence and carelessness, have admitted within themselves the roots and seeds of sins, so that, when driven outwards and brought to the surface, they may in a certain degree be cast forth and dispersed. And thus, although a man may appear to be afflicted with evils of a serious kind, suffering convulsions in all his limbs, he may nevertheless, at some future time, obtain relief and a cessation from his trouble; and, after enduring his afflictions to satiety, may, after many sufferings, be restored again to his (proper) condition. For God deals with souls not merely with a view to the short space of our present life, included within sixty years or more, but with reference to a perpetual and never-ending period, exercising His providential care over souls that are immortal, even as He Himself is eternal and immortal. For He made the rational nature, which He formed in His own image and likeness, incorruptible; and therefore the soul, which is immortal, is not excluded by the shortness of the present life from the divine remedies and cures.” (1)Origen De Principiis, Bk 3 (ANF Vol 4)
Lactantius follows the same vein as Origen above:
“Someone will say, “Then why does God permit these [evil] things to be done? Why does He not apply a remedy to such disastrous errors?” [He permits them] so that evils may be contrasted with the good. So that vices may be contrasted with virtues.” (2)Lactantius Divine Institutes 2 Chap. XVIII. (ANF Vol 7)
Most of the vices in our soul are concealed until a trial or tribulation comes along and exposes the hidden vice. In God’s divine wisdom, He allows us to go through pressure to show us the hidden things inside of us. It’s not to ridicule us, but so we can apply the remedy (cure) to our souls to be healed and made whole.
Irenaeus stated the following:
“This, therefore, was the [object of the] long-suffering of God, that man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral discipline, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience what is the source of his deliverance, may always live in a state of gratitude to the Lord, having obtained from Him the gift of incorruptibility, that he might love Him the more;” (3)Irenaeus Against Heresies, Chapter XX (ANF Vol 1)
We need to understand that without recognizing the hidden things, we would not be able to come into the beautiful nature of Christ, which we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:24. Not only should we expect trials and tribulation in our Christian walk, but we should not be afraid of them! Our prayer should be one of true gratitude to God for exposing what is within us and asking Him to continue to bring the hidden things to light.
This is a huge change of mindset for many people, so I pray that you are able to see the incredible mercy of God in this process, and trust that He sees the end from the beginning and His care for the soul goes beyond what we can even comprehend.
“For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]!”2 Corinthians 4:17 (AMP)
- Origen De Principiis, Bk 3 (ANF Vol 4)
- Lactantius Divine Institutes 2 Chap. XVIII. (ANF Vol 7)
- Irenaeus Against Heresies, Chapter XX (ANF Vol 1)