“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…” (Victor Frankl)
Difficulties are inevitable—a shocking diagnosis, a problem child, financial hardship, betrayal, a freak accident—but what equips followers of Christ to cope when others cannot is our perspective rooted in God’s person and promises. Scripture reveals at least four reasons God’s people experience hardships with perspective that governs our response.
Tribulation and trouble are natural in a fallen world. Jesus promised tribulation “in the world.” (John 16:33) Persecution arises, paint peels, cars rust, cavities develop, and arthritis sets in. Jesus articulates our proper perspective in the pain: “Take courage: I have overcome the world.” Our best life is not now, but awaits those in union with Christ by faith. Because He overcame sin and death, so too will His followers be fully victorious.
Testing is adversity to prove our faithfulness (James 1:2-3). You can “test” a mattress for 100 days to prove its value. God uses lost car keys, business failures, prolonged illness, and the shortcomings of a spouse to “test” us to see if we’ll prove faithful. We’re called to “count it all joy” because a tested faith produces endurance (1:3). Like an intense workout, our testing is painful, but we are to embrace it in view of the spiritual strengthening it produces.
“Time out” is God’s loving discipline of His disobedient children (Hebrews 12:4-9). God is not capricious, but caring, just as a parent restricting a rebellious child’s use of an electronic device is not cruel. I understood a high school injury as God’s removal of athletics, which was for me a form of idolatry. I endured the painful loss as part of God’s loving purification—“He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
Tactical trouble consists of necessary difficulty that ultimately serves God’s larger purposes. The patriarch Joseph experienced betrayal, unjust imprisonment, and finally prosperity. His gracious response to his once fickle brothers declares God’s sovereign use of difficulty for His glory. “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20) God can and does use adversity for our good and His glory.
The appropriate attitude of God’s children facing problems is captured in the lyrics to ‘Trust His Heart’: “When you don’t understand, When you don’t see His plan, When you can’t trace His hand, Trust His Heart.” A heart of love shown through Christ’s death on Calvary to purchase our pardon.