Let’s consider the biblical perspective on accepting difficult teachings, enduring trials sent our way, and just our misunderstandings of God’s way of working sometimes. You see, we know how we want to react to pain, suffering, or difficult and unknown circumstances. We see how most folks respond to these things. But, what should the biblical response be to our suffering, pain, or difficult teaching that we find in Scripture?
-if it’s something in Scripture that we find difficult to understand or accept, do we just disbelieve Scripture and cast it off as another man-made piece of literature?
-if it’s a trial we’re undergoing, should we pretend that everything is fine and dandy, always bearing a cheery (albeit many times phony) smile no matter what is coming our way?
-if we’re suffering and don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, should we simply give up hope, thinking that our pains and trials will never cease?
I don’t believe any of these is the right answer. Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say concerning these things.
First, there’s the difficulty we sometimes have in accepting unknown circumstances, or difficult teachings. What should our response be?
In John chapter 6, we read that Jesus has just fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two small fish. You know this got the crowd’s attention! So much so, they were sure that Jesus was the promised King and Messiah prophesied of years earlier. Thus, they were determined to to stick with Him. As it turns out, they followed him across land and sea.
However, on the other side of the sea, their hopes of him being a King who would usher in the kingdom in a physical present sense were dashed to pieces. Jesus had been performing many miracles, healing many sicknesses, and now He had provided them with physical sustenance with a very small source … two little fish. Their minds were fixated on the physical:
-healing of sicknesses
-deliverance from Roman rule
-feeding of their bellies
Then comes the hard part. Remember, they’re thinking all things physical, so they ask the Lord, “When did you get here?” He does not even answer the question, instead he gets to the root of why they’re seeking after him. Jesus then begins to break down their confidence by telling them He’s not here to feed them physically, and that they needed to be seeking after the Bread of Life, which He referred to as being Himself. John 6:
41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven―not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever … 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
And here it is. That seed of doubt, sown by their inability to fully grasp this seemingly difficult teaching. Despite the miracles Jesus had performed. Despite the authority with which He had taught. Despite the numerous authentications He had given to prove Himself as being from God, they doubt because they weren’t comfortable with the words or circumstances. Jesus takes it another step. Not only is he rebuking their doubts, but then he brings personal offense by declaring that they are completely unable to understand what He was saying!
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
And then the dam breaks. They cannot take this anymore. They do not understand this difficult teaching of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Why? Remember, it’s because all they’ve been thinking about is the physical, despite Jesus directing them to think spiritually (“I am the bread of life”). This is the same thing Jesus had to get across to Nicodemus in John chapter 3. They could not stop thinking about the physical, thus the thought of eating Christ’s skin and drinking His blood was repulsive. And it says in verse 66 that many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
Which brings us to our original question: What is the proper response when God sends trying circumstances that we can’t understand, or we are brought to a certain teaching in Scripture that, on the surface, seems offensive? How are we to respond to unwanted adversity, hard sayings? Obviously, the way the folks here in John 6 responded is not the answer. It’s quite scary if you think about it, actually. They had seen Jesus:
-heal the sick
-feed the hungry
-teach with authority unlike other teachers of that day
All of these things led them to believe, even, that He was a Prophet (i.e. He was from God!). At one point, remember, they were wanting to make Him King. Why is that scary? Because of the seed of doubt that was sown by their lack of understanding of what Jesus was saying. Imagine that! A man heals the deathly ill, feeds over 5,000 people with 2 fish and some bread loaves, yet … because of a teaching from Christ that, on the surface seemed offensive, all of those previous miracles went to the wayside in the minds of the people. And they left.
So, obviously, that’s not the right way to respond to a hard teaching, or an undesirable circumstance. And, yet, there is hope! At the end of the chapter we read this:
66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
You see, Peter understood Jesus teaching! He states as much by calling them the “words of eternal life” (as opposed to temporal physical life)! Even if He couldn’t grasp all the minute details of what Jesus was saying in these hard words, He knew that Jesus was the Christ, and instead of believing in his own doubts, insecurities, or human understanding, He believed the Word of God.
So, what is the answer? The answer is to believe the Word of God. What does the Word of God have to say? Let’s just take a look at a few passages:
Deut. 6:6 Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Psalm 27:1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 Cor. 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We see that time after time after time in Scripture God is declared as good! as holy! as just! In these passages we see that God has promised never to leave or forsake His people, that He is their light, their salvation, and that His grace is sufficient to carry them through the most difficult of circumstances, and the most difficult-to-understand situations. Everything He does is right.
So the right response is to believe what the Word of God says, even if everything around you is crumbling and seems to point otherwise. The people who didn’t like what Jesus was saying about eating His flesh and drinking His blood were too focused on the physical, and they trusted too much in their own human interpretation of His Words. Instead, had they grasped the spiritual things He was teaching, they too would have said along with Peter, “To Whom Shall We Go? For you have the Words of Eternal Life!”
Be encouraged brothers and sisters: When all seems lost, we are the Lord’s. When you’re going through the fiery trials and fighting off the darts of the devil, remember our Lord Jesus Christ. “To whom shall we go?”