November 7, 2016

Why Fiery Trials Happen, Pt 1.

by Clint Archer

Think of the most physical pain you have ever been in. Perhaps it was a broken bone, or a burn, or an abscess or migraine, or labor. Now I want you to be honest about whether you would choose that pain twice over when compared with what Mr. Sampson Parker endured.

gold-in-fireParker had been harvesting corn on his family farm when some stalks got stuck in a set of rollers. He reached into the (still-running) machine to yank out the obstruction when the rollers grabbed first his glove and then his hand. There was no one near enough to hear his desperate cries of agony. He managed to reach an iron bar and jam it into the chain-and-sprocket mechanism that drove the rollers. With his fingers growing numb he pulled out a small pocket knife and started to cut his own fingers off to free himself.

And if his ordeal had ended there, it would have been a good day for Parker, compared with what happened next.

More of his hand and wrist was pulled into the teeth of the mechanism and simultaneously the machine and the grass around Parker caught fire. He grimly realized he had to cut his arm off immediately or burn to death. So with a pocket knife he sawed off his own arm.

And if that was the end of it Parker would still have been having a good day, but the trial wasn’t over yet.

The bone itself was still caught fast. So, when he got down to the bone, he dropped onto the ground, using the force of his own weight to snap the bone and free himself from the machine. While he was choking from the smoke. And then he still had to walk home to get help.

In an interview Sampson Parker recounted the grisly story to a paling reporter, but ended the saga thankful to God for providentially equipping him with a pocket knife, for the fire which he credited as being the catalyst for his quick decision that spared him from passing out and bleeding to death, for the car that found him on his way home and took him to the hospital, and for sparing his life.

You may be thinking about how you would respond to a trial of that intensity, but I doubt you are still thinking about your own trials. Perspective is a powerful anesthetic for self-pity.

1 Peter 1:6 In this [eternal security] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials

By “trials” I mean all the stuff that happens to you that you wish didn’t; all that which is part and parcel of living in a sin-cursed, fallen universe. A trial is anything on the spectrum from trivial annoyances to traumatic afflictions—from stubbing your toe, spilling spaghetti sauce on your shirt, and family squabbles, all the way to serious trouble such as being diagnosed with cancer or getting a divorce, losing a job, a limb, or a loved one.

But no matter what you’ve suffered there is always someone who has suffered more. So Peter is offering comfort to his readers, many of whom had gone through various degrees of loss and persecution, by drawing their attention to a helpful insight into all trials: they need to be seen in the perspective of eternity.

You see, trials are always temporary. Even lifelong trials only last as long as your life. Then eternity begins and never, ever ends.

As Jesus reminded us in Matthew 10:28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Suffering is designed to make you tired of this earth, this body, this curse, and long for heaven. View the trial relative to eternity. And that perspective of it brings you hope.

Another helpful insight into trials is that they are not accidental or incidental to this life; they are a prerequisite for maturity.

1 Peter 1:6 In this [security] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials

Yes, it is possible that God considered the difficulty you are experiencing to be necessary for your godliness and eternal reward. Your challenges in life are not random, or mishaps…they aren’t expendable, they are integral to your walk with God. Most people view a trial like an appendix. It seemingly has no use and the only time you even know you have one is when it hurts like a thorn in your side and needs to be

To most, that is what a trial is. No usefulness, only pain-inducing and inconvenient.

But Peter says trials are necessary, they must come.

Trials makes us long for a Savior. They make us ache and groan for redemption, someone to set it all straight, and fix it once for all.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

If you keep the eternal future in mind the trial can be seen in perspective, compared to eternity. It can be seen for what it is, namely preparation.

2 Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Peter’s not saying that because trials are temporary and a necessary part of life on earth, that they are trivial. He’s not saying, ‘Quit your whining.’ No, he acknowledges “you have been grieved.” The Scriptures are clear that trials can be grievous and devastating. Jesus knows that better than anyone (Isa 53:3-4). Why did Jesus suffer? So that he could win the battle against sin, and do away with it forever. Jesus suffered the worst trial, so you could hope for heaven.

But what is the result? How do I know I’m learning the lesson? When does it end? Is it worth it? We will have a look at that next week when we consider the result of trials.

Clint Archer

Posts Twitter

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Pingback: Why Fiery Trials Happen, Pt 1 | A disciple's study()

  • Jason

    I’d share this, but the story made me cringe, and I’ve been told I don’t react enough to pain myself… Made your point though!

    • Cringing at someone else’s pain is a good first step toward empathy…which, I guess, is one of the effects trials have on us, as 2 Cor 1:3-5 says — we are comforted in our affliction so that we can comfort others in theirs.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    I have a confession that when I hear about awful things like this happening to people, my initial thought is not only horror, but fear as to why it happened. And yes, I fully understand we are all subject to trials because of this sin-cursed world, and we can grow in faith and even bring God glory through them, but sometimes when I read something as horrific as this, I think of those Bible stories detailing how God struck people for disobedience, i.e. blindness, leprosy, bear attacks, fire, earth swallowing people alive, etc.!

    Please don’t misunderstand, I would never make any judgments in this regard, but the thought does cross my mind. I remember once while taking minutes at an elder board meeting and one elder starting to say something and went into a terrible coughing fit. When he composed himself he said, “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to say that” and we all laughed.

    Perhaps my thinking is too OT, so I welcome correction is this regard!

    • Jason

      Pain and suffering can certainly be a way that God disciplines people. As you mentioned it can sometimes simply be for his glory.

      The most extensive example I have of this is the book of Job (for your OT thinking!) However, Jesus also speaks to fact that some suffering exists just to glorify God in John 9:3.

      Adam and Eve had a uniquely blessed existence. They obviously experienced good in every way. Have you ever wondered why it is said they not only gained knowledge of evil, but also good, when they sinned?

      I believe it was because the best witness of God’s goodness is when his blessings flow to “Mortals, born of woman, [who] are of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1). Without the contrast, goodness is just “what is”.

  • g

    I’m reminded of Rippon’s classic hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”:

    “When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
    My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Thank you, Lord, for not making me capable of ever being a farmer.

  • Pingback: Why Fiery Trials Happen, Pt 1()

  • Pingback: Why Fiery Trials Happen, Pt 1 -()

  • Pingback: Grace Under Fire: The Purpose of Fiery Trials, pt 2()

  • Pingback: Grace Under Fire: The Purpose of Fiery Trials, pt 2 -()