“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:26-27
There are two perspectives taught in the church about suffering, one is that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable and the other is that suffering is evil and its presence should be rejected, and in truth they are both correct.
Suffering and hardships are part of human life. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind has been subject to the travails of life outside of the perfect world of the Garden. Sickness, death, failure and even the ravages of nature are all part of the consequences of that very first sin. In that sense suffering is unavoidable.
Suffering is also part of the Christian’s life—Jesus told us as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He said the world would hate and persecute His followers because they hated and persecuted Him (see John 15:18-21). It is both a painful experience and a joyful one to suffer for the name of Christ. As we watch the world turn farther and farther away from God, it is reasonable to believe that suffering in this way is inevitable.
Suffering is also rooted in evil, as we noted—a direct consequence of the actions of the first humans who listened to the evil one rather than their Creator. In the Garden, all was perfect. No disease, no death, no hatred, no failure, do destruction. Evil entered the picture and Adam and Eve were banished from their perfect home. If only they had resisted . . . Now mankind and creation are subject to evil in the forms of hatred, war, crime, poverty and abuse, to name a few.
How are we to comprehend a good God who allows suffering to befall His beloved creation—human beings, animals and the planet He spoke into being? Look around the world at what evil men have done, at the pain they have inflicted. Why would God allow this to be? Let’s bring this closer to home—how can we understand when He allows suffering to touch our lives? Is it possible that God has lost control?
Beloved, God has never lost control of this universe; He is just as sovereign over the affairs of creation—including suffering—as He has ever been. And He has never lost control of the lives of men. He continues to hold the reigns of the world, just as He continues to hold your life and mine in the palm of His hand.
So how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and suffering? Do we become spiritual Eeyores and resign ourselves to it? Pat each other on the shoulder and say “Just trust God,” with a sigh? There are many theological reasons we can consider, but I don’t think that will comfort our hearts.
Our key verse is the hope I hang on to in suffering. This verse references a passage in the Old Testament book of Haggai, which is written to the Israelite refugees who had returned to Jerusalem after their 70-year Babylonian exile. The weary and bedraggled Jews came home, not to the shining city of their past, but to a burned out shell. The walls had been knocked flat, their homes decimated, and worst of all, the temple of the Lord has been burned to the ground. In their recovery efforts they restored the wall and built homes and even began the work on the temple, but they were too overwhelmed to finish. God declared to His people, “Be strong and work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4), and the Jews did indeed complete the task. Yet they became discouraged because this second temple was much smaller and less opulent than Solomon’s temple. So God declared to them that an even greater Temple was yet to come, a heavenly temple far beyond their wildest and greatest dreams. This is what the writer of Hebrews was drawing on in our key verse.
Times of suffering in the lives of God’s people are tools He uses to prepare us for what is to come. In this verse, the author used the image of being shaken. Some things are “shakable,” unstable and unfixed. They are the temporary things that we too often set our hearts on in this life. Power, popularity, prestige, wealth, health and beauty—all things that fade away. God wants us to realize that these things, so sought after in this world, have no value or permanence in the eternal. So He shakes things up, causing these worldly “treasures” to fall away, and with them our dependence on and affection for them.
What remains after all the shaking is done? Look at Hebrews 12:28: “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” What remains is the eternal, unshakable Kingdom of Jesus Christ. The New Jerusalem, the Holy City where we will live forever in the presence of the Lord. What value is there in worldly treasures when we stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords? Those things that captured our hearts in this life are meaningless in the light of heaven. Oh why do we hold on to the unstable things of this world when an unshakable destiny awaits us?
What is God shaking loose in your life? What are you holding on to that has no eternal value? Dear one, He will not take anything from you that is lasting and true. Let God have His way with the temporary treasures of your life so that you may inherit the unshakable and eternal.
Holy Father, in my hand are worldly treasures, trinkets and false gemstones set in fool’s gold. Shake them from my hands that I may grab hold of that which is unshakable and eternal. Amen.