Jamie Brown shares a good illustration that makes a great point at his blog, Worthily Magnify. He writes:
My brother-in-law loves to give his nieces (my daughters) the most ear-piercingly loud, annoying sounding toys that he can find. I don’t know how he does it or where he finds them, but he delights in giving them toys that will drive their parents crazy. (Thanks, Jon).
But I have discovered something about these toys.
On the back, oftentimes hidden under a tab, or behind some Velcro, is a switch. This switch has a “play” setting (noise at full volume and duration), a “demo” setting (noise at full volume but only for five seconds), and an “off” setting (no noise).
And I, as the sovereign interceptor of these toys, can flip the switch.
I intercept the gift, and in my flipping of the switch, I change the gift’s function.
Only someone who’s sovereign over something can flip its switch. Someone who’s sovereign can take something that was intended for one purpose, and alter it so it accomplishes something different.
This is what God does with suffering in our life. He flips the switch.
Satan intends to use suffering to destroy us. God flips the switch and uses suffering to refine us.
When Jesus wrote to the suffering church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), he told them (in verse 9): “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested…”
In his exposition of this verse in What Christ Thinks About the Church, John Stott points out that while Satan intended the imprisonment of Christians in Smyrna to destroy the Church, God would use that imprisonment to refine his Church.
None of us can avoid suffering. It’s an inescapable reality of this broken world.
The church in Smyrna knew this. They suffered from poverty, slander, imprisonment, and death. And Jesus, speaking from his position of authority as someone who not only knew suffering, but conquered suffering, tells them “do not fear”.
How can Jesus say “do not fear” suffering? Because he’s sovereign over it. To quote Stott again, “Jesus has perfect knowledge of our present suffering and perfect foreknowledge of our future suffering”. We can trust him in the midst of it, because he alone is eternal, he alone is all-powerful, and he alone is good.
Whatever suffering you’re currently experiencing, or whatever suffering comes to you in the future, you can trust that you’re held in the hands of a sovereign King, who knows your suffering, is sovereign over your suffering, is with you (“Emmanuel”) in the midst of your suffering, and has conquered your suffering.
He flips the switch, allowing suffering to refine us, not destroy us. And he does so as the sovereign ruler over all things, “the first and the last, who died and came to life” (Revelation 2:8).