What Trials Can't Take Away

Why do our trials sometimes feel like they are crushing us? There are a number of ways that question can be answered, but I want to suggest what I think is one of the more prominent answers. Our trials feel like they are crushing us because they take things away from us…and the things they take away from us are often things we cherish. Trials can take away comfort, health, a sense of control, freedom, financial security, certain relationships, and even the life of a loved one. These are things we don’t want to live without, which is why we allow trials to lead us into despair, anger, or fear.

How then can we keep ourselves from dipping into sinful emotions when we experience trials? First, consider the treasure of the gospel you’ve been given. We can certainly list numerous benefits of the gospel that every Christian receives upon trusting in Christ: forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Spirit, eternal life, redemption, etc. But all of these gifts are connected to what is the greatest gift of salvation, namely God Himself. First Peter 3:18 expresses this reality for us: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The greatest gift of the gospel is that we get God! Through Christ, the relationship we have with God is no longer one defined by enmity, but love. Because Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross, we have the glorious privilege of enjoying intimate fellowship with the supreme ruler of the universe, whose capacity to love us knows no limit.

Consider what Jesus says about His love for His disciples in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” This verse tells us that Jesus’ love for His followers is measured by the very love His Father has for Him! A couple of chapters later Jesus says something similar in His prayer to the Father. Concerning the Father’s relationship to followers of Christ, He says, “you…loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). So the testimony of John’s Gospel is that believers are loved by Jesus as the Father loves Him, and loved by the Father with that same love. As D.A. Carson says, “Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son.”¹

This is crucial because the gift of God Himself is infinitely greater than anything a trial can take away from you, and it can never be taken away. Jesus clarifies this when He says, “I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:28-29). This is despair-smashing, anger-crushing, fear-destroying truth! That which we need the most, and which satisfies us like nothing else can, is what can never be taken away. Your relationship to God will forever be safe from those difficulties in life that can easily take away things like jobs, convenience, and approval of others. And not only is it true that your relationship to God can’t be taken away by a trial, but trials are actually used by God to enhance your experience of that relationship.

The Apostle Paul knew this firsthand. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, he speaks of the “affliction” that he and Timothy endured, which led them to be “so utterly burdened beyond [their] strength that [they] despaired of life itself.” And if that didn’t sound dismal enough, he adds, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” It might sound to you like Paul’s beginning to have a bit of a pity party, but what he says next dispels this thought: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Because of the trial, their relationship to God was not stripped from, but to the contrary, it was strengthened.

These are the kinds of thoughts we must strive to preach to ourselves when trials seem like they’re crushing us. Yes, trials take cherished things away from us, but they can’t take what is most cherish-able: God Himself. And if they can’t take away what is most cherish-able, then they should not be able to take away our joy either, because real joy is found in our relationship to God. Let your joy be strengthened by trials as you are propelled toward God in faith. But never let trials take that joy away, for God is your greatest treasure…and He will be forever.

1. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990), 569.

Note: This article originally appeared on thecbcd.org. We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical Discipleship and Counseling where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg