The Birdcage. To what extent are our sufferings a gift from God to help us grow and mature?
- The official study guide for this lesson uses a 19th century story as the keynote for this week’s discussion: A master puts a bird in a covered cage so that the bird will learn the one song the master wants the bird to learn. In isolation from other distractions, the bird earns the song and keeps it for life. To what extent does God give trials to his children to help them learn specific lessons?
- Exodus 14. According to Exodus 14, God brought Israel out of Egypt by a route which left them hemmed in on all sides: mountains, Red Sea, Pharaoh’s army. What did God intend for Israel to learn from that kind of “providential” leading?
- Exodus 15:22-27, 17:1-7. After Israel left Egypt, there were at least two occasions when the people complained that they had no water. What is the divine purpose is letting his people fall into dire need, to the point of desperate complaint, before he comes to their aid?
- Luke 4. According to Mark 1:12, the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness where he would be tempted by the devil. Both Matthew and Luke use a more gentle verb, “led.” In the English translations, only Matthew suggests that the Spirit led him there for the purpose of being tempted by the devil. What was the point behind these wilderness temptations: An example for us or for the universe? Character development? Testing?
- 1 Peter 1:6-9. Peter’s wording is worth noting: “For a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Who benefits from these trials and why?
Note: The fact that two Old Testament books can differ in attributing temptation/punishment to God or Satan, suggests that even Scripture is not clear on just how suffering relates to divine providence. In the story of David’s ill-conceived census, for example (2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21), 2 Samuel attributes the temptation and the punishment directly to God. By contrast, 1 Chronicles attributes the temptation to Satan, but the punishment to God. Does it help to think of a difference between God’s active providence and his permissive providence?