Why does God allow infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses?
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
This verse is often a comfort to believers who are going through some kind of adversity. God is applying a broad and fundamental principle to the context of this verse. His strength is always made perfect in the weakness of a believer, no matter what the cause of the weakness is. In this case, Paul’s weakness is caused by a messenger of Satan. I looked up “buffet,” which is Strong’s Greek 2852 in the Online Bible. The actual Greek words in the 5 verses that contain this root are different forms of the same thing. Some are nouns and some are verbs. Here are the 5 passages. The Strong’s number appears immediately after the corresponding English translation.
“Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted <2852> him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,” (Matthew 26:67)
“And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet <2852> him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.” (Mark 14:65)
“Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted <2852>, and have no certain dwellingplace;” (1 Corinthians 4:11)
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet <2852> me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted <2852> for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” (1 Peter 2:20)
The Number 1 Cause of Buffeting
Buffeting is specifically a reference to persecution for the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus was preaching the Gospel. That was what irritated the religious leaders of that time enough to buffet Him and even to have Him killed.
Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about believers being buffeted while executing their occupation of preaching the Gospel. We know that Paul himself certainly suffered for preaching in the name of Jesus.
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.” (Acts 14:19)
Peter penned an admonition from God to let us know that being patient when buffeted for doing well is what God finds acceptable. The context of that verse is also preaching the Gospel, because it refers to the example of wrongful suffering for conscience toward God that Jesus gave us to follow through His earthly ministry.
Keeping Spiritual Pride in Check
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Paul was referring in this chapter to revelations that a man received when he was caught up into the third heaven and heard things that were not lawful for a man to utter. Paul heard them too, because he witnessed this encounter. They must have been too amazing/shocking/wonderful/incomprehensible/righteous, etc., to be lawfully repeated by any man. God allowed this buffeting from a messenger of Satan to keep Paul humble by causing his weakness, lest, as Paul penned, he be exalted above measure. In this weakness, this humbling process, Paul and other Christians consequently have to rely on God’s strength.
It hurts to preach the Gospel and be hated for it. A believer knows it’s the truth that the natural man doesn’t want to hear. The Christian is painfully cognizant that the world hates the message and that this has eternally awful consequences. Jesus experienced this also.
Of course, Jesus has no potential to become prideful. He endured persecution for an example to us to rely on the strength of God and not our own strength.
God allows persecutions to keep a believer humble in the face of learning wonderful things from His Word, to keep me from thinking myself stronger than I am simply because I am privileged to learn things from God’s Word that only God teaches in the first place. This buffeting is painful, so it weakens me, and God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. When my strength is gone, His strength is perfect because there can be no cause to brag of enduring and overcoming tribulation by my own ability.
Being Forced to Rely Fully on God
The perfecting of God’s strength in our weakness also applies to other forms of adversity. The difficult things in our lives keep us humble. If everything always goes well, there is a danger of forgetting God and being lifted up with pride. God warns about this.
“And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
This is a comforting lesson for me. It’s the way things have to be in this age while we still dwell in flesh. God said there would be no more pain when He brings all believers to heaven at the end of this age. Therefore, we can be sure that we won’t have this capacity to forget Him when things go well, since things will always be well, and our sinful natures, having been done away with in our soul already through the new birth of becoming saved, will be completely erased when our sojourn in this world comes to an end and we arrive in heaven.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)