Patient in Adversity

One of the instructive features of the Heidelberg Catechism is that it often includes the benefit of one’s belief. For example, in Lord’s Day 10, after explaining the meaning of the providence of God it goes on to ask “how this knowledge can help us” (Q. 28). We find the same approaches elsewhere in the catechism (see Q. 36 and Q 45). In its answer in Q.28 the catechism singles out three aspects of help that one gains from knowing about God’s complete control over all things, namely, “patient when things go against us,” “thankful when things go well,” and “good confidence in our faithful God and Father’s love.” In this article I would like to reflect on the first mentioned benefit, namely, patient in adversity.

There is no better example of patience in adversity than the case of Job. Scripture records the sad account of all Job’s losses as messenger after messenger comes to him with bad news: the loss of sheep, camels, servants, and worst of all, his own sons and daughters. Yet we read that Job’s response was to “fall down and worship God.” He then spoke those oft-quoted words: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; May the name of the Lord be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22–23).

Job’s response is a far cry from what we often hear from people when things go against them today. One response is often “Why me?” as though they don’t deserve this. Or others will say: “Is God punishing me for some sin I have committed?” Yet the catechism tells us that God is teaching us patience. In time of adversity, when the wicked oppose the righteous, God’s people are to “wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 227:14).

Be aware, however, that it is not always easy to wait with patience. Think of how impatient we become when we are waiting for someone who has not arrived to meet us at the appointed time. It is easy to become impatient with God also when he doesn’t seem to fulfill his promises as quickly as we think he should. For example, sometimes we pray for a sick one to be healed and instead that person worsens and even dies. We wonder then why God hasn’t fulfilled his word as found in James 4:15: “the prayer offered in faith [for the sick one] will raise him up.” Right away, some will ask why God didn’t answer our prayer. But, according to what the catechism teaches us, God is answering our prayer by teaching us patience in our adversity. And that is a great and marvelous answer to prayer because it allows us to experience God’s fatherly love in our trials.

It is well to remind ourselves that all that comes against us is not necessarily in the form of persecution by our enemies, as some of our brothers and sisters still experience today. All one has to do is look to Asia and Africa to see the reality of Christians suffering persecution by other religions and governmental agencies. But all adversity is not the direct result of enemy opposition to the gospel and Christ’s followers. In some situations adversity can strike us in the normal affairs of life—loss of employment because of an economic slump, sickness, physical infirmity, loss of child, parent, or close friend.

Many have recently experienced loss of home and property, personal possessions, and family members through hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like. These events come to us in God’s providence and also call for patience in adversity. The question we must ask ourselves is, “How are we responding when things go against us?” Our catechism informs us that we can learn to be patient in such situations.

One thing is clear in Scripture: we are required to go on with our work while waiting patiently for the Lord to act. We read of righteous Noah who continued to build the ark while God waited patiently to bring judgment on that unrighteous generation (1 Pet. 3:20). Surely, life must continue to go on while the Lord teaches us patience in the midst of adversity.

Nevertheless, we must always seek to live according to God’s most holy standards. We must realize that living in the world may cause us to be like Lot, “tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Pet. 2:7–8). Learning patience in adversity also requires, therefore, obedience to God’s moral law.

Knowing that God controls all events, we must bear our sufferings with patience, since God always has the end in view. In the case of Job, we read: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first” (Job 42:12). We also know that the end for every believer is going to be better for those who endure with patience the trials of this life. That’s why the apostle Paul states that the believer in Christ “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

Truly, as Scripture affirms, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:12).

Dr. Harry G. Arnold is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI. He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.