The term "Catch 22" (originally a 1961 novel title) according to American Heritage Dictionary has come to mean (among other things) "a contradictory or self-defeating course of action." I use it to accentuate the seeming "contradiction" the Christian faces when facing trials of many kinds.
The Psalmist is certainly not quiet on this subject. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." And, "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." And, I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me" (119:67, 71, 75).
On the one hand, affliction drives us out of ourselves. That is, it renders us effete, weak. We come to the realization that our strength has been at best only a prop. When all is going well, it is easy to fall into a sort of spiritual holding pattern, just circling, waiting, but not landing or taking off. That changes when we're told we have to have major surgery, or get into an accident, or lose our savings. When this happens, we discover what we really believe, that with which our faith truly consists. And often, more often than most would want to admit, we find that we have not strengthened our faith While the world scoffs at such statements, we who trust in Christ find no inconsistency in such claims. In fact, Luther said, "I never knew the meaning of God's word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best schoolmasters." He also referred to affliction as "the theology of Christians."
The NegativeOn the other hand, growth out of affliction, while necessary, and certainly biblical, begs the question: "Must I always have trials in order to grow?" Growth is about knowing God increasingly better. Odd, isn't it? The negative is NOT that there IS affliction, but that NEED it in order to see God rightly! Now, there's no doubt that we also learn from good days, increased salaries, and beautiful scenery. We learn thankfulness, though that probably was enhanced by earlier deprivation. Still, the question persists, "Why must I have trials and pain in order to drive me to you?"
These questions and others like them have caused us in our Wednesday AM class to begin down a new tract, one which will lead us into a more well thought out theology on suffering. We'll be using 2 Corinthians as our headquarters. Looks to be a wonderful addition to our previous study on the Providence of God.
Grow through your suffering.