74. Learning to Submit Through Hardship
By Li Yang, China
In early 2008, I noticed a lump had developed behind my son’s ear. I took him to the hospital for a checkup and the doctor said it was a tumor, a particular kind of tumor that destroys bones. It wasn’t life-threatening at the time, but there wasn’t any effective treatment, and he said it was really painful because every time it flared up, my son would have to get surgery to excise the infected bone. Otherwise, his life could be in danger. Hearing the doctor say this left me in total shock. I was devastated. I was a new believer at the time and I figured that since I believed in God, He should be my rock. I urged myself to stay strong in my faith. I believed that as long as I leaned on God, my son would definitely recover. My son’s surgery ended up being a complete success and he recovered really quickly. Just three days after his operation he was running all over the building, and he was discharged after a week. After that, I felt greater motivation in my faith. I gladly accepted any task the church assigned to me and I always did my duty, rain or shine. My family didn’t understand and the people close to me were always saying something behind my back, but I didn’t take it to heart. I felt that as long as I kept working hard and expending myself, I’d certainly be blessed by God.
Then one day, my son came up to me, clutching his waist, saying it hurt. Seeing that look of pain on his face gave me a bad feeling. I lifted up his shirt right away and saw a lump growing right where he said it hurt. He cried out in pain when I lightly brushed it and I knew his condition was recurring. I rushed him straight to the hospital. An exam confirmed that his disease had come back. I couldn’t help but think of seeing him after his first surgery stuck full of tubes. He was looking weak and I was in agony. I couldn’t bear to think about how much he’d have to endure this time. Whenever I thought about how much he’d have to suffer, and at such a young age, I’d get so anxious I couldn’t even eat or sleep. I wished with all my heart that I could take on his disease and suffer in his place. And I couldn’t make heads or tails of why God hadn’t looked over and protected my family even though I’d been working so hard for Him ever since I’d become a believer. It was that very day that a sister in our village came to see me, and through her fellowship I realized that my son becoming ill was something God was allowing to happen. I had to pray and lean on God, stand witness for God relying on my faith, and stay strong in performing my duty. I kept going to gatherings and I threw myself into my duty even more. During the gatherings, I shared this experience of mine with brothers and sisters. They were admiring of me for being faithful. Hearing them praise me this way, I felt even more sure that I was standing witness for God and that He would surely bless my son.
Then my son’s disease appeared for the fifth time, and the doctor said that he was having too many outbreaks, nearly once every six months, and it would be life-threatening if that went on. He suggested chemotherapy and radiation to see if that would help. When I heard that, I just utterly fell apart inside. I was in so much pain that I started trying to reason with God: “I work so hard every single day, rain or shine, and no matter what kind of judgment or attacks I face from others, I’ve never denied You. I kept doing my duty. Why aren’t You protecting my son?” I was also overflowing with grievances. I kept going to gatherings and doing my duty, but my heart was growing more distant from God. I’d often find myself clasping a book of God’s words, just staring into space. I was really suffering. I poured out my heart to God: “Oh God, I’m in a lot of pain right now. I know I shouldn’t blame You for my son’s health problems, but I don’t understand Your will or how I should get through this. God, please guide me to understand Your will.” I thought of these words of God after my prayer: “Suppose God had eliminated Job after Job bore witness for Him: God would have been righteous then, too.” Then I found this hymn of God’s words right away: “Righteousness is by no means fair or reasonable; it is not egalitarianism, or a matter of allocating to you what you deserve in accordance with how much work you have completed, or paying you for whatever work you have done, or giving you your due according to what effort you expend. This is not righteousness. Suppose God had eliminated Job after Job bore witness for Him: God would have been righteous then, too. Why is this called righteousness? From a human point of view, if something is in line with people’s notions, it is then very easy for them to say that God is righteous; however, if they do not see that thing as being in line with their notions—if it is something that they are incapable of comprehending—then it would be difficult for them to say that God is righteous. God’s essence is righteousness. Though it is not easy to comprehend what He does, all that He does is righteous; it is simply that people do not understand. When God gave Peter to Satan, how did Peter respond? ‘Mankind is unable to fathom what You do, but all of what You do contains Your good will; there is righteousness in all of it. How can I not utter praise for Your wise deeds?’ Everything that God does is righteous. Though it might be unfathomable to you, you should not make judgments at will. If something He does appears to you as unreasonable, or if you have any notions about it, and that leads you to say that He is not righteous, then you are being most unreasonable. Peter found some things to be incomprehensible, but he was sure that God’s wisdom was present and that His good will was in those things. Humans cannot fathom everything; there are so many things that they cannot grasp. To know God’s disposition is not an easy thing” (“Everything God Does Is Righteous” in Follow the Lamb and Sing New Songs). As I turned God’s words over and over in my mind, my heart brightened. God’s righteousness wasn’t fair and reasonable or egalitarian like I had thought, and it wasn’t about being compensated for your work, getting out what you’ve put in. God’s deeds are unfathomable for humans, but no matter what He does or how He treats a person, it’s all righteous. It all contains God’s wisdom. That’s because His very essence is righteous. I saw that I didn’t understand God’s righteous disposition. I had this notion that since I believed in God, He should watch over me; since I expended myself for God, then He should fulfill me in every way and make my path smooth. I thought that since I believed in God, my whole family should be blessed. Wasn’t I trying to make deals with God?
At this thought, I opened up my book of God’s words and read this passage: “What you pursue is to be able to gain peace after believing in God, for your children to be free from illness, for your husband to have a good job, for your son to find a good wife, for your daughter to find a decent husband, for your oxen and horses to plow the land well, for a year of good weather for your crops. This is what you seek. Your pursuit is only to live in comfort, for no accidents to befall your family, for the winds to pass you by, for your face to be untouched by grit, for your family’s crops to not be flooded, for you to be unaffected by any disaster, to live in God’s embrace, to live in a cozy nest. A coward such as you, who always pursues the flesh—do you have a heart, do you have a spirit? Are you not a beast? I give you the true way without asking for anything in return, yet you do not pursue. Are you one of those who believe in God? I bestow real human life upon you, yet you do not pursue. Are you no different from a pig or a dog? Pigs do not pursue the life of man, they do not pursue being cleansed, and they do not understand what life is. Each day, after eating their fill, they simply sleep. I have given you the true way, yet you have not gained it: You are empty-handed. Are you willing to continue in this life, the life of a pig? What is the significance of such people being alive? Your life is contemptible and ignoble, you live amid filth and licentiousness, and you do not pursue any goals; is your life not the most ignoble of all? Do you have the gall to look upon God? If you continue to experience in this way, will you not acquire nothing?” (“The Experiences of Peter: His Knowledge of Chastisement and Judgment” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words exposed all of the motives and extravagant hopes that I held in my faith. Every single one of God’s questions left me nowhere to hide. Looking back, from the very beginning my faith had just been for the sake of getting blessings. I thought that by expending myself for God in my belief, God would bless me with a peaceful home life and health for my boy. That’s why I kept doing my duty no matter how my friends and family maligned me. When my son’s illness cropped up again, I thought that was God testing me to see if I had true faith in Him. I thought that as long as I could handle the suffering and stand witness for God, He would definitely bless me and my son would get better. So when he got sick again and even his life was in danger, my hopes for blessings and grace were shattered in an instant. I started to complain and reason with God, and I blamed God for being unfair. I even lost my drive to do my duty. It was the judgment and revelations in God’s words that showed me that all of my hard work was just to get blessings from God in return. It was entirely to make deals with God, to cheat God. I was utterly convinced in the face of reality and I saw that God truly is holy and righteous. He can see into our hearts and minds. If it hadn’t been for these situations, one after another, showing me that my faith was tainted and I had the wrong perspective on pursuit, I still would have been misled by my own external good behavior. I still would have thought I was very devout and was standing witness for God. I saw that I didn’t know myself at all.
I later read this in God’s words: “Faced with man’s state and man’s attitude toward God, God has done new work, allowing man to possess both knowledge of and obedience toward Him, and both love and testimony. Thus, man must experience God’s refinement of him, as well as His judgment, dealing and pruning of him, without which man would never know God and would never be capable of truly loving and bearing witness to Him. God’s refinement of man is not merely for the sake of a one-sided effect, but for the sake of a multi-faceted effect. Only in this way does God do the work of refinement in those who are willing to seek the truth, in order that their resolve and love be made perfect by God. To those who are willing to seek the truth and who yearn for God, nothing is more meaningful, or of greater assistance, than refinement such as this. God’s disposition is not so easily known or understood by man, for God, in the end, is God. Ultimately, it is impossible for God to have the same disposition as man, and thus it is not easy for man to know His disposition. The truth is not inherently possessed by man, and is not easily understood by those who have been corrupted by Satan; man is devoid of the truth, and of the resolve to put the truth into practice, and if he does not suffer and is not refined or judged, then his resolve will never be made perfect. For all people, refinement is excruciating, and very difficult to accept—yet it is during refinement that God makes plain His righteous disposition to man, and makes public His requirements for man, and provides more enlightenment, and more actual pruning and dealing; through the comparison between the facts and the truth, He gives man a greater knowledge of himself and the truth, and gives man a greater understanding of God’s will, thus allowing man to have a truer and purer love of God. Such are God’s aims in carrying out refinement” (“Only by Experiencing Refinement Can Man Possess True Love” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). From God’s words, I understood that God tests and refines us, and arranges for us to experience environments of hardship in order to expose and cleanse us, so that we can see the truth of our corruption by Satan and gain an understanding of our corrupt dispositions and the adulterations in our faith. Then we can pursue the truth, be cleansed and changed, and achieve genuine faith in God and submission. Ultimately, we can be saved by God. My son getting sick over and over totally revealed the motivation to gain blessings that I was harboring. Reflecting on myself, I saw that I was thinking of everything I possibly could to get blessings from God. I seemed really enthusiastic and focused in pursuit, but my own despicable motives were behind all that. I was controlled by Satan’s poison of “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.” I thought of my own interests first in everything I did and when my hopes were shattered, I resisted God and wanted to settle accounts with Him. I showed all sorts of ugliness. I really am so selfish and despicable! How was that having faith in God? I was just resisting Him and trying to cheat Him. Realizing this, I prostrated myself before God in prayer, saying, “Oh God, all these years I’ve been cheating You, holding on to my motives to gain blessings. I was trying to do deals with You at every turn and totally lacked sincerity. I’m so selfish and despicable, and so lacking in humanity! I’m willing to let go of my motives to gain blessings, to leave my son in Your hands, and submit to Your orchestrations and arrangements. I absolutely will not complain!” I felt really free and at peace after this prayer.
Some time later when I was out of town for my duty, my husband called me and said that our son’s disease had spread. He had tumors on his head, his back, and his neck. There was no hope of controlling it anymore. I was totally speechless for ages after hearing him say that. I couldn’t bear to think of the condition my son must have been in and I really couldn’t face how things were turning out. I called out to God over and over again, “Oh God, I’m so weak right now. Please enlighten me and help me understand Your will.” After praying, I read this passage of God’s words: “To man, God does much that is incomprehensible and even unbelievable. When God wishes to orchestrate someone, this orchestration is often at odds with man’s notions and incomprehensible to him, yet it is precisely this dissonance and incomprehensibility that are God’s trial and test of man. Abraham, meanwhile, was able to demonstrate obedience to God within himself, which was the most fundamental condition of his being able to satisfy God’s requirement. … Although, in different contexts, God uses different ways of testing each person, in Abraham God saw what He wanted, He saw that Abraham’s heart was true, and that his obedience was unconditional. It was precisely this ‘unconditional’ that God desired. People often say, ‘I’ve already offered this, I’ve already forgone that—why is God still not satisfied with me? Why does He keep subjecting me to trials? Why does He keep testing me?’ This demonstrates one fact: God has not seen your heart, and has not gained your heart. This is to say, He has not seen such sincerity as when Abraham was able to raise his knife to slay his son by his own hand and offer him to God. He has not seen your unconditional obedience, and has not been comforted by you. It is natural, then, that God keeps trying you” (“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). I considered these words over and over. When Abraham offered up his only son to God, he didn’t have any demands of his own, or argue his own case at all. He knew without a doubt that his child had been given by God and it was right and proper to give him back, as God demanded. That was the kind of conscience and reason a created being should have. Even though it was very painful for him, he was still able to submit to God’s demands. Finally, he really did pick up his knife to kill his son, which shows that his faith and obedience for God were sincere and could withstand a true test. But then there was me. I said that I was willing to submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements and hand my son over to God, but I held on to my own demands in my heart. Especially when I heard that his condition had worsened and couldn’t be treated, facing the pain of potentially losing him, I found I had demands within me. I didn’t verbalize them, but in my heart I wanted to ask God to heal him. I saw that I was really unreasonable and lacking any obedience for God. The truth is, my son isn’t my own personal property. God breathed life into him. My body was just a medium that he was born through. His entire life was preordained, fully arranged by God long ago. God had already determined how much he’d suffer, how much adversity he’d face for his entire life. I had to submit to God’s arrangements. At this thought, I prayed to God, “Oh God, my son doesn’t belong to me. Whether You will take him away or not, I know it contains Your benevolent will. I’m willing to submit and to leave my son’s life in Your hands. I will not complain, no matter what You do.” The pain I felt eased after praying. A month went by in the blink of an eye. One day after I got home from a gathering, my husband called and told me excitedly that all of our son’s tumors had disappeared. It had been confirmed by a CT scan at the hospital. When I heard the news, I was so excited that I started to cry. I exclaimed over and over in my heart, “Thank God!” This particular experience really showed me God’s great power and let me experience these words from Him: “Any and all things, whether living or dead, will shift, change, renew, and disappear in accordance with God’s thoughts. Such is the way in which God presides over all things” (“God Is the Source of Man’s Life” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). This really showed me God’s almightiness and sovereignty, that He can bring about something from nothing, and cause something that was to exist no longer. Everything is orchestrated by the hand of God. I gave heartfelt thanks to God!
A year later I got an unexpected message from my husband saying that our son’s disease had come back and he was in the hospital getting chemo. It pained me somewhat to hear that but I remembered my previous experience. I was willing to submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements. To my surprise, my son was discharged just two weeks later and he remains healthy to this day. Even though I blamed and misunderstood God about my son’s illness, He didn’t focus on my ignorance, but enlightened and guided me with His words so that I could understand God’s almightiness and sovereignty and change my mistaken view of having faith just to seek blessings. This really was God’s grace and blessings for me! Thanks be to Almighty God!