Suffering

Knowing the Sovereignty of God through Suffering, Part 2

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My comfort in suffering comes from the knowledge that God ordains my suffering for my eternal good and his glory. It is not enough to say that God allows my suffering. After all, why would God allow something if it wasn’t for the best. For God to allow something would imply that another force of equal or greater power was the actual cause of my suffering. That is clearly not the case. So, the all-wise God must be the prime cause of my suffering, and if He is all-loving and all-powerful, then He ordains it for my good and fully controls it. 

Some may ask, how is that comforting??? I am comforted by the truth of God’s all-wise and sovereign ordination of my suffering because I know that none of it is wasted, and I do not suffer one more second than God ordains. Every second of my suffering is precisely what God knows I need to grow in holiness. Romans 5:3-5 reminds us:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

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Knowing the Sovereignty of God through Suffering, Part 1

“More bad news.” Throughout my nine-month ordeal with the brain tumor and lymphoma there were few positive developments. Even what we thought were positive developments turned out to be false hopes. My wife and I felt like we were slowly descending into an abyss. I felt like I was slipping down a steep slope to death, which lay at the bottom with its mouth open for me like a yawning chasm. I wanted to stop and get off the ride, but this wasn’t a ride, and I couldn’t stop anything. I had no control.

Control. That was the illusion I missed the most. I say “illusion,” because we should all be painfully aware that we have control over absolutely nothing in our lives. Zip, zilch, nada. Yet the illusion is so strong that it is almost irresistible. The consequences of maintaining that illusion are serious.

We think that we can avoid difficulty by living wisely, eating healthy foods, and exercising; yet, even healthy people drop dead suddenly. We think that if we follow God’s directions for rearing children and we try to be the best parents possible that our children will never wander from God. We think that if we work diligently to be the best in our vocation we can protect ourselves from economic hardship; yet, something like the Coronavirus can turn the economy on its head in a matter of weeks, leaving us jobless.

The truth is we have no real control of our lives. Thankfully, that does not mean that no one is in control. Christians have always confessed that God is sovereign, that is as the Westminster Confession of faith says:

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How the Trinity Helps Us in Our Suffering, Part 2

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God can seem impersonal and heartless. Who has not begged God for relief, even if no more than for a few drops of water on a parched tongue, only to hear the silence of heaven? Maybe the deists are right. Maybe God wound up the clock of this world and walked away. Maybe no one answers because no one is there.

The Trinity reminds us that God is personal and loving and responsive by his very nature. Yahweh can no more become indifferent to your situation than he can deny himself, something we are told in Scripture he explicitly cannot do (2 Tim. 2:13). The Father is better than any earthly father in his attention and care. He is far more concerned about you and your suffering than the created world, which he upholds with the most delicate and detailed watchfulness (Matt. 6:25-30).

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How the Trinity Helps Us in Our Suffering, Part 1

You may be thinking, why start a series on knowing God through suffering with the most abstract and difficult doctrine known to Christians? Why not start with something simpler, like mercy or faithfulness? All in due time.

I start with the Trinity because who God is in his fullness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the starting point for all our understanding about God. If we skip who God is at the very essence of his being, we may get off on the wrong foot. But even more importantly, the triune nature of God in his three persons is a gold mine for understanding the riches of God and his reasons for allowing his creatures to suffer.

Christians worship one God, and it’s a good thing, too. In the religions of the ancient world, and in Hinduism today (and in some ways the system of saints in Roman Catholicism), you couldn’t just go to one source for all your problems. Each god had its own realm over which it exercised dominion. As a result, you had to offer sacrifices at the temple of the god connected to your problem. If you wanted to pray for your wife to get pregnant or your crops to succeed in the Canaanite religion, you would appeal to Baal. If you wanted healing in the Greco-Roman world, you would offer a clay replica of your diseased body part at the temple of Asclepius. None of the gods were sovereign over it all.

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Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 2

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If God has ordained my suffering, what can I do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing about my circumstances, but I can do something about my heart. 

I only have three choices. First, I can cry out to God like the psalmists and cling to what I know to be true about God’s character and promises. I can, in great weakness and desperation cling to the sure and steadfast anchor (Heb. 6:19), the shepherd and overseer of my soul (1 Pet. 2:25) who has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).

Second, I can make the mistake of distorting the biblical picture of God into something more palatable. I can come to believe that God is not in control, that God does not will my suffering, and that he weeps with me in my agony, but cannot do anything about it. Those who choose this path often want to attribute suffering only to Satan, but certainly not to God. They may even come to believe that God only ever wills for his children to live in health and prosperity here and now, so that He could not possibly ever desire suffering, difficulty, or loss.

It is true that Satan can be an instrument of God to bring suffering (Job 1; Mark 1:13; 2 Cor. 12:7), but to attribute all suffering to him is to reduce God’s Lordship in the universe. So, God does not sit by helplessly as suffering happens, neither does he promise bliss and glory now. 

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Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 1

“So, this is it. This is how I’m going to die,” I thought as I kneeled over the toilet in my underwear, waves of pain slamming my stomach. For the sixth time in two weeks I was experiencing unbearable pain, caused by the lemon-size tumor in my small bowel. What I didn’t know was that it had almost completely blocked my intestine and that I would be in the hospital within the hour. It would be my first of four stays in the hospital, culminating two months later in emergency surgery to fix a perforated bowel.

All of this was happening in the middle of chemotherapy to treat the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had been diagnosed a few months before. And that followed the discovery of a brain tumor weeks prior to the cancer diagnosis. I felt for the first time like I understood completely what the Psalmist experienced when he cried out that God’s waves overwhelmed him (Ps. 88:7). It had been one blow after another and little did I know that it would continue this way for some time to come.

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