Suffering

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.

1327 reads

Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 2

Read Part 1.

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. 

1070 reads

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.

1045 reads

It’s Still a Good Time to Bolster Our Theology of Suffering (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Our pastor recently asked for a show of hands: “How many of you are aware of someone you knew personally who died in the last three months?” A lot of hands went up. Our pastor is keen on helping believers process these experiences through a biblical grid.

I am, too, starting with myself—hence, this review/meditation.

The Bible gives us plenty of space to be unsure about a lot of things, but it also communicates the truths we need most with a clarity that leaves us with no excuse for floundering. If we focus on what we don’t know rather than what we do know, that’s on us.

What we do know is that (1) suffering in the life of a Christian is never meaningless or without purpose. God intends to use it to make us better or to be an objective expression of the brokenness of the world (Rom 8:20). In both cases, the point is to reveal the perfection of God’s character through the unfolding of the story of God and man on earth: creation, fall, redemption, glory.

We also know that in the lives of believers, pain and loss are (2) never solitary, (3) never payback, and (3) never unfair or cruel. Christian sufferers are part of the great company of believers who have endured across the ages. They are sufferers whose sin-debt has been fully paid and who belong to a wise, good, and loving Father who desires their joy.

1009 reads

It’s Still a Good Time to Bolster Our Theology of Suffering

In April of 2020, as COVID-19 was disrupting all our lives in ways most of us had never experienced before, I wrote about my personal need to revisit my theology of suffering. It’s interesting to look back on the set of uncertainties that was on my mind at the time.

Now, more than a year and a half later, much has changed, but much hasn’t. Oddly, now that the pandemic is something we’ve mostly gotten used to, it seems like people I know, or loved ones of people I know, are dying of the disease all around me. So what I expected more of in 2020 is reality now, near the end of 2021.

One constant through this is an old, old one. It’s been a constant since Adam and Eve transgressed and were evicted from Eden—the certainty of uncertainty. When things are going smoothly, we experience the illusion of certainty in “life as we know it.” But it’s never truly certain at all.

Some people like that about life. I usually don’t, but—like it nor not—it’s a good thing. In the longest of long runs, all that is unsure and fleeting now is context for a deeper appreciation of what’s sure, unchanging, and eternal (see Rom 8:18). In that spirit, I want to revisit seven certain things in the life of every Christian (today, the first four).

1516 reads

Pages