Two Invaluable Truths from Suffering

“But when we survey all the sources from which trouble comes, it all resolves itself into two invaluable truths: First, that our troubles at last are of the Lord. They come with His consent He is in all of them, and is interested in us when they press and bruise us. And secondly, that our troubles, no matter what the cause, whether of ourselves, or men or devils, or even God Himself, we are warranted in taking them to God in prayer, in praying over them, and in seeking to get the greatest spiritual benefits out of them” (E.M. Bounds, The Essentials of Prayer, 25).

Advertisements

Evolution = Hopelessness to the Sufferer

On suffering and the “why” question, the 6.9 out of 7.0 agnostic Richard Dawkins essentially says don’t bother asking.  In his final chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Dawkins expands on each line in Darwin’s last paragraph of On the Origin of Species.  As Dawkins develops the line “From the war of nature, from famine and death,” he argues that nature has a “serene indifference” to suffering.

Yes there is grandeur in the view of this life, and even a kind of grandeur in nature’s serene indifference to the suffering that inexorably follows in the wake of its guiding principle, survival of the fittest (Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [New York: Free Press, 2009], 401).

This is the best evolution has to offer to the suffering human race; this is best bedside comfort Darwinism offers a dying person.  Give him credit for consistency.  Nevertheless, indifference to suffering is part of the DNA of natural selection.   What an arid, inhumane worldview.

Contrast this to the Christian worldview in which there is a Creator, who is neither detached nor indifferent to human suffering.  In fact, He entered into it by sending His son, Jesus Christ to live and die among us.  His Son suffered on the cross and rose again on the third day so that suffering brought on by sin would one day be entirely eradicated.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Ideas have consequences, don’t they?  One may argue that on its face evolution is scientifically sophisticated (though this premise is not at all firmly or finally established).  Even if it were, it is absolutely useless for offering hope to a suffering human race.

Christian Suffering is a Gift

The title is theological statement derived from 1 Peter 4:1-2,

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

The ease with which theology flows from our lips may be miles apart from the difficulty of applying said theology.  Why is suffering a gift?  Simple: it purges the dross of worldliness from our lives, “to live . . . no longer for human passions,” so that we live, “for the will of God.”  Suffering as Christians removes our hedonistic appetite for temporal vanities and makes us yearn for eternal glory.  

I do not pretend to have an idea of what it’s like to attend prayer meeting under duress or evangelize with my head on the chopping block.  But many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world do.  In fact, this was posted on May 3 in the Voice of the Martyrs newsroom: “Christians in Iraq have been warned by Muslim extremists to leave the country immediately or risk violent death, according to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts.”  A clear message is being sent around the world concerning Biblical truth in the public square: it is not welcome!

Here’s what I do know.  The apostle Peter calls every Christian to “arm ourselves with the same way of thinking”?  What thinking?  Since Christ suffered, we too will suffer for the sake of Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12).  Sometimes all it takes to choose suffering is to be faithful and obedient to God and His word.  But when we approach spiritual warfare with this mindset (we are “armed” with this way of thinking), we will not be surprised when we suffer for Christ’s sake (1 Peter 4:12-19).

We will suffer, but suffering is a gift.  Hard but glorious theology.

God’s Attributes as Our Hope in Suffering

As you read through the book of Job you find a number of God’s attributes highlighted.  The attributes of God are not concepts for abstract theological discussion.  They are anchors for the soul in times of suffering.  God’s attributes, I think, became increasingly meaningful to Job.  In other words, He knew God better after profound suffering.    

 

God’s Omniscience (all-knowing)

But he knows the way that I take (Job 23:10a)

God’s Immanence (condescension or nearness).  Notice that God had a personal interest in Job: “when he has tried me.”

when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:10b) 

God’s Immutability (unchanging nature)

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? (Job 23:13a)

 

God’s Sovereignty (God status and freedom of action as King of the universe)

What he desires, that he does (Job 23:13b)

 

God’s Omnisapience (all-wise).  God, having taken into account all possible paths, has carved out the paths for our lives that will bring Him the most glory and that will bring about our greatest good. 

For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind (Job 23:14)  

 

God’s Omnipotence (all-powerful).  Notice how Job uses metaphors that have to do with sound (whisper . . . thunder) to contrast how much of God’s power we see (whisper) versus how much power He actually possesses (thunder). 

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?  Job 26:14 (cf. 26:5-13)

Suffering ought to effect, among other things, a greater knowledge of God.  Not for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of knowing our God and fulfilling our grand purpose in life: to know Him and to glorify Him forever.  Let’s search God out in the Book in which He has revealed Himself.

I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food (Job 23:12)

The Divine “Letting Loose”

I am reading through Job.  Job knew what it meant to suffer deeply.  He lost everything.  His theology was critical during his profound affliction.  Two specific points of his theology are noteworthy:

  • God is the first cause even though He used Satan to accomplish His will.  Job understood that God ultimately brought about this suffering.  Job says ” The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21).
  • God sustains life.  He also understood that life is in the hands of the Giver and Taker of life.  Job asserts ” . . . that he would let loose his hand and cut me off.”  This expression means that Job wished he were dead, which is the theme of Job 3.

That God is the first cause and that He sustains life funnel to the singular truth of God’s all-wise providence.  To be sure, Job’s suffering is profound; unlike anything I have known and frankly never care to experience.  Yet at the same time, something greater and something infinitely good came of it.  Even righteous Job had something to learn which he declares at the end of the book: “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; [6] therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).  Evidently, some self-righteousness had to be purged from his life.    

A satisfactory answer to the “why” of Job’s suffering in particular and to human suffering in general will very likely never come in this life. But when we suffer let us tenaciously cling to the all-wise providence of a good God.  Though our suffering may be so great that we wish God “would let loose his hand and cut us off,” there is a reason God desires for us to endure suffering.  Because God is all-wise, all possible avenues to accomplish His will have been considered, the path He has chosen is what He has determined will be for our highest good and for His greatest glory. 

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  [11] For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:10-11)