Category Archives: Suffering
Because we live in a fallen world, going through difficult times is inevitable:
JOB 5:7 – but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.
JOHN 16:33 - I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
ROMANS 8:18-23 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
1 PETER 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
4 Purposes for Suffering
(1) It makes our faith stronger.
1 PETER 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(2) It helps us grow into the kind of person that God wants me to be.
JOB 23:8-10 – Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
PHILIPPIANS 3:7-8 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
JAMES 1:2-4 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(3) It causes us to think more about eternity in Heaven.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-18 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(4) It disciplines us for our sins.
HEBREWS 12:10-13 – For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all disciplines seem painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
PROVERBS 3:11-12 – My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
How Should We Respond To Suffering?
(1) Recognize that God’s grace is sufficient for me.
PSALM 55:22 - Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:9 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my own weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2) Remember that God is sovereign over our adversities.
PSALM 33:13-15 – The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks at the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
PSALM 71:20-21 – You have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
ISAIAH 43:1-2 – But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
(3) Know that God is always there to listen and respond to you.
PSALM 3:4 – I cried aloud to the LORD and he answered me from his holy hill.
PSALM 9:9-10 – The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
PSALM 31:9-10 – Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
PSALM 61:2 – from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
PSALM 86:3 – Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O lOrd, do I lift up my soul.
(4) Use the help God gives you to help others.
2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-4 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(5) Know that adversity results in God’s reward.
JAMES 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
1 PETER 5:10 – After you have suffered awhile, the God of all grace, who has called you to eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Biblical illustrations – Job – whole book; Joseph – Genesis 37-50; Stephen – Acts 7; Paul and Silas – Acts 16.
SOURCE: Adapted from the Quick Reference For Counseling. Grand Rapids, Baker, 2006, 217-219.
We cannot control the length of our life,
but we can control its width and depth.
We cannot control the contour of our countenance,
but we can control its expression.
We cannot control the other person’s annoying habits,
but we can do something about our own..
We cannot control the distance our head is above the ground,
but we can control the contents we feed into it.
God help us do something about what we can control,
and leave all else in the hands of God!
SOURCE: John Lawrence. Life’s Choices: Discovering the consequences of sowing and reaping. Portland, OR.: Multnomah Press, 1975. p. 115.
The Effect of Your Life in 1,400 Years
Do you think God has purposes for your life that will be realized in 1,400 years?
I do. Your life and mine.
Yes, the new heavens and the new earth may be here by then. I hope so. If so, there are things that are happening to you now that will have reverberations then for your good.
I say that because Paul says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When Paul speaks of “light momentary affliction,” he is referring to all the painful experiences of our lives — the same thing he means by “the sufferings of this present time” in Romans 8:18. All of this present time.
And when he says that these life-long experiences are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory,” he means that there is a correlation between those experiences now and our experiences of glory later. And that correlation is more than sequential, and more than evidence that we are going to glory.
It would be little comfort to Paul if I said the point was: “How I handle my backache and how you handle your beheading are evidence that we are both going to glory.” That’s true. But it’s not the point of the word “preparing” (katergazetai). His beheading will have a different effect on his glory than my backache will on mine. And I’ll be the happier for his reward.
Everything Relates to Everything
But what if, in 1,400 years Christ has not returned? Will your life make a difference in that world? I think so. In God’s governance of the world, everything relates to everything.
Consider this illustration.
When I was in Ethiopia last November, I was told of an Ethiopian missionary who went to Pakistan. He entered a town with a view to evangelizing and planting a church, even though Pakistan is not open to this kind of missionary work.
But when he went before the town leaders and they found out that he was from Ethiopia they said something to the effect: “You may do your work here. We owe you the gift of openness and hospitality, because your people gave asylum to Mohammed’s family 1,400 years ago.”
The Land of Justice
Since then I have tried to track down the history behind this amazing statement. In 2008 there was a symposium about this very tradition. Scholars from Princeton, Cornell, Rutgers, and the National Museum of Ethiopia met to discuss new historical findings.
In Islamic history and tradition, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) is known as the “Haven of the First Migration” of Muslims. During Mohammed’s lifetime (570 – 632) his followers were being persecuted in the surroundings of Mecca by pagan tribes.
Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers, explained “King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.” King Armah was a Christian and had the reputation of treating people generously. Dr. Samatar described how “a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.”
“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia [Ethiopia] is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.’”
Therefore, for many Muslims even today, 1,400 years later, “Ethiopia is synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.”
Consider Your Impact
Do you think that the Christians of Abysinnia, 1,400 years ago thought that what they were doing would have an effect for the glory of Christ and the good of the world fourteen centuries later, when a Pakistani mayor opened his city to a Christian Ethiopian missionary?
Therefore, I conclude that what we do in obedience to Christ in this life is never wasted. Our acts are like pebbles dropped in the pond of history. No matter how small our pebble, God rules the ripples. And he causes the design on the face of the waters to be exactly what he wills.
Your pebbles count. Drop them with daily faithfulness, and leave the ripples to God.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.
RECOGNIZING GOD’S GRACE IN YOUR LOSS
Book Review by David P. Craig
One of the most difficult things to grapple with in life is to lose someone you love deeply. In this book Jerry Sittser shares the gut wrenching story of how he lost his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident. What Jerry does well in this book is he walks us through his journey of loss and how God’s grace intermixed in the various contours of his pain. Jerry’s story is our story. We all experience loss – jobs, loved ones, status, youth, health, pets, dreams, and many more. The author not only grapples with his own loss, but also the realities of loss that we all have to wrestle with in life.
What I like about this book is that it doesn’t offer simple steps to dealing with loss. The author helps you identify and grapple with the difficult realities we face in our losses. In the preface to the book Eugene Petterson describes this book as a “companion” for your journey of suffering and loss. That’s the way I felt as I read this book. As a fellow journeymen in the path of suffering I felt like I had a wise companion to walk with me and share with me in my loss.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is struggling with loss: loss of a loved one, job, or anything that once was precious to us, and is now no more. Jerry helps you to gain God’s perspective in a compassionate and gracious manner. This not a “self-help book,” or an “easy answers book.” The author writes as a fellow struggler of the harsh realities of the tremendous loss he has faced. However, he also recognizes that all human beings have and will suffer loss and that we all desperately need the grace of God to sustain us. He shares helpful stories, insights, and pearls of wisdom to encourage you with your own losses and how to move forward in grace and truth.
As a result of reading this book you will be encouraged to go deep in the multi-faceted realities of your loss and pain, as well as gain a new perspective of how God’s grace is available to help you move forward in your loss. I am grateful for Sittser’s vulnerability, transparency, honesty, and amazing insights into the grace of God. He comes across as a friend, a counselor, and an empathizer. It’s a serious book, because it’s dealing with serious pain. Sittser walks the talk and in the end is a very helpful and gracious guide and companion for your own journey of finding your own disguised grace in your loss.
When September 11th happened and New Yorkers started to suffer, you heard two voices. You heard the conventional moralistic voices saying, “When I see you suffer, it tells me about a judging God. You must not be living right, and so God is judging you.” When they see suffering they see a judgmental God. The secular voice said, “When I see people suffering I see God is missing.” When they see suffering, they see an absent, indifferent God.
WHAT CHRISTMAS DOES FOR SUFFERING
But when we see Jesus Christ dying on the cross through an act of violence and injustice, what kind of God do we see then? A condemning God? No, we see a God of love paying for sin. Do we see a missing God? Absolutely not! We see a God who is not remote but involved. We sometimes wonder why God doesn’t just end suffering, but we know that whatever the reason, it isn’t one of indifference or remoteness. God so hates suffering and evil that he was willing to come into it and become enmeshed in it. Dorothy Sayers wrote:
For whatever reason, God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it was worthwhile.
The gift of Christmas gives you a resource—a comfort and consolation—for dealing with suffering, because in it we see God’s willingness to enter this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us. No other religion—whether secularism, Greco-Roman paganism, Eastern religion, Judaism, or Islam—believes God became breakable or suffered or had a body. Eastern religion believes the physical is illusion. Greco-Romans believe the physical is bad. Judaism and Islam don’t believe God would do such a thing as live in the flesh. But Christmas teaches that God is concerned not only with the spiritual, because he is not just a spirit anymore. He has a body. He knows what it’s like to be poor, to be a refugee, to face persecution and hunger, to be beaten and stabbed. He knows what it is like to be dead. Therefore, when we put together the incarnation and the resurrection, we see that God is not just concerned about the spirit, but he also cares about the body. He created the spirit and the body, and he will redeem the spirit and the body.
Christmas shows us that God is not just concerned about spiritual problems but physical problems too. So we can talk about redeeming people from guilt and unbelief, as well as creating safe streets and affordable housing for the poor, in the same breath. because Jesus himself is not just a spirit but also has a body, the gift of Christmas is a passion for justice. There are a lot of people in this world who have a passion for justice and a compassion for the poor but have absolutely no assurance that justice will one day triumph. They just believe that if we work hard enough long enough, we’ll pull ourselves together and bring some justice to this world. For these people, there’s no consolation when things don’t go well. But Christians have not only a passion for justice but also the knowledge that, in the end, justice will triumph. Confidence in the justice of God makes the most realistic passion for justice possible.
WHAT CHRISTMAS DOES FOR THE DESPISED (& THE DESPISER)
Lastly, in the package of Christmas, there’s the ability to reconnect with the part of the human race you despise. Have you ever noticed how women-centric the incarnation and resurrection narratives are? Do you realize that women, not men, are at the very center of these stories? For example, in the story of the resurrection, who was the only person in the world who knew that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead? Mary Magdelene, a former mental patient, is the one Jesus tells to take this news to the world. Everyone else in the whole world learns it from her. Women are the first people to see Jesus risen from the dead.
In the incarnation, the annunciation comes to a woman. God penetrates the world through the womb of a poor, unwed, Jewish, teenage girl. The first theological reflection group trying to wrap their minds around this to figure out what this means and what is going on is Mary and Elizabeth. We know that in those days women had a very, very low status. They were marginalized and oppressed. For example, we know that a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court. Why? Because of prejudice against women.
We say to ourselves, aren’t we glad we’re past all that? Yes, but here’s what we have to realize: God is deliberately working with people the world despises. The very first witnesses to his nativity and resurrection are people whom the world says you can’t trust, people the world looks down on. Because we don’t look down on women today, we don’t look at this part of the story and realize what we’re being told. But here’s what we’re being told: Christmas is the end of snobbishness. Christmas is the end of thinking, “Oh, that kind of person.” You don’t despise women, but you despise somebody. (Oh, yes you do!) you may not be a racist, but you certainly despise racists. You may not be a bigot, but you have certain people about which you think, “They’re the reason for the problems in the world.”
There’s a place in one of Martin Luther’s nativity sermons where he asks something like, “Do know what a stable smells like? You know what that family would have smelled like after the birth when they went out into the city? And if they were standing next to you, how would you have felt about them and regarded them?” He is saying, I want you to see Christ in the neighbor you tend to despise—in the political party you despise, in the race you despise, in the class of people you despise.
Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you. It is telling you that people who are saved are not those who have arisen through their own ability to be what God wants them to be. Salvation comes to those who are willing to admit how weak they are.
In Christmas there is a resource for something most of us don’t even feel the need of. We might be able to admit we have trouble being vulnerable or that we need help handling suffering or that we need more passion for justice. But almost nobody says, “What am I going to do about my prejudice and snobbery? I really need help with that.”
Do you remember what an incredible snob you were when you were a teenager? Teenagers generally want nothing to do with people who don’t dress right and look cool. Do you think you ever got over that? You’re not really over that. You just found more socially acceptable ways to express it. You see, teenagers let that aspect of human nature out and don’t realize how stupid they look, and after a while they get rid of it. But really they are just papering over it. There are all kinds of people you look down on and want nothing to do with—and you know it. But in Christmas you have this amazing resource to decimate that—to remove it and take it away.
These are the gifts that come in the package of Christmas— vulnerability for intimacy, strength for suffering, passion for justice, and power over prejudice. And you are blessed if you open this gift and take it into your life. If you do, you’ll be blessed. You’ll be transformed.
SOURCE: This adapted sermon is an excerpt from Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace & Promise of Christmas. Edited by Nancy Guthrie, Crossways. Copyright © by Timothy Keller, 2007.
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000.
TRUSTING GOD TO TRUMP EVIL
Oftentimes when we are going through tough times we need some short and quick reminders that everything is going to be okay. In this short treatment of the life of Joseph from the Old Testament Lucado reminds us: “”You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”
In retelling the story of Joseph the author takes time to provide ample applications (contemporary and ancient) to bring forth the principles that help us as we wait for God to bring forth good out of the messes in our lives whether we made them, inherited them, or we were the object of someone’s evil plans. Ultimately nothing can thwart the plans that God has for us, and that means that all things will work out for our good and God’s glory. The main idea brought out by Lucado in this book is that “in God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good.”
This short book would make a good gift or recommendation for Christians that are currently going through a rough time. Lucado’s story telling connects well with readers by continually making connections between the biblical subject and the relevant points to our own lives. Lucado has written a helpful manual for believers who need guidance in their pain by helping us trust in the God who always trumps evil for our own good.