Last week we rephrased this question: “How could such a big, good and powerful God let bad things happen to good people?” and said the question we need to ask before we continue this series was this: “How in the world can a holy and good and all-powerful God who knows all things, including all the sin in my life, and not strike me dead?”
Then we were introduced to Job, who was wealthy, respected, faithful and feared God. Satan didn’t believe God’s word about Job’s love for God, so God allowed Satan certain limits in regards to bringing upon suffering to Job to see if we would worship God if his wealth, health and family were taken from him.
Then we painted a picture of what it looks like to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and goodness in suffering. Heaven rejoices, thousands of voices declare God’s glory and Satan is resisted. Oh that that would be our greatest desire. But what about when it isn’t? What do we do when we don’t desire to glorify God in our suffering? Then what? Well, we see a picture of what it looks like when we don’t desire God’s reputation more than our own comfort and desires. Let’s read Job 2:9-10 together:
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Do you still hold fast to your integrity? She has lived with Job and she knows his life-style, and if this the way that this God treats you (a “good” man), then CURSE HIM AND DIE! In her mind: God is like a DIVINE SLOT MACHINE. You put in your money (or in this case you serving your god), and puff out comes blessings.
Most people hold to a view similar to this. “I will serve God as long as it’s a good deal for me (in the worldly sense).” She’s basically saying, “Why be good if at the end of the day God is not going to bless you.” She’s not willing to serve God if there’s no personal gain.
Job’s response is both quick and insightful: You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
‘YOU SPEAK LIKE ONE OF THE FOOLISH WOMEN’ This response is not as bad as it sounds and he is not speaking so much about her intellect [i.e., ‘a foolish woman’] as he is her moral conduct.
The next part of Job’s response is amazing:
Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? For the first time the Retribution Principle is very clear: GOD BLESSES THOSE WHO ARE GOOD AND HE PUNISHES THOSE WHO ARE BAD. This is only half truth. Ultimately, the righteous (those who claim Jesus as King) will live eternally with God, and the wicked (those who don’t trust Jesus as King) will live eternally separate from God.
Many people live this way. They believe they are basically good, they have paid their dues, and God must bless them, and if He doesn’t, then He is not worth worshipping.
When Job’s health fails, it proves to be too much for his wife. She had endured with him the loss of her children and wealth. But now with the life of her husband draining away leaving her utterly destitute, her faith collapses. Why does this happen? Better yet, what do we do when this happens?
I’m not sure I’ll be able to give you satisfactory answers to these questions, but what I will give you hopefully, is a new picture of God’s Word and God’s purposes in suffering that may be able to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, change your heart and thoughts and desires through suffering and grief. Last week we discussed God’s sovereign control of Satan and suffering, this week we will get practical about suffering.
As a pastor, I am taking every chance I can to teach on suffering because it is the one thing that we can’t escape and it is one thing that will “add to” or “rob from” us the most, depending on our worldview. (talk about worldview: meta-narrative)
The prosperity gospel says: “If you believe in Jesus, He will prosper you (make you rich) and you will suffer less and less (be healthy) the more you have faith in Him.”
Those who bring this message over to 3rd world nations are saying: “If you believe in Jesus your crops won’t die if rain doesn’t come. Your wife won’t have miscarriages. Your kids won’t get aids. Your cattle will multiply. You’ll get rich if you give more to the Lord….because He wants you flying a leer jet and driving a mercedes like me!”
This should anger you. The “I’ll give everything to this Jesus if He’ll do that for me” kind of salvation doesn’t exist. Bad things happen to everybody…saints and sinners alike. As Christians, we must have a “theology” of suffering or else we will not be able to minster to those who do suffer or make it through our own suffering.
If we were to share some stats of all the people who die yearly from irrational suffering and natural disasters, one thing should ring loud and clear in our hearts: Our lives are fragile, and they hang by a thread over death. We are all moving towards it, and it is not in our hands to work out. It is only by shear grace that we are alive today and we were not the ones who died in natural disasters last year. It also tells us that suffering is common even among a generation who is well advanced in technology and the sort…
Paul Brand, the missionary surgeon to India wrote in his book Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants: “I have come to see that pain and pleasure come to us not as opposites but as Siamese twins, strangely joined and intertwined. Nearly all my memories of acute happiness, in fact, involve some element of pain or struggle.” (Christianity Today, Jan. 10, 1994, p. 21)
I have never heard anyone say, “The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort.” Nobody says that.
It isn’t true. What’s true is what Charles Spurgeon said: “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.” This is because it is in pain and suffering where we see God more clearly. That is when everything that isn’t that important just moves away and that which is of most importance is clearly seen. Thus Jesus shows up and we rejoice!
Since the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1-2: 1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.) and it all declares His glory (Psalm 19:1: 1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.) then we would do well to submit to the Lord in ALL things so that we can declare His glory and beauty as well.
The best/greatest way a believer can display God’s glory is to James 1:2 it: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, Notice the word “when” in verse 2. “When” trials come…they will come. It is no secret, the Lord has forewarned us plenty of times…hard times are coming and they are not promised to ever leave us alone. It’s how we receive and live through these times that counts.
Jesus says to His disciples: John 16:33: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Luke writes in Acts that Paul taught Acts 14:22: “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Paul says to the Philippian church: Phil. 1:29: 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.
Peter says to the Christians dispersed all over the world because of persecution: 1 Peter 4:12-13: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Let’s consider the life of Paul for a moment. Paul lived a life that none of us would ever ask for, but I’m convinced, he would never trade it in for anything! The sacrificial life of Paul led to great victories for the Kingdom of heaven and lives have been transformed by reading about his victories through suffering for the last 2000 years.
2 Corinthians 11:24-30: 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Then there is the thorn in his flesh one chapter later that Paul asked God to take from him and He wouldn’t: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10: 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
God inflicted suffering onto Paul so that He would remain humble and weak…yet in all this, he says: 2 Corinthians 1:9b-10: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
Paul confirms over and over again that not only God is with Him in his suffering, but that His (seemingly irrational) suffering and hardships have not served as a denial of the gospel, but a confirmation of the gospel. Paul’s suffering leads to greater life! Life because we can see Jesus more clearly!
If we only see this life as a means to gain more worldly comfort and provision, then we are going to miss, BIG TIME!!, what it means to be Christians who are still living here on earth. We will be angry and unhappy people. Angry at God, people, spouses, the person who made you suffer, etc…Unhappiness, bitterness, resentment will destroy you!
Our one purpose in life is to make Christ look magnificent!! If that is our main goal in life, we will have infinite comfort and provision. If it’s not, we will seek to find this comfort and provision elsewhere and will never find it… always question-ing God and His purposes and wondering what in the world is all this CRAP in life for.
Application: Suffering can do many things in your life that are “good” if you’ll let it. But I’m gonna give you 3 things that I see suffering doing in my life and in those around me:
1) Suffering clarifies what the heart worships. This is the fire, that when it begins to burn off the dross (something regarded as worthless; rubbish, foreign matter, or mineral waste, in particular: scum formed on the surface of molten metal) it exposes all the things we love more than God Himself by stripping us of these things in love and giving us clarity in the midst of suffering. This will either bring great clarity and intimacy with God, or you will love the idea of deliverance more than having the Deliverer with you. And if you love deliverance more than God, you will turn from Him and resent Him because of your pride, thinking you know what’s best for your life.
1 Peter 1:6-7: 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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) Suffering purifies the heart. When the dross is all burned off of the metal, you have a very strong and pure piece of metal, the kind in which great swords are made of that are used in battle and do not break when the testing time comes (a trainer taking you to the point of body failure as you are training for an ironman competition). When your heart is purified through suffering, you begin to see the world in a different light and you do not love it as much as you did before. This gives you a growing discontentment with sin and evil in this world and it increases your hopefulness for heaven and the day when all tears will be wiped away, and the pain will be no more.
Hebrews 12:26-29: 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
3) Suffering moves the heart to action. If we see a child cry, we offer tenderness. If we see the wounds of a victim, we offer relief. Human suffering arouses anger, it moves us to take action, and as a result, we begin to push back some of the darkness that the fall of man created in this world. Suffering humanizes the heart and increases a hunger for God and for righteous living. (Jon Foreman in his song Instead of a Show says this: “Instead, let there be a flood of justice, an endless procession of righteous living.”)
Isaiah 1:13-17: 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me…14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
I’m trying to help you and love you today. Find your purpose in making Christ look magnificent in EVERYTHING you do and EVERYTHING that happens to you. Realize and believe that God has purpose in your suffering. At the level you believe that and find joy in Christ alone, will be the level you experience Christian joy and comfort.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES SET ON? WHAT ARE YOUR AFFECTIONS SET ON? FROM WHERE DOES YOUR COMFORT AND PEACE COME FROM? WHO OR WHAT ARE YOU RELYING ON? WHAT CONDITIONS DO YOU HAVE ON GOD FOR YOU TO REMAIN LOVING AND FAITHFUL TOWARDS HIM?
DON’T MISS JESUS IN YOUR SUFFERING! ALLOW JESUS TO LOOK BEAUTIFUL AND MAGNIFICENT IN YOUR SUFFERING, DON’T WASTE IT!! Be like Joseph and say: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)