The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Suffering (page 1 of 4)

Being Renewed

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16b). 

I’ve pondered this verse, because my outer nature is wasting away.  The Greek, diathiero, is used of a moth slowly consuming clothing (Luke 12:33).  And here of my body becoming increasingly weak.  I loathe it, of course. It always rages in my mind.  I’m facing death, however far off it may be.  And the thought of leaving my beloved Lois and my family behind makes me sob with sorrow.

But I want to think about my “inner nature”.  Paul says it is “being renewed day by day.”  The Greek is anakaino-o, referring to causing something to be made new and better.

Paul uses it in Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Again in Colossians 3:9.10—”Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”  And in Ephesians 4:22,23—”You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “

In each case “renewed” is passive.  Being made new and better on the inside is something done to us.  One can argue that we are not passive, that we participate—and I won’t disagree.  But Paul implies that the force doing it is greater than both our participation and the wasting away of our outer nature.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

We’re familiar with Paul’s affliction, most of it the result of his preaching the gospel (both persecution and travel-dangers), some of it physical illness.  To call it “light” seems a gross understatement; but he’s comparing it with eternal glory (“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”—Romans 8:18).

What’s incredible about his statement here is this:  light, momentary affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”.  The Greek is katergaomy—“producing, achieving, accomplishing”.

God the Holy Spirit is actually using our affliction to produce for us an exceedingly great eternal weight of glory.

Does Paul mean the greater the affliction the greater the weight of glory?  That’s unclear.  But this much is certain:  not one hour of affliction is to be wasted;  God will use all of it in the renewing process toward glory.

And this production-process is occurring right now!  “ . . . our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  

“ . . . . while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen . . . “The Greek says only, “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”  Paul isn’t saying our looking makes the inner renewal happen, but that the inner renewal makes the looking happen.  Day by day the Holy Spirit is turning my eyes off my outer wasting away and onto my inner renewal working toward an eternal weight of glory.

Of course, I can (and do at times) resist.  He tenderly takes my chin and lifts my head toward the unseen—and I force my eyes back.  Down instead of up.  Outer instead of inner.  Seen instead of unseen.  Light, momentary affliction instead of eternal glory.

Nevertheless, the inner renewal process continues unabated . “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”  (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Of course, it’s to my benefit to look at “the things which are not seen”.  Fixing my eyes on my weakening body is depressing, even frightening.  But fixing my eyes on inner renewal is hopeful, even comforting and joyful.

So, it’s to that, by God’s grace, I will look.  Not so much to the “eternal weight of glory”.  For that is more than I can see, beyond what my mind can take in.  Even as my body wastes away a bit more, I will look today to my “inner nature being renewed”. I can’t really grasp that either.  But to know God is actually at work in me, creating something new and better–well, that’s exciting and full-of-wonder.

How great is God’s grace!  Even while I’m complaining about my body growing weaker, he’s making me new and better on the inside.  And someday that process will climax in an “explosion” of an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!

So, old man, smile!  You’re being made new right now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Epilogue)

An epilogue is a section at a book’s end otherwise known as a conclusion.  I’m not sure anything written on suffering has a conclusion–seems there’s always more to say.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering
-ebook/dp/B00C1N951O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489602418&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by+timothy+keller

Nevertheless, Keller concludes his excellent book by summarizing in ten points his counsel on suffering.  He reminds us that “if our hearts and minds are engaged” by the biblical theology of suffering then, when suffering comes, we won’t be surprised by it and can respond in scriptural ways.

“First, we must recognize the varieties of suffering” (p. 320). They include suffering brought on by one’s bad behavior, by attacks from others, by “life” (illness, death of a loved one, etc.) and horrendous suffering such as a mass shooting. Different suffering generally requires different responses.

“Second, [we] must recognize distinctions in temperament between [ourselves] and other sufferers” (p. 320).  The way God helped another sufferer may not be the way he’ll help you, because you are temperamentally different.

“Third, there is weeping.  It is crucial to be brutally honest with yourself and God about your pain and sorrow” (p. 320,321).  One can’t be emotionally strengthened by refusing to admit his weakness.  The psalmists call us to pour out our soul to the Lord.

“Fourth, there is trusting” (p. 321).  Weeping, we can plead, “Let this cup pass from me.”  But we must reach the point of faith-submission: “May your will be done.”  Trust his wisdom (he is sovereign).  Trust his love (he’s been through what we’re going through).

“Fifth, we must be praying” (p. 321).  Even though Job complained and pleaded his cases, he did it all to God.  Even if dry, we must meet God in his Word and, if possible, in corporate worship.  We may not want to pray, but we can ask God to move us to want to pray.

“Sixth, we must be disciplined in our thinking” (p. 321). Keller counsels, “You must meditate on the truth and gain the perspective that comes from remembering all God has done for you and is going to do.”  Use Psalm 42 to speak to your soul.

“Seventh, we should be willing to do some self-examining” (p. 321).  The question to ask:  What weakness is this suffering showing about me?

“Eighth, we must be about reordering our lives” (p. 322).  Suffering often reveals we love something too much or God too little.  Suffering will do us good if we learn in it to love God more.  “This happens,” Keller explains, “by recognizing God’s suffering for us in Jesus Christ, and by praying, thinking and trusting that love into our souls” (p. 322).

“Ninth, we should not shirk community” (p. 322).  Suffering can create isolation.  But we need the love, compassion, support and Bible-doctrine-preaching of a community of believers.

“Tenth, some forms of suffering require skill at receiving grace and forgiveness from God, and giving grace and forgiveness to others” (p. 322).  If suffering is self-caused, we must repent.  If it’s other-caused, we must forgive.

“Doing these things, as George Herbert writes, will first bring your ‘joys to weep’ but then your ‘griefs to sing’” (p. 322).

* * *

Ironically, on this last day of Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (my second time through), I find myself languishing under the dark cloud of discouragement.  How can that be?  Well, I know I’m shirking community (#9 in the summary).  That’s because “going to church” is a huge challenge, and, besides, what I find in local churches seems hardly worth the effort.  (Is that arrogant?)

Furthermore, as I’ve openly confessed, suffering has shown I love walking more than I love God (#8).  So I’ve repented and remembered God’s suffering for me in Christ, but some days his love just doesn’t reach my heart.

So I’ve learned one more lesson that Keller implies:  to rise above the emotional darkness of suffering I have to fight the fight of the faith.  Sleeping with Keller’s book under my pillow won’t do it.  Nor will reading alone do it.  I have to use it–and primarily the Scripture–to fight. 

And when I don’t feel up to fighting, I have to drag myself to the battlefield anyway, read God’s Word (even if it seems to reach no further than my eyes!), mumble my prayers (even if they’re like dust in my mouth) and wait to see what God will do.  “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).

And I must remember how that psalm ends . . .

” . . . let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:11,12).

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (16)

“The erosion or loss of hope is what makes suffering unbearable” (Keller, p. 313).  But here’s God’s ultimate remedy as the apostle John saw it  . . .

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!”  (Revelation 21:1-5a, GNT).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering-ebook/dp/B00C1N951O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489415157&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by+timothy+keller

Those words were written to Christians suffering persecution toward the end of the first century A.D.  As they were ripped apart by beasts, they sang hymns.  As they were tortured, they forgave their torturers.  Future hope determined how they lived and how they died.

African-American slaves suffered.  But they sang their “spirituals”, believed that all injustice would eventually be judged and all their desires fulfilled.

In 1927 African-American scholar Howard Thurman wrote of them . . .

“The facts make clear that [this sung faith] did serve to deepen the capacity of endurance and the absorption of suffering . . . It taught a people how to ride high in life, to look squarely in the face those facts that argue most dramatically against all hope and to use those facts as raw material out of which they fashioned a hope that the environment, with all its cruelty could not crush . . . This . . . enabled them to reject annihilation and to affirm a terrible right to live” (p. 315).

How can we be sure this future is also for us?  Keller:  “The answer is—you can be sure if you believe in Jesus, who took what we deserve so we could have the heaven and the glory he deserved” (p. 317).  Keller tells the story of Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years.  Barnhouse lost his wife when his daughter was still a child.  He was trying to help his daughter and himself process this terrible loss . . .

“Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them.  As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car.  The minister had a thought.  He said something like this, ‘Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?’  His daughter replied, ‘By the shadow of course.  That can’t hurt us at all.’  Dr. Barnhouse replied, ‘Right.  If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine.  Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother.  She’s actually alive—more alive than we are.  And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus.  And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory’” (p. 317). 

Keller tells of the day his cancerous thyroid was to be removed, followed by radiation treatment.  He and his family were shaken by it all.  After his wife and sons left, he was ready to be prepped.  In those moments, Keller prayed—and he tells how, to his surprise, “It seemed to me that the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty . . . And within this great globe of glory was only one little speck of darkness . . . and soon that speck would fade away and everything would be light.”  He thought, then, that it didn’t matter how surgery would go.  Everything would be all right (p. 318).

C.S. Lewis wrote . . .

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so.  Someday, God willing, we shall get in” (p.318,319).

I write . . .

Hope is here.  Revelation 21 will become a reality.  Why, then, do I sometimes feel  the unbearableness of suffering without hope?  Because I have to fill my mind with it until it reaches my heart.  “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” helps.  Here’s the last stanza . . .

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Keller explains what that means.  It’s like saying . . .

“Come on, crosses,
The lower you lay me

The higher you will raise me!
Come on, grave,
Kill me

And all you will do is make me better than before.”

“If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope–and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened–then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come” (Keller, p. 318).

That hope makes suffering bearable.  Listen and let hope fill your heart . . .

 

 

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (15)

Tim Keller calls Paul one of the Bible’s most prominent sufferers.  Paul catalogues his sufferings in Romans 8:35; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8,9; 6:4,5; 11:23-39;  and12:10.  How did he cope with it all?

 

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering-ebook/dp
/B00C1N951O/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1488991329&sr=1-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by
+timothy+keller

THE PEACE THAT PASSES UNDERSTANDING

We learned how Paul coped by reading how he comforted others.  First, Philippians 4:4-12 . . .

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Keller defines peace as “an inner calm and equilibrium” which Paul says he learned (p. 296).  Second, this peace isn’t the absence of turmoil  but the presence of God–“a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face ” affliction.  God’s presence is “a sense that no matter what happens, everything will ultimately be all right” (p. 297).

How does one learn this?

THE DISCIPLINE OF THINKING

“Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure . . . think about such things” (Philippians 4:8,9).  Keller explains that Paul is not urging us “to general loftiness of mind . . . [but to] think hard and long about the core doctrines of the Bible . . . about God, sin, Christ, salvation, the world, human nature, and God’s plan for the world” (p. 298).

How different is that from self-help books that typically offer techniques for relaxing.  That, Keller argues, is because our society “operates without any answers to the big questions” (p. 299).  But Paul calls us to think about that very thing.

In Romans 8:18 he writes, “I reckon that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”  So, Keller counsels, “Think about the glory coming until the joy begins to break in on you . . . Think big and high.  Realize who God is, what he has done, who you are in Christ, where history is (p. 299,300).

THE DISCIPLINE OF THANKING

In Philippians 4:6, Paul puts thanking over against worrying–“Don’t be anxious; but make requests to God with thanksgiving.”   Thank him before you know his response!  “Paul is essentially calling on us to trust God’s sovereign rule of history and of our lives.  He is telling us that we will never be content unless, as we make our heartfelt request, we also acknowledge we are in his hands, and he is wiser than we are” (Keller, p. 301).

In Romans 8:28 Paul tells us that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”  Keller insists this doesn’t mean every bad thing has a “silver lining.”  Rather “all things–even bad things–will ultimately together be overruled in such a way that the intended evil will, in the end, only accomplish the opposite of its designs–a greater good and glory than would otherwise have come to pass” (p. 301).  This, of course provides dynamic ground for giving thanks.

THE DISCIPLINE OF REORDERING OUR LIVES

In Philippians 4:8 (“whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”) Keller argues Paul is calling us not only to think about right things, but to love them.  And, to aid in suffering, what we love must be immutable.  That brings us to God and his love. The only way to find contentment and peace is to love God supremely.

RELOCATING YOUR GLORY

In Psalm 3 David’s situation is so hopeless that his own people are whispering that God has deserted him.  David writes . . .

“But you, Lord are a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts my head high” (3:3).  To walk with “head high” is to walk with confidence.  The Lord as “my glory” implies the “comparative unimportance of earthly esteem” (Keller quoting commentator Derek Kidner, p. 306).

Often in suffering something we consider too important is taken from us.  David “recommitted himself to finding God as his only glory–something that can be done only in prayer, through repentance and adoration” (Keller, p. 306).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Lord as a “shield”.  A shield protects us by taking the blows that would have battered us.  That’s what Jesus did on the cross.

Therefore, suffering can’t touch what Keller calls “our Main Thing–God, his love and his salvation” (p. 307).

THE HORRIBLE, BEAUTIFUL PROCESS

Suffering often identifies and calls us to cast away those things on which we have placed too much importance.  Suffering, then, functions like a furnace, burning those things from us.  John Newton’s hymn, “These Inward Trials” captures that process.  Here’s just one verse . . .

These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayest seek thine all in me.

THE SECRET OF PEACE

Keller asks, “How can we bring ourselves to love God more?” (p. 310).  His answer:  God can’t be an abstraction; we have to look at Jesus.

Horatio Spafford lost all he had in the Chicago fire of 1871.  Two years later, he sent his wife and four daughters on a ship from America to England.  Their ship collided with another and sank.  Their four daughters were lost.  Spafford penned the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”  Here’s one verse . . .

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

What’s the point?  Keller says that when things go wrong, we might think we’re being punished.  But look at the cross!  And hear God say “I have lost a child too, but not involuntarily–voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake.  So that I could bring you into my family” (Keller, p. 312).

TAKE-AWAY

What hit me–hard–is the realization that I’ve loved my health–especially the ordinary ability to walk–more than God.  Hence my discontent, frustration, and even anger at times with God.  He sent or allowed the “furnace” that took away walking on the beach with Lois, walking to our back pasture to feed Stormy (horse), even walking to take the garbage out!

I’ve got  to repent of loving walking more than God.  But that, by itself, isn’t enough.  God must change my heart . . .

“Father, my disappointment and anger with You shows that I love my health–my ability to walk and live without physical limitations–more than I love You.  I repent.  But naming my sin and determining to turn from it won’t produce a heart-change.  Only You can do that.  I pray You will, so I will love You more than being able to walk.  Doesn’t that sound lame on my part!  I love walking more than You, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet, such are the idols of my heart.  Change my heart, O God!”

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (14)

About the Book of Job, Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed:  “God is not nice.  God is not an uncle.  God is an earthquake.”  So begins Chapter 14 of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. 

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/
1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488568000&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+by
+timothy+keller

In this final section Keller suggests how we can actually get through suffering–weeping, trusting and now, with Job’s help.

THE UNIQUENESS OF JOB

Why do so many people suffer affliction when “bad” people live in comfort?   The Book of Job examines the problem through this good man’s agony.

The traditional answer to “Why suffering?” is:  the sufferer must have done something wrong.  The secular answer:  No good reason.  God doesn’t exist or, if he does, he’s cruel.  Job’s response:  both answers are wrong.  Keller says, “Job’s difficulties came upon him not despite his goodness but because of it” (p. 271).

MY SERVANT JOB

In his book, Job is introduced as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1).  Suddenly  he loses everything–wealth, family, health.  Why?  Readers are shown what Job isn’t.  Satan approaches God, who calls Job his most faithful servant.  Satan replies, “God worships you only for the benefits.  Take them away and he’ll curse you.”  “Do it,” God answers.

BECOMING FREE LOVERS OF GOD

Why does God allow Satan to test Job?  Keller answers that, though Job truly loved God, his love had to be refined “in a way that would do enormous good down through the ages” (p. 273).  That raises the question, “What would it take for us to love God for himself, not for the benefits received?”  Answer:  suffering,   hardship,  affliction.

GOD AND EVIL

We mustn’t miss the philosophy here.  Job doesn’t give us a worldview where good and evil are equal competing forces.  Rather, God has complete control over evil personified in Satan.  God allows evil, to be sure.  Be he doesn’t delight in it.  After Job loses his wealth and family, he loses his health.  That suffering moves him to blame God (3:23).  Though he doesn’t “curse God and die”, he feels like God has treated him unjustly.

THE SPEECHES OF JOB AND HIS FRIENDS

Three long speeches comprise the book’s middle.  Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar wound Job with their “comfort”.  Eliphaz: Think back now. Name a single case where someone righteous met with disaster. I have seen people plow fields of evil and plant wickedness like seed; now they harvest wickedness and evil.  Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger (Job 4:7-9).

Eliphaz’s words carry much truth.  Moral order does rule the universe.  Painful consequences do follow bad behavior.  We shouldn’t assume we’re always in the right.  But, as Old Testament commentator Francis I. Anderson writes, “True words can be thin medicine for a man in the depths” (p. 277).

Eliphaz observes,  “Hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground” (Job 5:6).  True.  But, as Keller observes, Eliphaz “shows an ignorance of the teaching of Genesis 3:16  (“And [God] said to the woman, ‘I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth. In spite of this, you will still have desire for your husband, yet you will be subject to him'”) which implies “the world is broken by sin, and bad things do happen to people regardless of how well they live” (p. 277).

Job is not being punished or corrected.  Francis Anderson writes that the purpose of Job’s suffering is “enlarged life with God” (p. 279).

THE LORD APPEARS AND JOB LIVES

When God appears he thunders:

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set; or who laid its cornerstone–
while the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy?”
(Job 38:2-7)

Despite his thunder, God has come with grace.  God is reaching out to a relationship with Job.  God comes “in a storm”, an overwhelming force, but at the same time in grace as a personal God.  How can God be both?  “Only in Jesus Christ do we see how the untamable, infinite God can become a baby and a loving Savior . . . The gospel, then, explains how God can be both the God of love and of fury that Job meets on the dark and stormy day” (Keller, p. 282).

THE LORD DOES NOT ANSWER–AND YET DOES

“Answering” Job, God doesn’t really answer.  He doesn’t explain Satan’s role and his own purpose in the “contest”.  Instead he discourses about the wonderful natural world.  Again, Francis Anderson comments:  “God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone.  God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries” (p. 283).

Keller comments:  “We do not find our hearts fully satisfied with God unless other things are also going well, and therefore we are without sufficient roots, blown and beaten by the winds of changing circumstances.  But to grow into a true ‘free lover’ of God, who has the depth of joy unknown to the mercenary, conditional religious observer–we must ordinarily go through a stripping.  We must feel that to obey God will bring us no benefits at all.  It is at that point that seeking, praying to, and obeying God begin to change us.” (p. 283).

So, never being told the “why” of his sufferings, never being shown “the big picture”, Job comes to love God simply because he is God.  Satan want to discredit Job; “God allows evil just enough space so it will  defeat itself” (p. 284).

THE LORD IS GOD–AND YOU ARE NOT

God gives his wonders-of-the-natural-world discourses at the end of Job to remind humans we have only an infinitesimal knowledge of God.  We are not God.  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him (Job 40:2)?  Job can’t run the universe better than God.  Only God is God.

Anderson says:  “There is a rebuke in [Job} for any person who, by complaining about any particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe . . . ” (p. 286).

JOB IS IN THE RIGHT–AND YOU ARE IN WRONG

Job’s friends expected God to condemn him as a sinner.  Instead, God vindicated him.  Why?

God is gracious and forgiving.  Through all his complaints and yelling, Job never stopped praying, never turned away from God.  Instead, he allowed his suffering to draw him near God.  Because he persistently sought God, Job triumphed.

Thus, writes Keller, the lesson for us.  Even if we don’t feel him, God is there.  God is near “to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  Keller urges, “Read, pray, study, fellowship, witness, serve, obey”  (p. 288).  Psalm 42 is one of the most helpful texts. Read especially Psalm 42.  “Then end on this great note:  defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil, and defy the whole world, and say to yourself with the [psalmist}, ‘I shall yet praise him . . . for he is my God'” (Keller, p. 290).

MY SERVANT JOB–AGAIN

“I know, Lord, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you wantYou ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know.  You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions.  In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.  So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

All Job’s concepts of God have now come to grip his heart.  Job repents.  The word in Hebrew can also mean “retract”, which seems to better fit the context.  Job “takes back” his self-justification, his demands, and bows to love and serve God alone.

THE OTHER INNOCENT SUFFERER

God never condemns Job.  God’s silence is an assurance of his love.  How can we have that assurance?  We don’t need a voice out of the storm, Keller asserts.  We need to remember how Jesus Christ bowed his head into the storm of God’s justice.  Jesus is the greater Job who lost everything,–even God–for us.

” . . . when you suffer without relief, when you feel absolutely alone you can know that, because he bore your sin, he will be with you.  You can know you are walking the same path Jesus walked, so you are not alone–and that path is only taking you to him” (Keller, p. 293).

MY RESPONSE

I’m not sure I’d call God an earthquake;  but I would say he’s untameable.  Despite my desires and prayers I can’t keep him boxed in the box of my making.  He’s got his own agenda into which I must fit, not him into mine.

For one thing, as I learn from Job, God wants me to love him, not for his benefits, but for himself.   That’s rather selfish of him.  (My first thought.)  But then I think, No, it’s not selfish at all.   Don’t we all want to be loved for ourselves, not what we can give?

What of the son who loves his father mainly for the car he buys him?  Or the daughter who loves her father mainly for the wardrobe of clothes he provides.  Intuitively we find that love at best lacking, at worst not true love at all.  Such “love” hurts, not only the father, but the child.  Both are left without the deep joy of real love.

So with us and God.  He wants us to freely love him–not for what he gives but who he is.  He deserves real love, because he’s God.  And we need such love, because we can’t enjoy what we were created for without it.

I just loathe the suffering process it takes to get me there.

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (13)

Tim Keller titles Chapter 13 “Trusting”–one of the ways to get through suffering, but a difficult assignment.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by [Keller, Timothy]

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JOSEPH’S STORY (Genesis 37,39-47).

Jealous of Joseph, his eleven brothers threw him into a pit far from home.  Eventually he was pulled from the pit by traders who sold him into slavery in Egypt.  There he became a household slave to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  He served his master well.  But, when he refused his master’s wife’s sexual advances, she accused him and Joseph was thrown into prison.  Years passed.  After correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s cupbearer’s dream, Joseph was brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dream.  Consequently, Pharaoh made Joseph Prince of Egypt.  And from that position, Joseph saved his whole family from famine.   God used Joseph’s mistreatment and years of suffering for great good.

THE HIDDEN GOD

For what must have seemed like endless years, God apparently abandoned Joseph.  On the contrary, writes Keller, “[God] was hidden, but he also was in complete control” (p. 260).

TRUSTING THE HIDDEN GOD

Keller argues, “God was hearing and responding to Joseph’s prayers for deliverance, rescue and salvation, but not in the ways or forms or times Joseph asked for it” (p. 262).  At the end, Joseph realized that God was at work for good.  Most of us never get to see that.  We’re left in the dark, like Job.  And when we are, we’re apt to say, “If God is going to shut the door in my face every time I pray, year in and year out, then I give up” (Keller, p. 262).

But Joseph’s story, Keller observes, ” . . . tells us that very often God does not give us exactly what we ask for.  Instead he gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything he knows” (p. 264).

EVERYTHING HANGS TOGETHER

Keller illustrates this principle with an intriguing story . . .

Redeemer (Presbyterian Church, which Keller pastors) exists to a great degree because my wife, Kathy, and I were sent to New York City to start this as a new church.  Why were we sent?  It was because we joined a Presbyterian denomination that encouraged church planting and that sent us out.  But why did we join a Presbyterian denomination?    We joined it because in the very last semester of my last year at seminary, I had two courses under a particular professor who convinced me to adopt the doctrines and belief of Presbyterianism.  But why was that professor at the seminary at that time?  He was there only because, after a long period of waiting, he was finally able to get his visa as a citizen of Great Britain to come and teach in the the United States.

The professor had been hired by my U.S. seminary but had been having a great deal of trouble getting a visa.  For various reasons at the time the process was very clogged and there was an enormous backlog of applications.  What was it that broke through all the red tape so he could get his visa and come in time to teach me that last semester?  I was told that his visa process was facilitated because one of the students at our seminary at the time was able to give the school administration an unusually high-level form of help.  The student was the son of the sitting president of the United States at the time.  Why was his father president?  It was because the former president, Richard Nixon, had to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal.  But why did the Watergate scandal even occur?  I understand that it was because a nigh watchman noticed an unlatched door.

What if the security guard had not noticed that door?  What if he had simply looked in a different direction?  In that case–nothing else in that long string of “coincidences” would have ever occurred.  And there would be no Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the city . . . I like to say to people at Redeemer:  If you are glad for this church, then even Watergate happened for you” (p. 265,266).

(Five thousand attend three campuses in Manhattan.  Additionally, Redeemer has started over 100 smaller churches in the New York metropolitan area.)

Author John Newton wrote, “When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that he is your leader . . . ” . . . everything is needful (necessary) that [the Lord] sends, nothing can be needful (necessary) that he withholds” p. 267).

THE ULTIMATE JOSEPH

Imagine you’ve followed Jesus.  You’ve seen his power heal the sick and raise the dead.  You’ve heard his teachings.  You believe he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  But now he’s praying for the cup of suffering to be taken from him.  Now he’s betrayed into the hands of his enemies.  Now he’s nailed to a Roman cross.  You hear his cry:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  How, you wonder, could any good possibly come from this?

“And yet,” Keller writes, “you are standing there looking at the greatest, most brilliant thing God could ever do for the human race” (p. 268).

You fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break
With blessings on your head.
–“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”


” . . . because you cannot fit [something] into your own limited understanding, you [may be] in danger of walking away from God” ( p. 269).

MY THOUGHTS

Keller started this chapter admitting trusting the Lord in suffering is “a difficult assignment.”  I’m asked to believe God is working this suffering for my good.  I have the biblical record of Joseph and Job and Jesus–the accounts of how God used their suffering for great good.  I have Keller’s account of the many “coincidences” that led to Redeemer and its impact on NYC.  All should move me to trust God in my suffering.

It does, actually.  But not automatically. Not consistently.  And not without a fight.  I have to read and reread this “evidence”.  I have to think it through and write it, as I am here.  Left to itself, my mind drifts to what I can’t do any longer, to all the prayers for healing the Lord hasn’t answered, to a future of persistent disability and maybe worse symptoms.

So I have to fuel my faith.  I have to fill my mind with his Word and books like these.  I have to use them as weapons against despair and anger and unbelief.  I thank God for the resources he’s given.  I thank him for the Holy Spirit who is changing me from the inside out.  And I thank him that by his grace I’m mostly winning the fight.  And that someday from heaven’s mountaintop, I’ll be able to look back and see how “everything hung together”.

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (12)

Keller is ready to discuss “ . . . the individual ways or strategies that the Bible lays out for walking through suffering” (p. 240).  The first:  “Weeping”.

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THE DISAPPEARANCE OF LAMENT

Early Reformers frowned on Christians weeping.  They should trust God through “unflinching, joyful acceptance of his will” in suffering (p. 241).

But, Keller notes, their teaching doesn’t square with Scripture.  Many Psalms are called “Lament Psalms”—prayers which express frustration with or sorrow before God.

“Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (Psalm 44:23).

“Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49).

Jeremiah prays . . .

“Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive book, like a spring that fails” (Jeremiah 15:18).

In Job’s last chapter he admits his faith wasn’t what it should have been, yet the text says, “In all this Job sinned not” (Job 1:22).

By the book’s middle, Job curses the day he was born and almost angrily charges God with injustice.  Yet hear God’s verdict on Job . . .

“I will accept [my servant Job’s] prayer . . . You (Job’s ‘friends’) have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-9).

This despite, as Keller writes, “Job’s grief was expressed with powerful emotion and soaring rhetoric.  He did not ‘make nice’ with God, praying politely” (p. 242).

Surely, then, we are allowed to grieve.

A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK

Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, who is Jesus (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20; Acts 8:32,33).  Applied to a person, Keller says, “ . . . ‘bruised’ means an injury that doesn’t show on the surface, but that is nonetheless fatal . . . Jesus Christ is attracted to hopeless cases.  He cares for the fragile” (p. 243).

Elijah was a mighty prophet against whom the people turned.  Despondent, he travels to the wilderness and prays, “Take my life.  I don’t even want to live” (1 Kings 19:4).  Does God condemn him?  No.  He sends an angel who cooks him a meal.  “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:4-8).  Eventually God talks with Elijah, questions and challenges him.  God, says Keller, know we are complex creatures.  In this case, to have challenged Elijah first would have been breaking a bruised reed.

In The Bruised Reed and a Smoking Flax, the 27 century British Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote, “Never fear to go to God, since [we have] a mediator with him [who] “died that he might heal our souls with the medicine of his own blood . . . Let this keep us up when we feel ourselves bruised” (p. 245).

“The point,” Keller says is this—suffering people need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do.  Nor should we do that to ourselves . . . “ (p. 245).

WEEPING IN THE DARK

Psalm 88, writes commentator Derek Kidner of Psalm 88, “There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter” (p. 246).  Unlike all other lament psalms (except 39), Psalm 88 end without a glimmer of hope. (No space to quote it here; grab a Bible and read it!).  From the psalm, Keller draws three lessons.

One, as the psalm’s word implies, “believer can stay in darkness for a long time” (p. 247).

Two, “times of darkness . . . can reveal God’s grace in new depths” (p. 248).  God’s treatment of Job “shows that God remains this man’s God not because the man puts on a happy face and controls all his emotions, but because of grace.

Third, “it is perhaps when we are still in unrelenting darkness that we have the greatest opportunity to defeat the forces of evil.  In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God” (p. 248).

THE DARKNESS OF JESUS

How can we be sure God is present with us and working our suffering for good?

Jesus, writes Keller, experienced the ultimate darkness:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 24:45,46).  He was truly God-abandoned; we believers only feel as if we are.  Keller says . . .

“[Jesus] went into suffering for us.  He did not abandon us despite all his own suffering.  Do you think he will abandon you now in the midst of yours?” (p. 251).

GRIEVING AND REJOICING

What does it mean to “rejoice in suffering”?  Keller argues it can’t mean to have happy emotions or keep a stiff upper lip or defiantly claim this suffering won’t defeat us (p. 252).

Peter writes, “in [God’s] salvation you greatly rejoice though now . . . you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6,7).  They’re rejoicing and suffering simultaneously.  So can we.

Keller explains to “rejoice in God” means to “ dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us . . . Here is how it works.  The grief and sorrow drive you more into God . . . and show you the resources you never had . . . The weeping drives you into the joy . . . and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you” (p. 253).

D. M. Lloyd-Jones writes . . .

“What we are really saying . . . is that the Christian is one who has become immune to what is happening around him . . . [He] has something that enables him to rise above these things, but the glory of the Christian life is that you rise above them through you feel them” (p. 254).

PERSONAL THOUGHTS

I’m reminded of Psalm 30:5b—“ . . . weeping my remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  David is celebrating deliverance from his enemies.  Suffering is over.  The Lord has turned his wailing into dancing (30:11).

On the other hand, Keller is writing not about joy after rescue from suffering, but about joy in the midst of suffering.

It occurs to me, though, we might apply Psalm 30:5b in line with Keller’s thoughts.  That is, in the midst of nighttime weeping, we may experience tastes of morning-like joy.

Joy is an emotion that runs deep and high.  Far more than a broad, bright smile.  More than rumbling laughter or giddy happiness. The Hebrew word here bears that out.  It implies a “shout of joy” or a “ringing cry”.  It connotes a victory celebration after the war is won. To say, then, we may taste morning-like joy while weeping in the night is to proclaim a weighty statement.

I think we might apply Psalm 30:5b, because I think I may have tasted little morsels of morning-like joy in night-like suffering.  Not a shout of joy or ringing cry.  More an assurance, an inner sense, that the Lord is with me.  That he’s using this for good.  That his grace is enough.  That with his strength in my weakness I can endure in faith.  That, even when I feel as if God has become a stranger, I’m coming to know him more deeply.

It’s okay to cry.  No need to put on a happy false face.  Go ahead and weep.  But know this:  before that glorious morning of eternal joy dawns, we can taste bits of its joy even when we hurt.

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (11)

“Walking with God in the Furnace”–Part Three of Keller’s book.  He titles Chapter 11 simply “Walking”.

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Here’s his opening question:  “How can we actually, practically, face and get through the suffering that has come upon us?” (p. 225).

Resources today generally tell us how to manage suffering and how to cope with its stress.  But Christianity offers a deeper response.

WALKING WITH GOD IN SUFFERING

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
That every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest
–Crown Him with Many Crowns

Walking is a biblical metaphor for facing affliction.  The familiar hymn above speaks of treading where the Son of God had trod.  David writes of walking in this well-known verse:  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Walking implies progress.  Keller observes: “We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair” (p. 226).

Flood and fire are also biblical metaphors, but of extreme hardship.  However we have this biblical promise, not of suffering’s removal, but in suffering God with us . . .

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:2,3,5).

 Peter tells us that trials come to prove the genuineness of our faith.  Keller comments:     “ . . . adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a fire does with metal ore” (p. 228).

But not automatically.  “We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire . . . Knowing him personally . . . in our affliction is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker” (p. 22(0.

THREE IN THE FURNACE

 Three Hebrews, among the captives in Babylon, refused to bow down to the self-image King Nebuchadnezzar had erected.  The penalty:  the fiery furnace.  They replied . . .

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17,18, NRS).

God might not deliver them.  Their faith wasn’t in rescue but in God himself, whom they would serve no matter what.

FOUR IN THE FURNACE

Of course, the king threw the three into the flames.  But when he looked inside . . .

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.”  He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:24,25, NIV).

 The Old Testament speaks of “the angel of the Lord” (Exodus 3:2-6; Judges 13:16-20).  Perhaps that’s who the “fourth” was.  And who is he?  Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer explains . . .

There is only one other in the Bible who is both identical with and yet distinct from the Lord.  One who, without abandoning the full essence and prerogatives of deity . . . is able to accommodate himself to the company of sinners . . . Jesus Christ.

 FURNACE LESSONS

One, God is with us in the fire.  We find the supreme example at the cross where Jesus came to die to save us from a “fiery” hell.

Two, the fires of suffering refine our faith, if we relate to God as God and as being with us.  Otherwise, fire hardens our hearts in unbelief and despair.

Three, we can recall the words of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” . . .

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

WAYS TO WALK WITH GOD

“A walk”, writes Keller, “is a day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church . . . To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress” (p. 236).

In other words, God walking with us in fiery sufferings doesn’t begin with our crying out to him from the furnace, but our walking with God in the “nondramatic, rhythmic . . . steady repeated actions” of everyday, ordinary life (Keller, p. 237).

A PERSONAL TESTIMONY

As my Primary Lateral Sclerosis worsened, my faith-test got harder.  God seemed gone.  The disability was senseless.  I became angry at God.  But I couldn’t turn away from him.  Where would I go?  To whom would I go?  So:  I held on.  One reason I could . . .

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NRS).

My second reason for being able to hold on doesn’t diminish the first.  Both, in fact, are from God and of grace.  God was bending me, but he wouldn’t let me break.  He was feeding my anger, but he wouldn’t let me storm out the door.  He was testing me, but not beyond my strength.

That second reason is this:  my life had been “walking with God in the ‘nondramatic, rhythmic’ . . . . steady repeated actions” of everyday, ordinary life.”  When PLS hit without a cure, I kept on with God (though sometimes with just a whisper of faith), because I had walked with him in everyday life for years before.  “With him” became a way of walking, a way of living.  So, when I was confined to a wheelchair, I kept “walking”.  I can’t imagine what I would have done without the “steady, repeated actions of everyday, ordinary life with God.”

That’s my lesson take-away from Keller’s chapter.  But my image take-away is this:  the fourth man in the furnace.

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (10)

“The Varieties of Suffering”—Keller’s title for Chapter Ten in his book very much worth reading . . .

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DIVERSITIES OF SUFFERING

A “one size fits all” prescription for suffering won’t work, because kinds of suffering are varied as are the personalities and spirituality of the sufferers.

JONAH, DAVID AND THE SUFFERING WE SELF-INFLICT

A husband has sex with a woman not his wife.  He’s found out.  His wife files for divorce.  He’s separated from his children (except for alternate weekends).  He’s brought suffering on himself.

A life-threatening storm engulfed Jonah.  A worm ate his shade tree.  In the first case, Jonah was running from God.  In the second, Jonah was pouting because his enemies, the Assyrians, had repented and escaped God’s judgment.  In both cases, God was trying to show Jonah the evil in his heart.

David lusted after Bathsheba, another man’s wife.  After sex produced a son, the child died—and David’s life largely fell apart.  God was using that brokenness to awaken him to his sin and turn David back to himself.

On the other hand, Job did nothing to cause his suffering.  It’s crucial we see the difference in our own suffering.  At the same time, a Christian “must not  . . . miss this opportunity to put his roots deep into God and discover a dimension of spiritual growth and wisdom he would never otherwise have had access to” (Keller, p. 208).

PAUL, JEREMIAH, AND BETRAYAL-SUFFERING

Paul’s and Jeremiah’s suffering was both caused by the betrayal or attacks of others.

Paul was beaten, imprisoned and attacked by his own Jewish people and by Gentiles (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).  Jeremiah was held in stocks and put in prison just for “speaking the truth to power” (Jeremiah 20:1-6).

Today an employee might become the object of attack for taking an unpopular political position.  If someone thinks he has been wronged by a friend, he might try to hurt his “friend” or damage his reputation.

All are examples of suffering by betrayal.

MARY, MARTHA, AND LOSS-SUFFERING

This is the kind of suffering that crushes one with grief.  Though this comes to everyone, there are many varieties—a spouse’s death after 50 years of marriage to the death of a young child, the slow decay of aging to death by an automobile accident.

Paul directs us not to “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and reminds us that “ . . . our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

JOB AND MYSTERY-SUFFERING

This is the suffering of which Psalm 44 speaks . . .

All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back nor have out steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death . . . Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (Psalm 44:17-19,24).

Job, remains the classic example.

Keller observes what we all have seen or endured:  “When people experience horrendous, unusually severe suffering, it leaves the sufferer not so much filled with guilt, or resentment toward others, or pure grief—but with anger toward life and God himself . . . [Job] was being led to the place where he would obey God simply for the sake of who God is, not in order to receive something or to get something done . . . Job-type suffering requires a process of honest prayer and crying, the hard work of deliberate trust in God, and what St. Augustine called a re-ordering of our loves” (p. 212,213).

DIVERSITIES OF TEMPERAMENT

Quoting Simone Weil (a French philosopher, mystic, political activist and teacher), Keller lists various aspects of affliction.

Isolation—barriers go up between the sufferer and anyone who hasn’t experienced the same suffering.

Implosion—the sufferer becomes self-absorbed.

Condemnation—the sufferer feels she’s being punished.

Anger—at oneself, others, God, or at the general injustice of life.

Diversities of temperament will determine which of these affliction-aspects a sufferer feels, what combination of them, and to what degree.

DIVERSITIES OF PATHWAYS

Because every affliction is unique, every sufferer needs to find her own pathway through it.  Some “helps” are unhelpful for finding a pathway, such as those things we know in our mind are true, yet irritate or discourage at the time–statements like “we know all things are for the best and we know we have to trust God.”

That, of course, is true.  But sometimes the sufferer has to cry out like David in the Psalms or like Job.  In other words, the sufferer needs truth applied in the right order or for her pathway.

One sufferer was told by his father that “he shouldn’t expect to feel God’s grace and strength now for the whole ordeal ahead . . . God only promised today’s grace for today” (Keller, p. 217,281).  It was like a ray of light breaking through.

“Everything is needful that [God] sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds” (John Newton in Keller, p. 219).  Most helpful, yet not a “pill” for curing discouragement.

Keller insightfully comments on Psalm 23:4—“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  A precious promise to sink into one’s soul.

One size “encouragement” doesn’t fit every size sufferer . . .

“As it turns out, there is more than one path in that valley.  And the Lord, the perfect Guide, will help you find the best way through” (p. 220).

 

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (9)

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of the book with the title of this blog, calls Chapter 9 “Learning to Walk”.

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/1594634408/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487604920&sr=1-1&keywords=walking+with+god+through+pain+and+suffering+
by+timothy+keller

WHAT ABOUT OUR GLORY?

Suffering reveals God’s glory, but it also prepares us for glory.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Therefore, in suffering trust God.  Keller writes, “If we love and obey God for his own sake, not ours, it begins to turn us into something strong and great and wise” (p. 187).

How, then, should we view suffering?  Primarily, as a way to know God better.

PRODUCTIVE SUFFERING

In his book, The Importance of Suffering, psychologist James Davies observes a lack of courage and a streak of selfishness in our character.  Further, when we get depressed, it can show us we have less control of our lives than we had thought.  Therefore, instead of denying those flaws that suffering exposes, we should work to learn and grow through them.  In other words, this right approach of what suffering reveals about us can lead to remarkable person growth.

HOW GOD USES SUFFERING

Keller lists Bible passages that reveal how God uses suffering to build us up . . .

  • Hebrews 12:1-17
  • Romans 8:18-30
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-12 and 4:7-5:5 and 11:24-12:10
  • Nearly all of 1 Peter

Suffering changes our attitude toward ourselves.  “It humbles us and removes unrealistic self-regard and pride” (Keller, p. 190).  It also brings out the worst in us, so it leads us to examine ourselves.

Suffering shows us that certain good things have become too important to us.

Suffering can strengthen our relationship to God.  C. S. Lewis wrote that in prosperity God whispers to us but in adversity he shouts to us.  True, it may make us angry at God.  Yet, as Keller writes, “ . . . it also has the resources to greatly deepen our divine friendship . . . When times are good, how do you know if you love God or just love the things he is giving you or doing for you?” (p. 191).  So we should allow suffering to drive us to God, to pray as we never would otherwise.  John Newton wrote to a grieving woman, “Above all, keep close to the throne of grace [in prayer].  If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from him” (p. 192).

Suffering is necessary for us to be of use to other people.  Paul wrote of his suffering . . .

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 (2 Cor. 1:3,4). 

GOD’S GYMNASIUM

Affliction is painful but “later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are being trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  “Trained” is the Greek gymnazo, from which comes our word “gymnasium”.  As gym clothes reveal our physical bodies for what they are, so suffering exposes our character for what it is. Our worries, temper, pride, deceit, lack of self-discipline all emerge.

Suffering, then, calls us to “fix [our] eyes on Jesus . . . who endured the cross . . . its shame   .  . . who endured such opposition . . . so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2,3).  God is like an exercise-coach, stretching and pushing us toward that “harvest of righteousness and peace.”

PREPARING THE MIND FOR SUFFERING

Suffering doesn’t automatically lead to growth.  So how are we to walk through pain and suffering?  We must prepare our mind before suffering hits.  But, again, how?  “It means developing a deep enough knowledge of the Bible and a strong and vital enough prayer life that you will neither be surprised or overthrown by affliction” (Keller, p. 197).

For example, listen to this often-missed theological truth:  “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12,13).

Some good Christians presume that a really bad thing could never happen to them.  And so, when it comes they’re shocked, and that shock multiplies their suffering.

This fallen world is filled with disease, death and natural disasters all due to sin.  Why does it wash over me?  We can’t understand the ways of the infinite God.  But sound theological reflection can prepare our mind for what may come.

PREPARING THE HEART FOR SUFFERING

“How will I get through this?” is a personal problem, not intellectual.  To prepare the heart for suffering we must develop “a consistent, vibrant, theologically deep yet existentially rich prayer life” (Keller, p. 198.

John S. Feinberg was a theology student who thought that intellectual answers to suffering were enough to endure it.  Then he learned his wife had Huntington’s Chorea, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes the loss of all voluntary bodily movements, memory loss, depression, hallucinations and paranoia.  And, because the disease is genetically transmitted, his children had a 50-50 chance of getting it.

Though he knew theology intellectually, in his heart he felt God had tricked him.  In this furnace of suffering he couldn’t function.  “Feinberg relates how, eventually, he was able to regain his equilibrium only through revisiting many of the truths he had known in the abstract but that he had never connected to lived experience, or to the actual affections and functions of his heart” (Keller, p. 201).

I (Allan), too, knew the biblical answers intellectually.  But when my suffering hit, it took (and still takes) a great deal of work for them to make a difference in my heart. 

Keller concludes:  “It is one thing to have an intellectual explanation for why God allows suffering; it is another thing to actually find a path through suffering so that, instead of becoming more bitter, cynical, despondent and broken, you become more wise, grounded, humble, strong and even content . . .

Using the intellect to make some sense out of suffering is important, but it must be accompanied not merely with knowing about God, but with knowing God” (p. 202).

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