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