Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Suffering (Page 1 of 4)

Me? Job?

I dismissed any comparison  with Job.
His sufferings dwarf mine.
But over time my condition’s worsened.
Now I dare compare.
Not with the whole of his sufferings
or his encounter with the sovereign God.
Just the scene Job didn’t see.

Satan proposes a cosmic contest to God.
“Does Job  fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
strike his bone and flesh
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
“You’re on, ” God replies.

I wonder:
Did Satan offer that deal to God over me?
“Does Allan fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
take away his health
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
Am I presumptuous to think
Satan singles me out as a target?
And that God risks his honor over me?

I dare think it possible,
because over 150,000 people in the world
die each day–
a great mass of humanity
swept away in death.
Psalm 90 echoes its depression .

“You [Lord] sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning–
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and
terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan” (Psalm 90:5-9).

Such death is “normal”.
A man ages, gets ill,
and becomes a faceless statistic,
part of the moaners.
I know Jesus has turned the psalm on its head.
But that’s not my point here.
My point is this:
I don’t want to see
my PLS and melanoma
as just a normal part of growing old,
making me  part of the mob that dies daily.

I don’t want to merely be that mob’s member.
But I fear I’m becoming one.
Ten years–surgeries, tests, another illness,
new symptoms added to the old.
I fear I’m finishing like all the rest–
with a moan.

I want to play a role
in that cosmic contest.
Satan has gone to God:
“Does Allan fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
take away his health
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
God says, “You’re on.”

If so, how I deal with disease and dying
matters in the heavenly realms.
Trusting God, praising God
upholds God’s honor.
Loving God for who he is,
not only for what he gives,
proves God’s worth–
and leaves my heel marks on Satan’s neck.

Dare I believe
that I’m part of this?
Ephesians 3:10,Paul wrote,
“[God’s] intent was now through the church,
the manifold wisdom of God should be made known
to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . . . “

I’m part of Christ’s church,
one through whom God makes known
his wisdom to the rulers in the heavenly realms.
A cosmic contest rages, a war–
I’m a warrior in it.
My faith, my praise, my love for God
turns the tide,
makes Satan a loser
and God exalted.

What I really want?
To wake up tomorrow,
put my feet on the floor,
and walk.
To look in the mirror
and see my head clear,
baby skin instead of an ugly patch
of melanoma.
If that can’t be, let me fight the fight of faith.

One thing hardest to bear in old age
is insignificance,
life passing by
while you sit and watch.
Is that pride?
Is Jesus teaching me humility?
That only he is truly significant?

But my bearing old-age insignificance
isn’t a longing for the praise of people.
It’s assurance that my life counts
for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.

It counts if I trust him even without understanding.
It counts if I worship him even in suffering.
It counts if I pray even without answers.
It counts if I stand on his Word’s promises,
even if sight makes his promises foolish.
It counts if I love, even when I’m hurting.

And if it counts, Satan loses.
And if Satan loses,
God wins.
And if God wins . . .

with my little frail life,
in the heavenly realms,
I’ve exalted the name of the Lord.

Ken Gire (The North Face of God) writes,
“We can sheath our swords in retreat.
We can lay down our swords in surrender.
We can fall on our swords in despair.
Or we can, with the brave who’ve gone before us,
draw our swords and ride with full fury into the enemies’ ranks.
A day may come when our courage will fail.
But it will not be
this day.
This day we fight.”

Satan and God are watching.





How Shall We Live With No Answer?

At some time or another
each of us will stand at the same crevasse
where the Psalm 119 psalmist stood.
Shriveled like a wine skin,  exhausted,
and waiting for an answer from God.
He may answer dramatically, out of a whirlwind,
as he did Job.
Or he may answer demurely, in a still small voice,
as he did Elijah.
Or he might not answer at all,
as David apparently experienced
in Psalm 119.

In that case we must wait
for the day the answer comes.
But even if the answer doesn’t come,
we must still live today.
The question is how?
“How shall we live today?”
Will we live by faith,
trusting God’s Word that he’ll not forsake us?
Or will we live by sight,
trusting the appearance that God has forsaken us?

I took the above from The North Face of God,
by Ken Gire.

The questions confront me.
Not because I feel God has forsaken me.
But because they paint the conflict
in stark black and white.
With no answer for healing yet,
the question is, “How will I live today?”

I look like God has forsaken me.
It feels that way.
But how will I live under heaven’s silence?
By sight?  By what appears to be?
Or by faith in God’s promises?

I question God . . .
Why have you allowed these illnesses?
Why no answer when so many pray for my healing?
Then I remember Jesus’ parable in Luke 18.
A poor widow repeatedly begs a judge for justice.
Finally, worn down the judge rules in her favor.
The lesson Jesus draws is not persist in prayer.
The lesson is a question:
When the Son returns,
how many will he find who have faith?

I’m so busy asking him my questions,
I don’t hear what he’s asking me.
And his question
paints my predicament
in stark black and white.
Under heaven’s silence,
will I live today by what appears to be?
Or will I live today
by faith, trusting his Word?

I don’t understand what God is doing.
I don’t like what God is doing.
But my battle is part of a bigger war,
a war against unbelief,
a war in which warriors are called to live by faith,
and thereby glorify Christ.
Who knows what God is doing?
Who knows how my part plays in the whole?
But my little part is important.
I either add to Christ’s honor in the heavenly realms,
or diminish it.

Under heaven’s silence,
how will I live today.
Not by what appears to be,
though appearance is weighty,
and I’m tempted to “wisely” live by it.
Of course, God has forsaken little me.
Of course, the answer will never come.
Of course, I should curse God and die.

By God’s grace, I will live today by faith
trusting his promises,
even though I can’t see them kept.
I will win the battle,
and I will pray that when the Son comes,
he will find my faith on earth.


I spent three days in the hospital last week.

It all started when coughing woke me 4:45 a.m. I fought to breathe.  Lois phoned 911.  Paramedics, despite my misgivings, loaded me onto a gurney and slid me in an ambulance.  What followed was the roughest ride I’ve ever had.  Don’t they put shocks on these things?

At Bayonet Point Hospital, I was rolled to the ER where they put a huge oxygen mask on me.  I sounded like Darth Vader.  My great primary doctor appeared with assuring words.  They probably did tests; but I don’t remember.  I do remember being wheeled to a room.  Admitted.

So started a series of tests and treatments that continued all hours day and night—blood tests, breathing treatments, temperature, blood pressure, oxygen tests.  The first night (Tuesday) I didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 a.m.  I was given a “better” bed (it was) at about 2:30 a.m.—which meant four nurses dumping me from the less-good to the “better” bed.  I woke weary about 6 a.m.  Pill time.

The second night was slightly better.  I slept five hours, interrupted by more tests.  I again woke weary at 6.  By now, I was crazy to go home.

But the staff was wonderful.  Genuinely caring.  Personable. Professional.  Friendly.  Warm.  I give them an A+.  My primary doctor too.  He visited every day, and took charge of my care.  In my book, he’s one in a million.  Knowledgeable.  Professional.  Putting the patient’s needs above traditional protocol. His diagnosis:  pneumonia.  Even though an x-ray showed little improvement after three days of IV antibiotics, he recognized hospitalization was counter-productive, surrendered to my nagging, and released me.

A muscular CNA shifted me to a wheelchair and bear-hugged me into our daughter Missy’s car.  Free at last!  I dropped from her car into my wheelchair for the ride into the house.  How happy I was to see our dog Scooby Girl!  I think she was happy to have me home too.

I’m still weak.  Need oxygen.  And Lois uses a Hoyer Lift to transfer me from bed to wheelchair.  A big sack of potatoes being hauled around!

What does the future hold?  Hopefully I’ll regain some strength.  My legs are like wet noodles.  Hopefully, too, antibiotic pills will break up congestion in my lungs.

That’s my health report.  Not good.  Now, my God report.  I thank him I’m back home. I thank him for my constant-companion wife and supportive family. I thank him for my caring and pro-active primary doctor. I thank him for every one who prays for me.  And I thank him for the wonderful hospital staff.

But I wonder what God is doing.  I’ve prayed repeatedly for healing.  But the Lord’s been silent.  Should I keep asking, because those who keep asking receive? Or is the Lord saying no–“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness”? Instead of taking my weakness away, does he want to give me power to endure with faith and joy and praise for his honor? I haven’t “heard” a no yet, but there it is in 2 Corinthians.  Maybe I just can’t accept that these closing months/years of my life here must be lived this way. Am I believing or just stubborn?

Almost daily I recall Jesus’ promise . . .

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11)!

Honestly?  It feels like the Father is giving me a stone, not bread.

Then I remember God is sovereign . . .

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11,12).

He “works all things according to the counsel of his will . . . that we should be to the praise of his glory”.

And he works all things for our good . . .

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I guess that all means the “good gifts” he promises to give may not look or feel good, but ultimately are.  So I’m left hanging by finger nails onto his promises, trusting this is all good and, that if I fall, underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Thank you for praying.

Alfie Evans

The case about which Dr. Albert Mohler (president Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes makes me angry (who does the government think they are to run roughshod over parents’ natural rights and let Alfie die “in his best interests”?) and frightened (how far will this kind of government travesty spread?) and sad (that Alfie, after surviving days without life-support, finally died.

Follow the link below for Mohler’s blog.

Here are articles related to Alfie’s death.



Never See Death?

“I . . . drove to another part of town where my aunt lived.  I came to see her, thinking it would probably be the last time I would see her before she died . . . She was in a wheelchair, wearing a faded housedress.  Her hair was gray and stringy; her muscles, atrophied; her skin, like a baby bird’s, thin and translucent to where you could see the embroidery of her veins.  She was frail and looked as if she would break if you hugged her.  I hugged her, and she didn’t.  But she didn’t recognize me either.  She babbled incoherently, repeating a series of syllables.  I tried talking to her, telling her that Judy and the kids said hello and give their best, but she just mumbled on, the same syllables going round and round like a warped record stuck in a groove . . .

When she dies, she will take the family’s entire history with her.  When she dies, there will be no one left to tell the families’ stories . . .  One by one, the others who remembered had died.  Heart attack.  Stroke.  Heart attack.  Now Alzheimer’s.

She couldn’t do anything for herself.  Couldn’t dress herself, feed herself, bathe herself.  She was like a baby, only a baby that weighed something like ninety pounds, which made dressing her and bathing her and putting her to bed an exhausting ordeal.  Her babbling was like a baby’s too, except at time the tone was insistent, even angry . . .

As I got into my car, tears pooled in my eyes.  So this is how it all ends.  This is how we slip out of this world, with all the limitations of a baby but with none of its loveliness.  Every day losing a little bit of our motor skills and a little bit more of our minds.  Every day losing more of our balance and losing more control of our bowels.  Every day losing a little something else until at last there’s little else to lose except life itself . . .

“‘It is better to go to a house of mourning that to go to a house of feasting,’ said Solomon, ‘for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take it to heart’ . . .

The truth is, that is the way of all flesh.  The truth is, that person in the wheelchair who babbles on and can’t remember will be me someday if I live long enough.  Or it will be someone I love.  My mother, maybe.  Or maybe my wife.

“It seems so sad that it all comes down to this.  Oh, I know.  I know there’s resurrection.  I know we get new bodies.  I know that death will be defeated, that all our tears will be wiped away.  I know all that, I believe all that.  But knowing and believing didn’t make that day any less sad for me, didn’t take away the sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach, didn’t take away the depression that I felt at the futility of it all, or the anger I felt at seeing a whole life wearing down to a housedress of flesh and bones that can’t remember” (Ken Gires, Windows of the Soul, p. 139-141).

Via the Internet, I heard John Piper preach a sermon boldly entitled, “You Will Never See Death.”  No bolder than Jesus’ words from where it came “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (John 8:51).  Wow!  Are we spared death’s pain?  Does Jesus come at the moment of our dying and snatch us into his presence?  Well, yes.  But, no, we may not be spared suffering.

Lois’ father died of a heart attack.  He fell immediately unconscious, was put on  a respirator, and, as far as I know, never suffered.  My brother also had a heart attack.  His son tried to resuscitate him.  Did he feel pain before he fell unconscious?  Both my parents died suffering.  Especially my father.  Lois’ mother, however, slipped peacefully away.  We sadly watched her “fall asleep”.

We’d prefer instant death or “falling asleep”.  But, we don’t get to choose.  Only God does.

Solomon was right.  Unless Jesus returns first, we will each go the way of all flesh.  And it may mean suffering.  Let the wise take it to heart.  We can’t presume that the path to our Lord’s presence will be painless.  Knowing that won’t remove the sadness, depression or anger.  But, by God’s grace, it may ease them.

But Jesus’ words dare us to hope, dare us to take Solomon’s words with a ray of light.  ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death”.  Our body may die painfully, but Jesus will snatch our soul/spirit into his presence.  We will never see death!  We will be away from this old body, but at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Ken Gire’s aunt?  No, we don’t want to think that may be us.  But it may be.  Christ doesn’t promise us freedom from suffering (though he may mercifully give it).  But he does promise ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death.”  When our body is finally wasting away, we’ll slip from it snatched from death into his presence.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
about those who have died,
so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)




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!









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]

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).



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]

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 . . .





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]


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?


“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).


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.


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.


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).


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.


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).


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!”


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.

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


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).


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.


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.


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.


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).


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).


“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).


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’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).


“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.


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).


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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