Knowing the Sovereignty of God through Suffering, Part 2

See Part 1 here.

My comfort in suffering comes from the knowledge that God ordains my suffering for my eternal good and his glory. It is not enough to say that God allows my suffering. After all, why would God allow something if it wasn’t for the best. For God to allow something would imply that another force of equal or greater power was the actual cause of my suffering. That is clearly not the case. So, the all-wise God must be the prime cause of my suffering, and if He is all-loving and all-powerful, then He ordains it for my good and fully controls it. 

Some may ask, how is that comforting??? I am comforted by the truth of God’s all-wise and sovereign ordination of my suffering because I know that none of it is wasted, and I do not suffer one more second than God ordains. Every second of my suffering is precisely what God knows I need to grow in holiness. Romans 5:3-5 reminds us:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The suffering we experience produces character in us when we endure it in a way that is surrendered to God’s will. This character has eternal value as we are made more like Christ through it. The priority of eternal glory over temporal comfort is a constant theme in the Apostle Paul’s writing. 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

The weight of glory. That is why the sovereign God ordains the suffering in our lives that he does. He is preparing us in this brief lifetime for eternity. He does not promise present comfort and ease. He is making sure that we are ready for an eternal glory that we cannot comprehend and that is too terrible to consider unless our hearts are transformed to long for it.

In his book, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis writes of our weak desires for the paltry prizes of comfort and ease. 

Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

As Tim Keller has said, “If I knew what God knew I would do exactly in my life what he is doing presently.” That is a difficult truth to accept because many times we don’t see how the suffering we endure could possibly ever have a purpose. Like a child who must trust her father as he entrusts her to the hands of a surgeon, so we must trust our Father’s plan in the suffering he ordains. Resting in God’s sovereignty is the key to peace in the midst of suffering.

I conclude with the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist pastor: 

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, ‘Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.’ Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.” 

Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 2

If God has ordained my suffering, what can I do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing about my circumstances, but I can do something about my heart. 

I only have three choices. First, I can cry out to God like the psalmists and cling to what I know to be true about God’s character and promises. I can, in great weakness and desperation cling to the sure and steadfast anchor (Heb. 6:19), the shepherd and overseer of my soul (1 Pet. 2:25) who has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).

Second, I can make the mistake of distorting the biblical picture of God into something more palatable. I can come to believe that God is not in control, that God does not will my suffering, and that he weeps with me in my agony, but cannot do anything about it. Those who choose this path often want to attribute suffering only to Satan, but certainly not to God. They may even come to believe that God only ever wills for his children to live in health and prosperity here and now, so that He could not possibly ever desire suffering, difficulty, or loss.

It is true that Satan can be an instrument of God to bring suffering (Job 1; Mark 1:13; 2 Cor. 12:7), but to attribute all suffering to him is to reduce God’s Lordship in the universe. So, God does not sit by helplessly as suffering happens, neither does he promise bliss and glory now. 

Third, I can grow bitter and ultimately reject God. This is actually an easier choice to make than the second one for some people. For those who cannot accept a diminished God or the false promises of the prosperity gospel, the realization that God controls their suffering is unbearable. They cannot see how their suffering could possibly be good. They cannot discern any justifiable reason for God allowing their circumstances. They surrender to the truth that God is control, but it does not lead to worship. Rather, it leads to resentment. This typically leads to an abandonment of the faith, at least for a while. The unfortunate thing is that such a response does not change the circumstances of their suffering. They continue to suffer as before, but now with no one to whom they can turn.

What is the solution for this dilemma? The solution lies in one of the purposes for suffering—to know God. That is, one of the reasons God ordains suffering in the life of his children is that we may be cast upon him in our desperation and come to know him more fully, richly, deeply, and truly. Paul connects suffering with knowing God when he says,

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:10)

It was through sharing in the sufferings of Christ, enduring incredible trials, pain, loneliness, and betrayal, that Paul came to understand more deeply the love that Christ has for his people. When we endure suffering, great or small, and taste its bitterness, we are reminded that Jesus suffered the infinite wrath of God for us. We come to appreciate the incomprehensible price Jesus paid out of love to bring us into the grace of God.

All our suffering should draw us into a desire to know God more. This does not mean that we will gain answers for the “why” of our suffering. It does mean that as we know God more fully we can trust him and rest in him in the midst of the pain. We can, with Paul, glory in our weakness and suffering because through them we come to know the sustaining grace of God better and God’s power works in us mightily (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

This series is meant to draw you into a deeper, personal knowledge of God through your suffering. The more we know the truth of God, the more we can accurately and transformatively worship God (John 4:24). Theology is not meant to be merely academic but should lead to worship. After Paul contemplates the inscrutable acts of God in history, he bursts forth in praise:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)

The purpose of this series is to help you know the riches of the glory of God so you might worship him with an overflowing heart. Such worship in the midst of suffering is transformative. It moves us from a focus on our pain and circumstances to a focus on our glorious God who is greater than our pain and circumstances. It allows us to step out on the stormy waters with our eyes fixed on Jesus, rather than looking around at the storm and sinking beneath the waves. 

My prayer is that as you come to know God more fully, your suffering will be transformed. Whether your circumstances change any time soon or not, may you be changed by fixing your eyes on the one who has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.

Read Part 1.

God Interferes in Our Free Will, and It’s a Good Thing, Too.

Mack-Trucks-Models

Jared Wilson exposes the myth so many Christians believe that God has limited himself and his power in order to respect the complete exercise of our freedom (or free will) to choose him or not:

“One of the chief ways we distort the biblical picture of God’s love is when we presuppose, as many Christians do, that love demands freedom. Where we get this notion, I do not know, but it is not in the Bible. In fact, we find in the Bible quite the opposite: the love of God violates human freedoms constantly and consistently. If there’s one thing any biblical figure can count on, besides that God loves him, it is that he is not in control of his own destiny…

“If my daughter is unaware of the Mack truck bearing down on her, or if she is aware that putting her finger in a light socket will electrocute her but she wants to do it anyway, do I love her if I am able to intervene but defer to her freedom? Or am I a loving  father to tackle her out of the truck’s way, to slap her hand away from the socket?”- Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, 26.

As I often say to my students, it all sounds good until you open your Bible.