Suffering and God’s Absolute Sovereignty

Three short articles by Mike Riccardi:

1. Suffering Well: Weeping with Those Who Weep

2. Suffering Well: Acknowledging Sin’s Role in Suffering

3. Suffering Well: Trusting God’s Absolute Sovereignty

The Calling of Unjust Suffering

1 Peter 2:21–25, John Piper explains how we return good for evil, even when it seems like evil is winning. He shows that Jesus died for you in more ways than one, and demonstrates how each way speaks into the opposition we face from the world.

1 Peter 2:21–25, Part 1 // Jesus Suffered to Keep You from Sinning from Desiring God on Vimeo.

1 Peter 2:21–25, Part 2

The Bible says that when Jesus went to the cross, he bore our condemnation and purchased our healing. What does his sacrifice mean tangibly for a life now lived for the glory of God? In this lab, John Piper explains what kind of healing and transformation we experience through faith.

1 Peter 2:21–25, Part 2 // By His Wounds You Have Been Healed from Desiring God on Vimeo.

God will often give us more than we can handle

bike-tyresMitch Chase (PhD, SBTS) is the Preaching Pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church and an adjunct professor at Boyce College in Louisville, KY. He’s the author of Behold Our Sovereign God. He writes:

Christians can make the strangest claims when comforting those who are suffering. What do you say to someone whose life is falling apart? If you have but few precious minutes with a person who’s lost a job, home, spouse, child, or all sense of purpose, what comfort do you give?

We might turn to conventional wisdom instead of Scripture and end up saying something like, “Don’t worry, this wouldn’t happen in your life if God didn’t think you could bear it.” The sufferer may object, head shaking and hands up. But you insist, “Look, seriously, the Bible promises God won’t ever give you more in life than you can handle.” There it is—conventional wisdom masquerading as biblical truth. You’ve promised what the Bible never does.

Temptations Versus Trials

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” His discussion is specific: he’s writing about “temptation,” a snare that breaks a sweat trying to drag us into sin. Using a predator metaphor, God warned Cain that “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin stalks us, but God is faithful. Sin desires to overcome us, but there is a merciful way of escape. Sin sets the bait, but for the believer—praise God!—sin is not irresistible.

Now if people apply Paul’s words about temptation to general sufferings, you can see where the line “God will never give you more than you can handle” comes from. I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions of those who use this phrase, but sincerity isn’t enough. Even Job’s friends meant well.

The Twin Errors

There are at least two errors in the unbiblical notion of “God will never give you more than you can handle.” First, it plays on the cultural virtue of fairness. Second, it points the sufferer inward instead of Godward.

1. Trials that Are . . . Fair?

If you give your children boxes to load into the car, you make visual and weight assessments that factor in their ages and strength. You don’t overload their arms and watch them crash to the ground with stuff splayed everywhere. That would be unfair. The saying “God will never give you more than you can handle” strikes a tone of fairness we instinctually like. There’s something pleasing about the idea that the scales are in balance, that God has assessed what we can handle and permits trials accordingly. Continue reading

Who did it? God or Satan?

firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11).

This brings us face to face with a real spiritual and theological problem. On several occasions in 1 Peter we are told that it is God who orchestrates our suffering as a way of refining and purifying our faith. See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2:21; 3:14,17; 4:12-19 (esp. v. 19!).

So who is responsible for the suffering Christians endure: Satan or God? Yes! The answer is: Both!

Although Satan and God work at cross purposes, they can both desire the same event to occur while hoping to accomplish through it antithetical results. Satan wanted to see Jesus crucified, as did God the Father (Isa. 53:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), but for a different reason. The same is true in the case of Job. What Satan had hoped would destroy Job (or at least provoke him to blasphemy), God used to strengthen him. Continue reading

God’s Purposes for us in our hard times

Mark Altrogge hard times produce wonderful benefits in our lives. On Monday I mentioned one benefit – affliction drives us to God’s word. Here are six more benefits of suffering:

Affliction drives us to God in prayer

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. James 5:13

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. PS 107:6

When the sun’s shining and everything’s going our way, we don’t feel our need for God. But desperate times lead to desperate prayer. When we’re helpless to change our situation, we cry out to our Savior, who delivers us from our distress.

Affliction humbles us

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 CO 12:7

Afflictions remind us of how fragile we are. It keeps us lowly. Reminds us that everything we have is a gift. Pride leads to a fall, but God gives grace to the humble. Affliction positions us to receive grace.

Affliction makes us rely on Christ’s power

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 CO 12:9

When we realize how powerless we are, then Jesus can display his might in our lives. When we’ve exhausted all our own resources Jesus rides in at just the right moment, like the hero in a movie who comes to rescue someone as the train is bearing down on them.

Affliction brings us the comfort of God himself

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…, 2 Co 1:3

As well meaning as others are, there are times when no human words can comfort. But God himself comforts us when we cry out to him in our pain. The God of ALL COMFORT, the one who knows exactly what our broken hearts need, comforts us in ALL our affliction. The One who fashioned our hearts, who knows our every drop of sadness, knows the exact medicine we need to comfort us.

Affliction gives us compassion for others

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 Co 1:3

When someone else has been through the same thing, their words can really comfort us. Though your pain is horrific now, someday God will use you to bring his comfort to someone else who suffers the fury of depression or the agony of a child who rebels like yours.

Affliction produces endurance and patience

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, RO 5:3

The only way to get patience and endurance is by being placed in situations that require it. But it will be worth it in the end, because it is by patiently enduring in faith that we’ll enter heaven.

Affliction reminds us that this world is not our home

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. HEB 13:14

As many blessings as this world has, it’s not our home. Affliction weans us from this world, reminds us how transitory it is, and makes us long for heaven, for that day when we’ll see Jesus face to face and he will personally wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Bless the Lord oh my soul and forget none of his benefits. Especially those benefits he brings us through hard times.

Your Suffering is Never Wasted

Marshall Segal he and his family desperately looked to God for comfort. They clung to God’s word, and in the deepest moments of grief, they were led to worship. The song below, “Though You Slay Me,” was born in that experience.

Job lived this song. The Psalms plead this song. And John Piper has preached the message of this song throughout his ministry. Because of God’s sovereign care for you, every pain in this life is producing a glory for you that will last forever.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say you do it all in love
That I might know you in your suffering

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

Though tonight I’m crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You’re still more than I need
You’re enough for me
You’re enough for me

[Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.]

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

What God Never Said to Job

storms-sIn an article entitled, the time has finally come for God to speak. Now that Job has endured indescribable suffering, now that his three friends and Elihu have had their say, what might one expect God to say? Amazingly, all the things one might think God would say (or should say) are nowhere to be found.

(1) There is no condemnation of Job, no reversal of the divine verdict on his character that was given in chapters one and two. God does not agree with the assessment of Bildad, Zophar, Eliphaz, or Elihu. He says nothing that would lead us to believe that Job’s suffering was the direct result of Job’s sin.

(2) There are no apologies. Nowhere do we read anything like: “O my dear child, Job. I’m so very sorry for what has happened. You’ve endured a great many trials on my behalf and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. You’ve hung in there and shown yourself to be a real trooper. I promise I’ll do my best not to let this sort of thing happen again.”

As Larry Crabb put it, “Job apparently expected God would listen to what he had to say, pull slowly on his beard, and reply, ‘Job, thanks for sharing your perspective on things. You’ve got a point. Frankly, I really hadn’t seen things quite the way you see them. Look, I’ve made a bit of an error but I’ll straighten it all out right away'” (Inside Out, 146).

(3) There are no compliments. After all that Job had endured so that God might prove his point to the devil, one might have expected to hear something like this: “Job, bless your heart! You have no idea how proud I am of you. It really means a lot to me that you’ve persevered so valiantly. You exceeded all my expectations. We really showed that devil, didn’t we!”

God says nothing to Job that one might think would be appropriate for someone who had suffered so much. There are no words of encouragement or consolation; no words of how much good his experience will accomplish in the lives of others who face tragedy. There are no words of praise for his having stood his ground when the barrage of arguments came from his three friends. There are no “Thank-you’s” for having held his tongue in check from cursing God when it seemed the reasonable thing to do.

(4) There are no explanations. This is perhaps the most shocking omission of all. At the very least you would expect God to lay it all out in black and white before Job. But nowhere do we find something like this: “Job, let me begin by explaining to you how this whole thing came about in the first place. You see, one day Satan came to me and insisted that the only reason you worship me is because I treat you so well. I couldn’t let him get away with that. I had to prove him wrong, and, well . . . the rest is history, as they say!”

Nor do we find: “Job, I know you’ve been wondering how I could permit this to occur and not be guilty of injustice and hard-hearted cruelty. Well, it’s like this . . . ” Nor do we find: “Job, you’ve struggled with why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Sit down and take out pen and paper. You’ll undoubtedly want to take notes. There are ten reasons why you, a righteous man, suffered so horribly. Number one: …”

Amazingly, there is no discussion of the problem of evil, of divine justice, of human sin, or any such thing. In fact, God supplies no answers at all to any of the questions raised by Job or Eliphaz or Bildad or Zophar or Elihu, or by you and me! Instead, it is God who asks the questions! It isn’t God who appears on the witness stand to undergo cross-examination in order to make sense of what has occurred. It is Job, of all people, who is cross-examined. More than 70 times God asks Job an unanswerable question.

Says Phillip Yancey:

“Sidestepping thirty-five chapters’ worth of debates on the problem of pain, he plunges instead into a magnificent verbal tour of the natural world. He seems to guide Job through a private gallery of his favourite works, lingering with pride over dioramas of mountain goats, wild donkeys, ostriches, and eagles, speaking as if astonished by his own creations” (Disappointment with God, 190).

For 35 chapters Job has been crying out, “God, put yourself in my place for a while!” God now responds and says, “No, Job, you put yourself in My place! Until you can offer lessons on how to make the sun rise each day or give commands to the lightning or design a peacock, don’t pass judgment on how I run my world.” In other words, God says, “Until you know a little more about running the physical universe, don’t tell me how to run the moral universe. How do you expect to understand the complexities of my dealings with mankind when you can’t even understand the simplicity of my dealings with nature?”

So what did Job then say to God?

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

Tornadoes and the Mystery of Suffering

Sam Storms, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in an article entitled “Tornadoes and the Mystery of Suffering and Sovereignty” wrote this yesterday:

I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort. So how best do we love and pastor those who have suffered so terribly?

I’m not certain I have the answer to that question, and I write the following with considerable hesitation. I can only pray that what I say is grounded in God’s Word and is received in the spirit in which it is intended.

Justin Taylor outlined his seven observations this way:

(1) It will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature.

(2) God is sovereign, not Satan.

(3) Great natural disasters such as this tell us nothing about the comparative sinfulness of those who are its victims.

(4) Events such as this should remind us that no place on earth is safe and that we will all one day die (unless Jesus returns first).

(5) We should not look upon such events and conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are at hand, but neither should we conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are not at hand.

(6) We must learn to weep with those who weep.

(7) Pray that God will use such an event to open the hearts and eyes of a city and a state immersed in unbelief and idolatry (and I have in mind not merely Oklahoma, but also America as a whole), to see the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and turn in faith to him, lest something infinitely worse than a tornado befall them: Eternal condemnation. Eternal suffering.

You can read the whole short article by Sam Storms here. And pray.

Why does God allow so much suffering and evil?

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” – Amos 3:6

In light of the events of the last few days, I re-watched a message from the West Coast Ligonier Conference (2008) by Dr. John MacArthur on the question of evil and suffering in this world. It was a very good use of an hour as it fixed my heart and mind on the truth claims of the Bible regarding God’s Sovereignty over evil in this world. I very much recommend this teaching found here:

Here are some notes I made as I watched:

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SO MUCH EVIL AND SUFFERING?

FOUR FORMS OF EVIL:

NATURAL EVIL

MORAL EVIL – Personal sin (transgression)

SUPERNATURAL EVIL – Sophisticated corrupt spiritual identities that seek to torment, entice, deceive and seduce (heresy and false religions have their source in the demonic – the doctrine of demons – 1 Tim 4)

THE EVIL OF HELL (eternal punishment)

Three statements:
1) Evil exists.
2) God exists.
3) God wills evil to exist (He takes full responsibility for all that occurs). If He did not permit its existence, it would not be here.

Evil occurs because God, who could have prevented it, permits it. The permission of evil is under the control of God. To say that it is permitted is to underline the point because God is not Himself evil and could not be the author of evil (James 1:13). It is vital to stress this. But it is not as if, when evil occurs, God temporarily loses control of the universe that He has created and sustains and governs.

“…though Christians face the difficulty of explaining the presence of evil in the universe, the pagan has a problem that is twice as difficult. Before one can even have a problem of evil, one must first have an antecedent existence of the good. Those who complain about the problem of evil now also have the problem of defining the existence of the good. Without God there is no ultimate standard for the good.” – R. C. Sproul

In order to try to get around what some people think to be a poor reflection on God regarding point number 3, two main theological errors have been put forward.

1. Process Theology – in simple terms, the idea that God is learning and growing and developing as He reacts to the events of time.
2. Openness Theology – the idea that the future does not yet exist and so not even God knows it. However this goes against clear statements of Scripture. God knows the end from the beginning, is omniscient, and this is why such much of the Bible is prophetic in nature.

Westminster Confession of Faith: God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
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Enduring Hardship

Sermon notes from Pastor Bruce Brock, Faith Community Church, Tucson, Arizona

Scripture has a lot to say about how the believer is to endure, cope, and trust in difficult times.

James 1:2-4, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The basic truth is that the development of Christian character will not occur in our lives without adversity.

In fact, God will not remove the adversity until we profit from it and develop in whatever way He intends.

Both Paul (Romans) and James give us the reason for rejoicing in trials – because of their beneficial results. The adversity in itself is not the ground of our joy but rather, it is the expectation of the results, the development of our character, that causes us to rejoice in adversity. We do not rejoice because we lost our jobs or because we get a bad diagnosis from the doctor – we rejoice because we believe/KNOW that God is in control of circumstances and is at work through them for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28).

Ø In the trial, we see by the eye of faith, beyond the events to what God is doing in our lives. See Hebrews 12:1-3. Jesus looked beyond the suffering to the joy set before Him and we are to fix our eyes on Him and follow His example.

Ø Heb 12:4-14. Trials are God’s discipline in our lives. God uses adversity to reign in our wrong affections and unholy desires – He disciplines us for our good.

o Perseverance is the quality of character that enables one to pursue a goal in spite of obstacles and difficulties. Perseverance/endurance is required and God develops perseverance in every believer. Romans 5:3-6.

LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY

1. We do not resent the trouble or consider God unfair. This does not mean that we shouldn’t use means to minimize the effect of adversity. But it does mean that we trust God even if we can’t see at all times what He is doing in our lives.

a. I Pet 1:3-9, Prov 17:3, Job 23:10b
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