Suffering? Humiliated? Praise God
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds. Crossway, 2006) was the first book I purchased at the Faith Biblical Counseling Conference a few weeks ago. You can also download a free PDF copy from Desiring God Ministries.
I’m glad to own a copy because I will definitely be keeping it and rereading it. Some of the essays, like Mark R. Talbott’s on seeing God’s hand in the hurts others do to us, is so meaty that I could not digest it all in one sitting. Another, Carl F. Ellis Jr’s discussion of ethnic-based suffering is so insightful for my history work that I will be refering back to it.
But maybe most precious are the voices of real Christians talking about real suffering (some of whom I have met): people who have been-there-done-that with God and find him faithful. As Dustin Shramek observes in his wonderful essay, “Waiting for the Morning During the Long Night of Weeping,” about his and his wife Kellie’s experience losing their first-born son, Owen, while following God’s call in a place where babies rarely survive premature birth:
We struggled with anger toward God, wondering why he didn’t comfort us. We prayed; indeed people literally all over the world had prayed for the life of our son, but God chose a different path for us. So why wouldn’t he comfort us in this path?
Many people said things to us like, “Look to Jesus! Trust in his promises. He does care for you. You need to get in the Word and pray and fight for your joy. You need to talk with others about this and have them pray for you.” We know that this is true and right; yet, when were were overwhelmed with grief, it felt hollow and unhelpful. We needed to know that they too had been changed by our pain; that, in some sense, it was also their pain.
We don’t love others in the midst of this kind of pain by pretending that it isn’t all that bad or by trying to quick fix it with some pat theological answers. We love them first by weeping with them. It is when we enter into their pain and our ourselves changed by it that we can speak the truth in love. When their pain becomes our pain (as Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” [1 Cor. 12:26]), we are able to give the encouragement of the Scriptures. (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 177)
That is one of the blessings of this book. I believe that God uses suffering in our lives to help us more readily enter into the suffering of others. And there is no question that the Bible calls Christians to suffer, to suffer well, and to suffer with each other. But culturally, Shramek observes, we are grief-avoiders, schooled to move away from pain as quickly as possible. This leads to our un-Biblical discomfort in the presence of other people’s suffering. We encourage people to get over it, because when they do, we can get back into our own comfort zone –a place where faith is not threatened by the persistence of pain.
Which brings me back to the blessings of this book: the stories are both disquieting and hope-filled. Open it and suffering will intrude into your comfort zone and begin having the transforming, sanctifying effects God plans it to produce.
Not there yet? Longing to know more of what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “Take up your cross daily and follow me”? Or maybe you are there and need some encouragement. Listen to Joni Earickson Tada‘s exposition of that verse in her essay, “Hope…the Best of Things.”
James 4:6 says…”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
And who are the humble? They are people who are humiliated by their weakness. Catheterized people whose leg bags spring leaks on someone else’s brand new carpet. Immobilized people who must be fed, cleaned, dressed, and taken care of like infants. Once-active people crippled by chronic aches and pains. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, so then submit yourselves to God. resist the devil, who loves nothing more than to discourage you and corrode your joy. Resist him and he will flee from you. Draw near to God in your affliction and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8). Take up your cross daily and follow the Lord Jesus (Luke 9:23).
I must qualify that last statement. Please know that when I take up my cross every day I am not talking about my wheelchair. My wheelchair is not my cross to bear. Neither is your cane or walker your cross. Neither is your dead-end job or your irksome in-laws. Your cross to bear is not your migraine headaches, not your sinus infections, not your stiff joints. That is not your cross to bear. My cross is not my wheelchair; it is my attitude. Your cross is your attitude about you dead-end job and your in-laws. It is your attitude about your aches and pains. Any complaints, and grumblings, any disputings or murmurings, any anxieties, any worries, any resentments or anything that hints of a raging torrent of bitterness –these are the things God calls me to die to daily. For when I do, I not only become like him in his death (that is, taking up my cross and dying to the sin that he died for on the cross), but the power of the resurrection puts to death any doubts, fears, grumblings, and disputings. And I get to become like him in his life. I get to experience the intimate fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, the sweetness and preciousness of the Savior. I become holy as he is holy. O God, “you will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2:28).
And to be in God’s presence is to be holy. Not to be sinless, but to sin less. To let suffering sandblast you to the core, revealing the stuff of which you are made. And it’s never pretty –the sin we housebreak and domesticate and try to make our own –is it? No. Suffering sandblasts that stuff, leaving us bare and falling head over heels, down for the count and decimated.
It is when your soul has been blasted bare, when you feel raw and undone, that you can be better bonded to the Savior. And then you not only meet suffering on God’s terms, but you meet joy on God’s terms. (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 196-97)
Image: Faith Church, Lafayette Indiana Blog review of Chapter 4, “Why God Appoints Suffering for His Servants” by John Piper in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.