Thursday, December 06, 2012

On the Purposes of God in Suffering

Some years ago, while going through a difficult time of life, I bowed before the Lord and begged him to get me out of the situation. The prayer session literally lasted for about two hours. Near the end of that time, I sensed the Lord's loving reply, by his Spirit, "Charlie, I don't want to get you out of this, I want to develop you in this." I felt a deep peace wash over me at that moment because I knew that my Father was with me, and that's all I really needed to know. The circumstances remained the same, but with the Lord at my side my attitude did not. 

As I moved on with my life, I thought it might be good to conduct a fairly thorough New Testament (NT) Bible study on the subject of suffering, and my mentor at the time, Tom Brindley, agreed and encouraged me to do so. I was surprised by what I found. First, I discovered over 60 passages from the NT that touch upon the subject, some of which are one or more chapters long. The Lord has much to say about suffering! 

Second, I quickly discerned, and slowly learned, that the Lord is neither cruel nor arbitrary nor out of control when it comes to suffering of various sorts, but rather that he has particular purposes in mind which he brings about through suffering. Suffering is, in fact, one of his most powerful and effective tools. Sometimes, of course, the Lord hears our cries and delivers us from trials, persecutions, sufferings, and the like. Take, for example, the many healing stories in the gospels and the book of Acts (e.g., Matthew 4:23-25, 8:14-17, 10:7-8, 15:21-31, 17:14-21, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 14:1-6, Acts 3:1-10 and 28:7-10). But more often than not, it seems, he desires to shape us into his image through these things for the glory of his name. 

Third, I discerned four reasons why we suffer: (1) We live in a fallen world, marred by sin, and thus we must endure earthquakes, hurricanes, disease, death, and the like. (2) We sin and pay the price for our sin. (3) Others sin and we pay the price for their sin. (4) We suffer in the course of exalting the glorious name of Jesus Christ in the world. I'll say more about this in the coming months on this blog, but for now let me just say that the Lord does have particular purposes in mind for each of these "sources" of suffering. 

In my study, I didn't attempt to understand or address the more general problem of evil, that is, how can evil exist if God is perfectly holy and good? This question is above my pay grade, and besides, at the time I didn't need theoretical answers to perplexing ontological questions, rather, I needed "on the ground" wisdom for understanding, enduring, and growing through the trials in my life. And the Lord did graciously reveal much wisdom to me that helped me endure then, and helps me endure now. 

So over the next...who knows how long...I plan to share the details of my study on this blog. My notes are organized by text, so I will just post my thoughts on this or that passage of Scripture and then at the end I'll post a few concluding thoughts. I hope and pray that the Lord will use this series of posts in your lives as powerfully as he did in mine. 

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