Tag Archive for 'Suffering'

Quotes from Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.

Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.

A note that I wrote in the book in pretty much my own words: “In our praying, we’re often trying to only eliminate suffering, instead of also asking for it to have meaningful spiritual value.”

While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace.

On the cross, he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and a pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. There is no greater inner agony than the loss of a love relationship. We cannot imagine, however, what it would be like to lose not just a human relationship that has lasted for some years but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. The separation would have been infinitely unbearable. And so Jesus experienced Godforsakenness itself on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.

Suffering tends to make you self-absorbed. If it is seen as mainly about you and your own growth, it will strangle you truly. Instead, we must look at suffering–whatever the proximate causes–as primarily a way to get to know God better, as an opening for serving, resembling, and drawing near to him as never before.

But resurrection is not just consolation — it is restoration. We get it all back — the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life — but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.

We question how God is running the world. Does that make sense?

Christian peace does not start with the ousting of negative thinking. If you do that, you may simply be refusing to face how bad things are. That is one way to calm yourself – by refusing to admit the facts. But it will be short lived peace! Christian peace doesn’t start that way. It is not that you stop facing the facts, but you get a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face those realities, something that lifts you up over and through them.

Regarding that last quote, see Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones.

Quotes From ‘Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow’

I’ve seen some blogs where they have 20 short quotes from each book the blog writer reads. I’m not into round numbers or always having to have a formula, and only want to post quotes I really like, but I like this idea of posting multiple quotes from books that have been read through. Anyone who frequents this little corner of cyberspace knows that I like posting quotes. I try to put some of my own commentary in there, and often mix authors with quotes of the same subject, along with Scripture. But posting a few random quotes might give you more of an idea of what a book is like.

I’ve made a new Category called Book Quotes. We’ll see how it goes. I may try to do some other recent books. See below for how I extract longer quotes in paper books.

These are from Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, by Nancie Guthrie.

When we feel disappointed by the spiritual nature of the fulfillment of God’s promises to heal us, it reveals the truth about what we think about our sin. We don’t really see our sin as that big of an issue. As we compare ourselves to those around us, we think we’re pretty good. We think of our sin problem as more like a case of the sniffles than a terminal disease.

Our disappointment also reveals that we don’t value the eternal promises of God as much as we want him to fix what we see as our most significant problems. What we really want from him is to give us everything he has promised us here and now. We think that physical life on this earth—the length of it and the quality of it—is of ultimate importance. We have a hard time grasping the signficance and the reality of the life to come.*

Pages 37-38

Honestly, I’ve come to think that looking for a specific answer to the question Why? is mostly an unsatisfying quest. What we really are in search of is not an explanation but a sense of meaning. We want to know that there is some meaning and purpose in our losses—that they are not random or worthless.

We want to see the ways God is using our loss for good. Sometimes God, in his goodness, draws back the curtain and I shows us; we can see how he is using our loss in our lives or in l the lives of those around us. And other times we have to wait. Certainly we can never expect to see the complete purposes of God in this life.

Page 88

To forgive, we need confident faith to believe that the satisfaction of being pleasing to God will be greater than the enjoyment of putting that person in his place, forcing her to see her selfishness, mining her reputation, him hurt like he has hurt you.

Page 103

The chapter on forgiveness was unexpectedly good.

Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

For putting longer quotes in a blog post, instead of typing them out, I use an OCR app on my phone. Since I’m always having to lie down, it’s very difficult to type out quotes. I use OCR Instantly Free for Android. A photo is taken from within the app, the text is cropped, then ‘enhanced’, which just makes it very high contrast, then it does the magic of Optical Character Recognition. I then email it to myself or send it to Evernote. Since there are hard line breaks, I go to Remove Line Breaks Online Tool, correct a few errors (you may see a mistake or two–let me know), and that’s it. Probably more work than typing, but easier for me.

If it’s a Puritan paper book, I’ll look for a digital version of it to copy and paste, or if it’s a popular book, it may already be online. The Epub format, which I like to read on my phone, is the easiest to copy text from because they are all on my computer.

*Also see: What Providence Isn’t | Scripture Zealot blog

Quote of the Day: Gregory Beale on Suffering

I don’t know if I’ve written this before, but I really don’t like the idea that God allows suffering and the whole system of how he uses that for spiritual growth. However, imagine that there is suffering, and God doesn’t use it. It’s just there, but has no purpose. That would be much, much worse. Praise God that he redeems our suffering and makes it extremely valuable.

While the means of growth is the word of God, the context of our growth is often suffering…. Suffering is not an automatic lever to release the life of Christ in us, but suffering is the occasion that we look for Christ’s life to flow in us (2Cor. 4:10, 11). When we are comfortable, we too easily trust in the adequacy of our resources. When we are afflicted, we realize the inadequacy of our resources and look to Christ so that his life is released in us. The life flows not only in us but through us to bless others…. The life of Christ not only strengthens us in weakness but also renews us in glory through suffering.

G. K. Beale, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth as quoted in a blog post, Beale for Dummies by Carl Trueman

Apparently Gregory Beale has switched to the scholar standard of two first initials, contra The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism by Gregory K. Beale.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV

Christ Feels Our Suffering

How can it be compatible with Christ’s glory now in heaven, to have a fellow feeling with our sufferings?

This fellow feeling in Christ arises not from an infirmity or passion—but from the mystic union between him and his members. “He who touches you, touches the apple of his eye.” Zech 2:8. Every injury done to a saint—he takes as done to him in heaven. Every temptation strikes at him, and he is touched with the feeling of them.

–Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer

I wanted to look more into this. It’s comforting to know that Christ not only identifies with our suffering because he himself suffered, but because he is with us now (John 14:23). The idea of the apple/pupil of his eye is unique to the Old Testament as far as I can tell, even if there is the same sentiment expressed in other ways in the New Testament.

John Calvin says in his commentary on Zechariah 2:8:

Whosoever touches you, touches the apple of his eye; and to this view I certainly am more inclined; for this idea once occurs in Scripture,

“He will protect us as the apple of his eye.” (Psa 17:8.)

As then the Holy Spirit has elsewhere used this similitude, so I am disposed to regard this passage as intimating, that the love of God towards the faithful is so tender that when they are hurt he burns with so much displeasure, as though one attempted to pierce his eyes. For God cannot otherwise set forth how much and how ardently he loves us, and how careful he is of our salvation, than by comparing us to the apple of his eye. There is nothing, as we know, more delicate, or more tender, then this is in the body of man; for were one to bite my finger, or prick my arm or my legs, or even severely to would me, I should feel no such pain as by having my eye or the pupil of my eye injured. God then by this solemn message declares, that the Church is to him like the apple of his eye, so that he can by no means bear it to be hurt or touched.

And John Gill:

How careful and tender must we suppose the God of grace, and our merciful Redeemer and High Priest, to be over his dear people, parts of himself, redeemed by his blood, and designed and prepared for eternal glory and happiness; and how daring must such be who offer the least violence unto them; nor must they expect to escape his wrath and vengeance, that seek their hurt, and give them disturbance; see Psa 17:8

Also Matthew Henry:

What he will do for his church shall be an evident proof of God’s tender care of it and affection to it: He that touches you touches the apple of his eye. This is a high expression of God’s love to his church. By his resentment of the injuries done to her it appears how dear she is to him, how he interests himself in all her interests, and takes what is done against her, not only as done against himself, but as done against the very apple of his eye, the tenderest part, which nature has made very fine, has put a double guard upon, and taught us to be in a special manner careful of, and which the least touch is a great offence to. This encourages the people of God to pray with David (Psa 17:8), Keep me as the apple of thy eye; and engages them to do as Solomon directs (Pro 7:2), to keep his law as the apple of their eye. Some understand it thus: “He that touches you touches the apple of his own eye; whoever do you any injury will prove, in the issue, to have done the greatest injury to themselves.”

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Deuteronomy 32:10 KJV

Some may prefer the less sentimental and more accurately anatomical:

For the LORD of Hosts says this: “He has sent Me for His glory against the nations who are plundering you, for anyone who touches you touches the pupil of His eye.
Zechariah 2:8 HCSB

God Afflicts Those He Loves

Just a few:

It was good that I had to suffer
in order to learn your laws.
The teachings that come from your mouth
are worth more to me than thousands in gold or silver.
Psalm 119:71-72 GW

The LORD tests righteous people,
but he hates wicked people
and the ones who love violence.
Psalm 11:5

The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child. Endure your discipline. God corrects you as a father corrects his children. All children are disciplined by their fathers. On earth we have fathers who disciplined us, and we respect them. Shouldn’t we place ourselves under the authority of God, the father of spirits, so that we will live? For a short time our fathers disciplined us as they thought best. Yet, God disciplines us for our own good so that we can become holy like him. We don’t enjoy being disciplined. It always seems to cause more pain than joy. But later on, those who learn from that discipline have peace that comes from doing what is right.
Hebrews 12:6-11

Even if he makes us suffer, he will have compassion in keeping with the richness of his mercy. He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone,
Lamentations 3:32-33 GWN

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:3-7 HCSB

Afflictions Under the Father’s Hand

Your afflictions may only prove that you are more immediately under the Father’s hand. There is no time that the patient is such an object of tender interest to the surgeon, as when he is bleeding beneath his knife. So you may be sure if you are suffering from the hand of a reconciled God, that His eye is all the more bent on you.

–Robert Murray McCheyne

HT: A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

The Olympics – Rambling

Rambling isn’t an Olympic sport. It’s just what I’m doing right now.

I’ve always loved watching the Olympics. It’s like the Super Bowl for two weeks. Things are different now. I know this may sound like whining to some, or attention seeking, or talking about how I’m special. I’m not special, although I may be whining. It’s difficult to watch because with chronic fatigue, it can be hard to see all of these people who are healthy and have great energy. I’m not jealous; I’m truly happy for them. I’ve always been a “body watcher” (I hope that doesn’t sound weird), being so into fitness, and for decades, weight training, and it’s nice to see so many fit people in one place.

Having chronic back pain, it’s difficult seeing figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, a Russian Olympic gold medal hopeful, who developed severe back pain, have an artificial disc put in-between two vertebrae and can now perform again. For me it was first a surgery to repair a herniated disc, which allowed me to stand up straight, but my pain kept increasing. Later came a fusion, which also didn’t work. Now a pain pump, which also doesn’t work as well as hoped (the goal is to relieve at least 50% of the pain).

However, since I started writing this post, you may have seen that his back completely gave out and he had to withdraw. I will write another post on the subject of loss, which is also hard to watch, along with Psalm 42.

Outside the Olympics, Peyton Manning kept having back surgeries (four) until they got it right. I had my one fusion, it didn’t work, and that’s it. I’m really glad Peyton Manning is able to keep on playing–better than ever. Career ending injuries are sad to see, especially right when they happen, like when Bo Jackson injured his hip. Who knows what he could have become, among so many others. Bo knows hurt.

Right now, I’m frustrated. I don’t know if frustrated is the right word. Angry sounds too strong. I can’t think of a better one. I’m reading through the Psalms, and David and other psalmists get a little miffed now and then too, wondering what’s going on. But they always go back to thanking and praising God for what He’ll do and for who He is. I’m finding in times like this, that takes discipline.

My wife has a book called 31 Days of Praise. When she had a couple of big trials, she decided to praise God continually. That got her through it. That took discipline. I admire her for that.

I feel like I’m just learning how to “set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1).” It’s a different kind of discipline than physical exercise or regular spiritual disciplines. I’ve always liked doing those things, so I don’t really need discipline to do them. Thanking and praising God when I’m just mad and really down takes discipline. We need to choose to do it. God compels us through his Spirit if we live by it, and rewards us, but we still need to strive. It’s a different type of spiritual exercise. I don’t like it.

One thing I can to be thankful for is that I’m able do a little bit of some specially tailored weight training again now and have been able to improve. I’m back on the couch afterwards, but I can do something. It’s easy to compare myself to others, which I shouldn’t be doing. I shouldn’t even compare myself to myself–what I used to be able to do. I just have to workout smart, and be glad for any progress. But when I see Olympic athletes doing all kinds of stuff, it makes it difficult not to compare and wish I could just be healthy mentally and physically.

Reading the Psalms has come at a good time. God is good. God is a great teacher. Athletes may have great specialists to help them with everything they could need for their sport, but we have the beyond perfect God, who lives in us permanently to take us through life beyond the grave. I’m learning how to state my displeasure–lament, and to confess the ways that I’m sinning in my attitude, and then praise him for who he is, and thank God for what he has done and is doing. Then I can ask Him to help me, most importantly to be conformed to Christ. I do pray for healing now and then, but after decades of dealing with some things, I pray for coping, and spiritual things that I know are in God’s will (Ephesians 3:16-21 for example–see Complete List of Paul's Prayers). I know that difficulties are supposed to help us to long for heaven–our home–but I don’t seem to lack in that area. I would like to experience more hope for heaven in the present.

In a previous post on preparing for suffering, I included a quote by C.S. Lewis about “engaging in mental/theological exercises” and having a sound view of God. Another thing we can do it to constantly thank and praise God. The more we are bent towards God by praising Him as we think about Him and pray, and the more we thank God for things he does in our lives, the more likely we are to do that when trials come along. Memorizing and reciting Colossians 1:11-12 (along with :9-20 for good measure) has been very helpful in smaller trials. “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (NRSV) Being saved is of so much more importance than whatever is happening to us.

I have so much to be thankful for, and God is still showing me more ways to praise him. There is no lack when it comes to those things.

The LORD is my shepherd.
I am never in need.
Psalm 23:1 GW

Always be joyful.
Never stop praying.
Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 GW

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 NIV

(Emphasis added)

Also see:
Tragic Worship | First Things by Carl R. Trueman

Resources for Suffering Here

I want to remind people of a blog I used to write called Suffering Christians, which you can see under Associate Blogs in the right column. Very uplifting title, huh? I kept the categories few and well organized, so that if you want Scripture, or prayers, or articles, you can click on a Category in the right column and get just those things.

At one point I decided to fold that blog into this one, since that had so few readers. There is a Category here creatively named Suffering. If I would have been thinking, I could have created sub-categories so that it would be like the old blog.

It’s a topic I write about often because of experiencing it. God has used it to bring me much closer to him. I wish it didn’t work that way, but I’m also glad we don’t just suffer for nothing.

Quote of the Day: Preparing for Suffering

Obviously, none of us can really be prepared for suffering because when it comes, it will be unlike anything we’ve experienced, or if we’ve experienced it before, we’ve probably forgotten what it feels like, unless it’s chronic.

I get the feeling that getting someone who’s life is going well to prepare for suffering is like trying to get a healthy person to exercise when they hate exercising. But when the extreme trial or preventable illness (which I realize can happen to those who are in the best of shape and eat all the right things) comes along, then the tune changes.

However, Ravi Zacharias quotes Charles Cooper regarding suffering in Cries of the Heart, “But what kept me going more than anything else was my confidence in the character of God.” So I think that knowing God–the most important thing–and preparing for suffering can be two very overlapping things. I’ve found that I’ve learned just as much about coping with suffering in reading books on basic theology as I have books specifically about suffering.

Which brings me to the meat of the post. C.S. Lewis says that we should prepare for suffering by doing mental/theological exercises. I think this can be tricky, because there can be a fine line between working on being “prepared” and worrying. I would presume the key is having an attitude of trust instead of fear. In the interest of transparency (I hate buzzwords but can’t think of a better one of my own), trust is one of my weaknesses, so I’m no guru. I’m very familiar with suffering though, which is why so many posts on this blog are on that subject.

In C. S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed, he tells of how he found that all of his sage insights into dealing with suffering became nothing but so much meaningless rhetoric when he was faced with his wife Joy’s suffering. We can’t really understand suffering until we are involved in it; but we can prepare for it. In fact, we must do so. It is too late to learn a piano concerto when you walk onto the stage to perform it. It is past time to get into shape when you line up at the starting line for the marathon. In the same way, we try to prepare ourselves for suffering before it comes upon us. How do we prepare for suffering? By engaging in mental/theological exercises. It is a sound view of God and the world that can sustain us when the trials come, though we will still need God to undergird our resolve to honor him through it all.

–John Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary)

I highly recommend Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering for a book specifically on that topic.

Throw your burden upon the LORD,
and he will sustain you.
He will never allow the godly to be upended.
Psalm 55:22 NET

How To Give Bad Advice To Suffering People

I wish that everyone that gives unsolicited advice to those who are suffering, especially chronically, would be required to first read Job and at least a short exposition of it. That would remove so much heartache from so many sufferers. They would see what well meaning but bad acting friends are. Most of all, they would see God’s rebuke of Job’s “friends”. I believe they really were friends, but as time went on, they acted less and less like friends, and more like self-righteous people who want to prove themselves right.

Here is an excellent quote from What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About:

Job also demonstrates the damage that can be done to others, especially to those who are suffering, when “comforters” or “counselors” presume to analyze a situation and then deliver dogmatic pronouncements about what God is doing and what his purposes involve. Job 28 shows that there are situations in life where human finitude makes it impossible to understand the works and ways of God and that the proper course in such situations is to fear God and turn from evil (Job 28:28; cf. Eccl. 12:13). After Eliphaz counseled Job to turn from his sin and to ask God for forgiveness, Job observed how unhelpful such directives were because he did not know anything to confess. In chapter 6, he observed that what a suffering person needs in such circumstances is kindness from his friend rather than theological advice and analysis which, in Job’s case, only intensified his pain. Job himself asserted those who lack such care have forsaken “the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14), and Yahweh later affirmed how his anger burned against the three whose words were filled with foolishness (42:7). The book of Job, therefore, clearly warns against the arrogance of assuming that our theological categories constitute a comprehensive statement about how God works.

–Edward M. Curtis

One thing I noticed in this post The Sad Christian, is that the commenters who had the least experience with depression, especially the chronic kind, were somehow the ones who gave the most advice. The ones who are going through the same thing are ones who don’t give advice. They tell him they [truly] know what he’s going through, or that they’ll pray for him, as opposed to the platitudes, advice that he already knew about ten years ago, advice he’s already heard 25 times, etc. Books are written on that, and I could write a lot more, but I’ll leave it at that. If you want to look at the comments, you can see what I mean.

One comment I like there is, “So the question becomes how our faith helps us endure depression rather [than] how our faith stops us from being depressed.” He’s commenting on how the author of the post, who’s tried nearly everything, still has bouts of deep depression. Some people don’t believe this can happen to a solid Christian, but believe me, it does, as do all kinds of illnesses.

Most people really do care and really do mean well. But they should know better. And if you’re one of those people, now you do.

Also see:
What IS the Book of Job About? | Scripture Zealot blog
What Not to Say to Those Who are Suffering | CCEF

Not Everyone Recovers From Suffering

Sometimes there is no visible silver lining, no redeeming value in sight. Sometimes those who endure difficulty feel that nothing is left but an empty shell. Some people never recover physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is not guaranteed that we will emerge on the other side of pain strengthened by the experience. It would be naive to suggest that suffering universally results in growth. S. Cairns suggests a more nuanced perspective as he elaborates on Simone Weil’s observation that “affliction compels us to recognize as real what we do not think possible.” He observes:

The occasions of our suffering are capable of revealing what our habitual illusions often obscure, keeping us from knowing. Our afflictions drag us — more or less kicking — into a fresh and vivid awareness that we are not in control of our circumstances, that we are not quite whole, that our days are salted with affliction.

I dare to suggest, however, that when we undergo trials, the biblical way to pray is for strength to carry on and acquit ourselves well. We should seek to honor God when life is at its lowest. We should strive to trust him even when hope is gone.

–John Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary)

These are things we need to pray for people who are suffering. I’ve said it before–if we only pray for healing, we are probably doing the sufferer a great disservice. Which is more important, temporal healing, which may or may not happen, or, if they are a believer, things that are Scripturally in God’s will and are a part of eternal things? (Both would be great.)

Many times in the Western world, we don’t see those suffering. Usually, the worse the suffering, the less likely we are to see them. So we go on thinking that as life goes on we make more money, really bad things shouldn’t happen to believers, otherwise they don’t have enough faith or somebody hasn’t laid hands on them yet, and it’s always darkest before the dawn. Not to sound morbid, but it can always get darker.

Some insist on going out in “faith”, testing God, and guessing His will, without praying for anything else. Praying is not gambling with God’s will. Certainly pray for the temporal situation and people’s physical needs. Pray for whatever bad is happening to stop. But pray for things that are definitely God’s will as what’s found in Scripture, and you will be participating as a slave of Christ in shaping that person’s or people’s lives. Use Paul’s prayers if you would like help in that regard.

Comfort for Suffering Saints by Jerome Zanchius

This is on the web in a few different places. You can read it and download it as a PDF file at box. This blog has the advantage of the roll-overable Scripture references, which were expanded, hopefully working on most computing devices. There is also a link to a short biography of the author. This is based on a Calvinist view of predestination–just as a warning for the more sensitive readers. I hope it benefits you as much as it does me.

COMFORT FOR SUFFERING SAINTS

How the sovereignty of God is a comfort to Christians, acting to remove rather than add to anxiety!

by Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590)

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:28-29

Without a due sense of predestination, we shall want the surest and the most powerful inducement to patience, resignation, and dependence on God, under every spiritual and temporal affliction. How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer!

  • There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God (Hebrews 11:6).
  • He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present (if I had but eyes to see it), many signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace (Ephesians 1:1-23).
  • This love of His is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it (Philippians 1:6).
  • Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting (1 Corinthians 8:6), consequently—
  • My afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight, and measure (Psalm 22:24).
  • The very hairs of my head are (every one) counted by Him; nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination (Luke 12:7). Hence—
  • My distresses are not the result of chance, accident, or a fortuitous combination of circumstances (Psalm 56:8), but—
  • The providential accomplishment of God’s purpose (Romans 8:28), and—
  • Designed to answer some wise and gracious ends (James 5:10-11), nor—
  • Shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet (2 Corinthians 7:6-7).
  • He who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it (Psalm 34:15-17).
  • All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore—
  • “The cup which my heavenly Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He hath or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, whose purpose cannot be overthrown, whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will (Romans 5:3-6; Psalm 33:11-12; Ephesians 1:11).

Above all, when the suffering Christian takes his election into the account, and knows that he was by an eternal and immutable act of God appointed to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ; that, of course, he hath a city prepared for him above, a building of God, a house not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens; and that the heaviest sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in the saints, what adversity can possibly befall us which the assured hope of blessings like these will not infinitely overbalance? (Proverbs 8:35; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Romans 8:18; Romans 8:33-37.)
“A comfort so divine, May trials well endure.”

However keenly afflictions might wound us on their first access, yet, under the impression of such animating views, we should quickly come to ourselves again, and the arrows of tribulation, would, in great measure lose their sharpness.

Christians want nothing but absolute resignation to render them perfectly happy in every possible circumstance; and absolute resignation can only flow from an absolute belief of, and an absolute acquiescence in, God’s absolute providence, founded on absolute predestination (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4).

What IS the Book of Job About?

It’s not about why there is suffering. It’s not about how to handle suffering. Job does it well, except for when he doesn’t. It’s most definitely not about how to give advice. To the contrary for the most part. The best thing Job’s “friends” did was to come and spend the time to sit in silence with him.

What I like about Walton’s commentary on Job is that he is definitive in his interpretation of what Job is about, and also about what Job is not about. He also tackles all of the questions that people may have, and doesn’t shy away from any of them; at the same time, he leaves the unanswerable unanswered.

At some point, I will have another quote or two about why we can’t and shouldn’t try to figure out why we’re suffering or in a bad situation, or “what God is trying to teach me” or anything of that sort. I’ll write more about that later.

So, at long last, what answers does the book provide as it seeks to guide our understanding of God’s policies in a world where suffering and evil may plague the righteous as well as the wicked? Yahweh does not defend his justice; he does not explain Job’s suffering; and he does not enter the courtroom into which Job has summoned him. We should not expect him to perform any of these actions in our personal circumstances either, even though these often represent our deepest longings. He directs our thinking in an entirely different direction. If there is any part of Job’s speeches that Yahweh addresses directly, it is Job’s lament over the day of his birth, since Yahweh picks up many of the same terms and concepts that Job used. This interconnection gives some indication of where God is trying to meet Job.

The message of Job is that we must trust God’s wisdom when we encounter suffering or crises, rather than attempting to figure out answers to the “why” questions. We should not think that the cosmos itself reflects God’s attribute of justice or that we can hold God accountable to running the cosmos according to justice moment by moment. If he were to do so, none of us would survive, for we all embody injustice at some level in our sinful condition. So justice would involve punishing us.

Trusting God’s wisdom does not mean adopting a belief that everything that happens to us ultimately represents justice even though we cannot see why that is so. Trust is not the conviction that there is a good reason (= explanation that justifies the suffering) even when we cannot fathom it. In other words, the book does not suggest a hidden, deeper justice behind what we perceive as injustice. If we were to think in those terms, we would still be clinging to justice as the foundation of the system and simply theorizing alternative ways that it could function, as Elihu did.

Instead, the book posits that God, in his wisdom, is willing to allow injustice in this world — perhaps sometimes as a means to a greater end, but even that does not offer an explanation that justifies the suffering. We can assume that it grieves his heart, for he is just. In his wisdom, he elevates purposes above reasons, a concept that was elaborated briefly in the Introduction (pp. 47 – 48). Even here, however, we must tread carefully. We cannot know reasons, and we cannot assume that there are reasons. We should assume that there are purposes, but that does not mean that we can or will ever know those purposes. The injustice, suffering, trials, and crises that we experience shape us into the people we are and the people God desires us to be. This truth is not intended to bring comfort to those suffering, nor does it do so. It is meant to bring understanding that might prevent us from committing Job’s error, which is the easy solution of blaming God. The alternative is to trust God.

Later on he writes:

The book of Job is not intended to bring comfort to the suffering, but to bring understanding that might prevent us from simply blaming God. The alternative is to trust God, and the book gives us a focus for our faith. Too often we focus our faith on believing that God will heal, relieve our suffering, or protect us from pain. Sometimes our faith lies in the belief that God will somehow come to us and give us explanations. Other times we place our faith in our ability to force our experiences into a coherent, meaningful narrative. All these approaches are unrealistic. Our faith should be directed toward embracing an all-wise God and asking him for help to live well before him regardless of our plight in this world that continues to display both order and disorder.

–John Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary)

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Also see:
Quick Thoughts on Walton's Commentary on Job | Scripture Zealot blog

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

This new book by Timothy Keller looks like it may be very good. Find all kinds of resources on it at Westminster Bookstore.

Amazon has it in hardcover and Kindle formats.

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By the way, Westminster Books has one of my favorite books on suffering, Be Still My Soul, for 50% off the cover price at $6.50 for a week. This is more than $2 less than Amazon.

book be still my soul

Affiliate links

Around the Web: Suffering

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: A New Teaching Series from R.C. Sproul Jr. | Ligonier Ministries Blog – Watch the first lesson for free

Let’s Talk About Mental Illness by Stephen Altrogge – Not another post about mental illness! But this one is short and very good. It’s very descriptive. I especially like this, which I can relate to:

But, because our bodies do not function correctly, a guy could be feeling anxious for no reason at all. I have experienced this all too often. Adrenaline courses through my body. My heart races. I have shortness of breath. I can’t sit still. My body is in fight or flight mode. And I’m Not. Worried. About. A. Single. Thing. Changing my thinking won’t change my feelings.

Some will say, “You need to get counseling to get to ‘the root of the problem.'” After decades of trying, I’ve yet to get to the root of the problem, and this is just how life is sometimes. We can’t always know everything. One thing I’ve noticed is the advice givers give less and less advice the more they know either by living with someone who deals with these things for a long time, or eventually deal with it themselves, God forbid. They realize the sufferer has already been given all of the advice and tried everything they could. If they know them well, and see there’s something they might need to try, then they might want to bring it up. I will write a post on that.

I'm Healed by Becky Lynn Black