Category Archives: suffering

God’s Purpose in Satan’s Plots

Paul Levy recently drew attention to William Green’s book on Job where he gives us 8 reasons for earthly troubles and calls them ‘disciplinary ends of the temptations of Satan.’
  1. They drive us to take refuge in God
  2. They train the believer in the duties and exercises of the Christian warfare
  3. They are made a means of intensifying our hatred for sin
  4. They can be an aid to self knowledge as unsuspected germs of evil are brought to light
  5. They afford the occasion to grace to develop itself in forms which otherwise it could not assume.
  6. They wean the heart from the love of this present world.
  7. Having been bravely and successfully resisted, they shall heighten future glory.
  8. They redound to the glory of God’s grace.
 ‘He (Satan) is labouring to undo the work of God, to defeat the atonement, to destroy souls whom Christ would save. But his machinations shall recoil upon himself. Do what he may, let him rage as he please, let him accomplish his worst, and he is after all only building up what in his blind fury and malice he is endeavouring to bring down”

William H Green, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded, (Banner of Truth 1999, p23-31)

Praying For Japan

The news of what has actually taken place in Japan continues to sink in for me as reports continue to come out. Al Mohler comments about the significance of this:

There can be few more frightening experiences than an earthquake, and last Friday’s quake that has devastated Japan will rank among the strongest ever recorded. Ranking 9.0 on the scale of magnitude, the Sendai, Japan quake ranks fifth among earthquakes in recorded history, coming after the 1960 quake in Chile (9.5), the 1964 quake at Prince William Sound, Alaska (9.2), the deadly Sumatra, Indonesia quake of 2004 (9.1), and the 1952 quake at Kamchatka, Russia (9.0).

But then, adding misery and terror to the devastating damage caused by the earthquake, a massive tsunami caused by the quake inundated countless miles of Japan’s coastline, taking several villages completely out to sea. The loss of energy caused by the quake and tsunami then led to another looming disaster — at least a partial meltdown of the reactor cores at two, and possibly more, nearby nuclear power plants. As if all that was not enough, a volcano in southern Japan erupted on Sunday, underlining that fact that the island nation rests atop the Pacific’s feared “Ring of Fire.”

It is very humbling to see the raw power of the world that was created and is sustained at every moment by the Almighty. It is also sobering to see the utter frailty of humanity and the total devastation of a nation. Sadly, we have probably all seen an unhelpful tendency among some people when disaster strikes. Mohler goes on to comment on this:

Disasters like this often bring out the most reckless forms of theologizing. The earthquake and tsunami are indeed horrifying reminders that this world shows all the marks of God’s judgment on sin, and that the whole creation groans under the weight of sin.

Nevertheless, Jesus warned his disciples about drawing the conclusion that a natural disaster can be traced to the sins of those who directly suffer its effects (Luke 13:1-5). 

In other words, all suffering is generally a result of living in a sin-cursed world. But not all suffering is directly a result of personal sin.  This is important to remember when disaster strikes. We should not try to play God and play the blame-game. Instead, a knowledge of God moves his people to have great compassion in these situations.

On the other hand, some others might be tempted to be disillusioned with God at a time like this. Some might think God is unconcerned, or unable to help, or unloving, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all because they can’t reconcile the fact that suffering of this magnitude exists and that a loving, all-powerful God also exists. Admittedly, there are many ‘why’ questions that we have when suffering happens. And we as Christians have to candidly admit that God doesn’t give us all the answers we might like to have when it comes to human suffering. 

But that is not the same as saying God gives us no answers. God gives us the answers we need and God’s answers always point us to the cross. The cross of Christ is the pulpit of God’s love and the justification of God’s holiness. It is the holy place where God’s severity and love meet in the work of atonement. God did what he did not have to do, at great cost to himself, in order to save sinners.

Do you have ‘why’ questions? Jesus had his own ‘why’ questions. In anguish he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). But he asked his ‘why’ questions from a heart that was bent on obedience to the Father. The posture of Jesus’ heart could also say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

The cross is a reminder to sufferers that God has come down into the world of human suffering to experience it as we do. But it is even more than that. The cross is the way God ultimately deals with suffering by conquering its cause, sin itself. My heart goes out to the people of Japan for their loss. As a Christian, my heart returns to the One who is described as a “man of sorrows and aquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Jesus has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” in dying on the cross for our sins. He “was wounded for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5). It is because of this that Jesus can say, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:29).  It on the basis of of Jesus’ sacrificial love, that God tells us to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). 

I have returned several times to a prayer offered by John Piper since I first heard of this event. I reproduce it here for your benefit and as a reminder to pray to the Lord of all the earth and the Author of salvation for the people of Japan.

Father in heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.

In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.

In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.

It’s Good For Me That I am Being Crucified Today

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) 

Are you grateful for your cross? Do you take it up with joy and gratitude? Do you appreciate it as a gift from God in your life?

Maybe these seem like unusual, even unreasonable, questions.  Imagine, then, this question in light of the thief on the cross. He was a rebel living his life his own way. He was a vile rebel at that. The message of Jesus hadn’t moved him one inch. In fact, one Gospel writer tells us that he was well aware of the claims of Christ and even mocked him for them initially (Matt. 27:44). This thief was so antagonistic to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the King of Israel that in the midst of his own pain he could muster the energy to revile Christ for that “absurd” claim. 

But as he suffered there beside the Holy One of God, watching His unswerving integrity, watching His undiminished reliance on his Heavenly Father, listening to His words of selfless love to His few followers that were left…his heart was subdued by grace.

And God used this agonizing time of suffering to show him the reality of what Christ was doing for him on that cross. He came to realize that he was seeing the love of God in a form that he never could have imagined. How ironic that here, at the lowest point of his own misery, God had opened his eyes to the heights of mercy. Humanly speaking, his own crucifixion had become his pathway to Christ. He never understood or embraced the mesage of Christ until he had been exposed to it in this way. This crimminal could be thankful that his crucifixion was not postponed even a day, because it was through the means of his unspeakable suffering that he came face to face with the God of his salvation. Truly the thief on the cross could say “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your ways.” (Ps. 119:71).

The cross involves suffering. Good suffering. I know that sounds crazy. It sounded crazy to the mockers around the cross as well. But Jesus was made “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). There is a way in which what Jesus did on the cross was utterly unlike what we must do. He died for us. And yet, there is a way in which what Jesus did on the cross was very similar to what we must do. We must die with him. What was good for Jesus is also good for us. And this is part of what Christians must keep in mind when we daily take up our cross and follow Christ. We also, as sons and daughters of God, can say with the Psalmist: “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your ways.”

The Love of Christ and Purgatory

The children of God are comforted by the thought of the return of Christ. The fact that he stands at the door (James 5:9) gives encouragement to the weary to be patient and content in our lives here. I am reminded of this as I prepare to preach on James 1:12-18. We are given this promise:

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

This promise is for those who love God. This promise says, when the time of testing is over for the Christian (the one who loves the Lord), then the crown of life is received. This is a blessed truth for me because I was raised to believe something very different. As a Roman Catholic I was taught from my youth that purgatory was inevitably the next step for those whose sins were not sufficiently atoned for in this life. Loraine Boettner describes this view of the RC church:

“The great mass of partially sanctified Christians dying in fellowship with the church, but who nevertheless are encumbered with some degree of sin, go to purgatory where, for a longer or shorter time, they suffer until all sin is purged away, after which they are translated to heaven.”[1]

What is purgatory like? It is a living hell…only retrofitted for Christians. Thomas Aquinas, who RC’s consider a Doctor of the Church and one of its greatest theologians, has this to say about the experience of the “just” (i.e. “Christians”) in purgatory:

“It is the same fire,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “that torments the reprobate in hell, and the just in purgatory. The least pain in purgatory,” he says, “surpasses the greatest suffering in this life.” Nothing but the eternal duration makes the fire of hell more terrible that that of purgatory.’”[2]

I think this is one reason that the doctrine of Christ’s return was something that I never heard much about growing up as a Catholic kid. Can you blame them? The return of Christ was something that would instill fear in the faithful, not joy. This doesn’t exactly encourage a person to look eagerly for the appearing of his Savior if he knows his Savior is going to grab hold of him, thrust him into hellish torments and then watch him squirm there for an undetermined amount of time. Can a person trust, hope and love this version of God? Can a Christian think about what is waiting for him or her in purgatory and also be eagerly…

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)

I don’t think so.

Loraine Boettner points out:

“Under the shadow of such a doctrine death is not, as in evangelical Protestantism, the coming of Christ for his loved one, but the ushering of the shrinking soul into a place of unspeakable torture.”[3]

Thankfully, this doctrine is not true. It is a figment of man’s religious imagination and supported only by misguided human traditions, not Scripture. Roman Catholicism, as it exists today, is a false religion and an apostate church. This is one of its many errors which should be pointed out to those who are still ensnared by this religious system. Those who truly trust in Christ and are saved know that the return of Christ means an end to our suffering, not an increase of it. We know that…

“…to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) 

And:

“…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)

May our Lord fill you with this blessed hope today.

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[1] Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, p. 218.

[2] ibid., p. 219.

[3] ibid., p. 220.