Saturday, August 23, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Seven: The Suffering of God

On page 147, Dr. Keller states, “…in teaching unique to the Christian Faith among the major religions, God also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering.  The other side of the sovereignty of God is the suffering of God himself…the main reason that Christians insist that God can be trusted in the midst of suffering is that…God himself has firsthand experience of suffering.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of this…God is sovereign and uses suffering as part of his often inscrutable purposes.  Yes, he is Lord of history, but he is also the vulnerable one who entered that history and became subject to its darkest forces.  Yes, God often seems to be absent, but Jesus himself experienced the searing pain of that absence.”

So how does the sovereign God become the suffering God?  We understand that the more we love someone, the more their suffering affects us.  The Old Testament describes God as one who loves his creation such that it grieves him when we pursue our own way.  Genesis 6:5-6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination and intention of all human thinking was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved at heart.” (Amplified – 1965).  Other examples can be found in Hosea 11:8-9 and Jeremiah 31:20.  It is remarkable that the transcendent God loves us so much that his heart feels pain and grief.

But then there is Jesus.  He experienced the ordinary pressures, difficulties and pains as well as weariness, thirst, distress, and grief such that he often prayed with loud cries and tears.  He knew how it felt to be misunderstood by his friends, rejected by his family and hometown and to be tempted.  Don Carson is quoted that, “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.”

In the final week of his life, what we refer to as the Passion, Jesus was abandoned, denied and betrayed by his closest friends and forsaken on the cross by his father.  The ultimate suffering is the loss of love, the disruption and loss of family relationships.  And we see that “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible…the agony of loss by death, the separation from a beloved…[and] the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.”

From the secular view, suffering is random and meaningless, it cannot be part of any plan, therefore there can be no God who is in control of history.  Yet if God has not suffered, how can we trust him?  “If God is no exception – if even he has suffered – then we cannot say he doesn’t understand, or that his sovereignty over suffering is being exercised in a cruel and unfeeling way, or that he is a cold king who let things happen without caring about what we are going through…Because suffering is both just and unjust, we can cry out and pour out our grief, yet without the toxic additive of bitterness.  Because God is both sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see it.  We can trust him without understanding it all.”  We understand why children need to trust their parents without understanding, why cannot we trust God when we don’t understand?  “We should trust him because he earned our trust on the cross.”

While Christianity does not offer a complete explanation for why God allows much evil and suffering, it does give a final answer for it.  The bible teaches that God will not suffer injustice forever, there will come a day when all will be judged with justice.  In Revelation, chapter 5, John describes God on his throne holding a sealed scroll that contains the meaning and purpose of history, his great plan.  When asked who can open the scroll, we see the one at whom every kind of evil was thrown, who was abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  A wounded lamb is hardly what we would imagine able to issue Gods decrees with strength and power, yet that is the whole point.  It is a wounded lamb that cannot just judge evil, but can also undo all the damage that evil has done.

Henri Blocher is quoted stating, “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself.  He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin.  The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented.  No more complete victory could be imagined.”  He also stated, “The requirement of [justice]…that evil be punished by death…permits our Brother and Head to intervene in love and take over the debt in place of the guilty party…At the cross, evil is conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice.”  The answer at the end of history will be completely satisfying and infinitely sufficient.  As Dostoevsky wrote, “something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

Revelation ends with the suffering of Jesus ending suffering.  No more evil, suffering, sin or pain.  Also, our future is not an immaterial bliss, but a new earth.  Christianity gives a hope like nothing else.  Secularism offers no future hope for good of any kind.  Other religions teach of a future paradise of consolation.  Christianity offers restoration.  “[Because] the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight forever.”

Next week Chapter Eight: The Reason for Suffering.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

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