Saturday, October 11, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Thirteen: Trusting

“If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.” – Evelyn Underhill

Dr. Keller begins this chapter with the narrative of Joseph from Genesis, then asks, “What does this have to do with how we face disappointment, pain, and suffering?  Everything.”  In all those years when everything was going wrong for Joseph, wasn’t God there?  Of course he was, and he was busy.  He was hidden, but he was in complete control.  Just think about what would have happened had Joseph not ended up in Egypt?  The spiritual corruption that would have occurred to Joseph and his family – not to mention the starvation of so many people.  Joseph would have been devoured by his pride, his brothers by their anger and their father by his idolatrous love for his youngest sons.  After twenty or so years of silence for his prayers, Joseph, in a dungeon, seeks God’s help to interpret a dream.  He is still trusting God.  His relationship with God has remained, and we must do the same.

It is at this point of the book that you will find what I consider to be some of the most wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement.  “[Very] often God does not give us exactly what we ask for.  Instead he gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything he knows.  We must never assume that we know enough to mistrust God’s ways or be bitter against what he has allowed.  We must also never think we have really ruined our lives, or have ruined God’ good purposes for us…Ultimately, we must trust God’s love.”  As Paul explains in Romans chapter 8, “neither death nor life, not heaven or hell, nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Nothing.  All the powers of evil inside of you and all the powers of evil outside of you cannot separate you from the love of God.  Once you give yourself to God through Christ, he is yours and you are his.  Nothing can ever change that.”

Against the background of Joseph we can understand the words of John Newton as he wrote to a grieving sister, “Your sister is much upon my mind.  Her illness grieves me: were it in my power I would quickly remove it: the Lord can, and I hope will, when it has answered the end for which he sent it…I wish you may be enabled to leave her, and yourself, and all your concerns, in his hands.  He has a sovereign right to do with us as he pleases; and if we consider what we are, surely we shall confess we have no reason to complain: and to those who seek him, his sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace.  All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds…

[There] can be no settled peace till our will is in a measure subdued.  Hide yourself under the shadow of his wings; rely upon his care and power; look upon him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul of the worst of sicknesses, sin.  Yield to his prescriptions, and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself.

When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that he is your leader.  When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, he knows your path: he will not leave you to sink.  He has appointed seasons of refreshment, and you shall find that he does not forget you.  Above all, keep close to the throne of grace.  If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from him.”

I cannot help but continue with the words of Dr. Keller himself.  “Imagine you have been an avid follower of Jesus.  You’ve seen his power to heal and do miracles.  You’ve heard the unsurpassed wisdom of his speech and the quality of his character.  You are thrilled by the prospect of his leadership.  More and more people are flocking to hear him.  There’s no one like him.  You imagine that he will bring about a golden age for Israel if everyone listens to him and follows his lead.

But then, there you are at the cross with the few of his disciples who have the stomach to watch.  And you hear people say, ‘I’ve had it with this God.  How could he abandon the best man we have ever seen?  I don’t see how God could bring any good out of this.’  What would you say?  You would likely agree.  And yet you are standing there looking at the greatest, most brilliant thing God could ever do for the human race.  On the cross, both justice and love are being satisfied – evil, sin, and death are being defeated.  You are looking at an absolute beauty, but because you cannot fit it into your own limited understanding, you are in danger of walking away from God.

Don’t do it.  Do what Jesus did – trust God.

Again and again in the bible, God shows that he is going to get his salvation done through weakness, not strength, because Jesus will triumph through defeat, will win by losing, he will come down in order to go up.  In the same way, we get God’s saving power in our life only through the weakness of repentance and trust.  And, so often, the grace of God grows more through our difficulties than our triumphs.”

Next week Chapter Fourteen: Praying

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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