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Psalm 119:10-11 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not
wander from your commandments! I have stored up your
word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Trying To Understand The "Why" Question In Suffering

Psalms 10:1 ESV  Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? 
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Headline News:
  • Bus Crashes On Oregon Highway Killing 9 Injuring 38
  • School Shooting In Conneticut - 26 Dead
  • Charred Bodies Found After Japan Tunnel Collapse
  • Mall Shooting Leaves 2 Dead and 1 Critically Injured
  • Divorce Rates In The US Are At An All-Time High
  • Iran Intensifies Persecution Of Christians
  • Short Rains Intensify Kenya Food Insecurity
  • 16,000 Children Die Daily Of Hunger Related Causes
  • Natural Disasters Pose Serious Financial Threat To Asia
When we look at the events that are occurring around the world one of the first questions that most of us ask is "why." Why do these terrible things happen to so many people? Why do not only the unsaved suffer, but those who love and follow Jesus as well?

I was recently visiting a church in another state and the day my family and I were attending they had a memorial video for the passing of the daughter of the pastor. She was a beautiful five year old girl. Her big eyes and contagious smile would capture of the heart of anyone who was around her. Her precious little life was stolen from her a few days prior to Christmas of an asthma attack. As I watched the video my eyes welled up with tears. I had never met this precious little saint but I did understand the pain of her passing. After the video, mom and dad came onto the stage and shared their feelings about their grief of loss and their hope for what God is doing through this tragic event in their life. Many wept, many listened in a sort of mesmerized disbelief, and as I listened, I heard hope in their voice.

Why does God allow bad things to happen to His children? That question is often on the minds of many in times of trials and temptations. Why do we go through ugly bitter divorces in the church? Or why do our little ones die too soon? Why does disease strike at the most inopportune times? What about job losses and not being able to care for some of our basic needs?

The Psalmist in Psa 10:1 asks: Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Often it appears that God is far from us when we fall into our deepest need. The waves of the enemy are crashing on our shore and there is no place to escape from drowning. There is no rest from our pain and suffering. The peace that surpasses all understand has eluded our anxieties. Where are you God when we need you most?

David cried out, "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" (psa 13:1-2) David, the man after the heart of God cries out to God... "Why?"

There are many Biblical examples of the saints of God asking that same question. "Why, O LORD, have you forsaken your child?" I remember a time several years ago where everything in my own life seemed to be spinning out of control. My marriage was on the rocks, my work load was overwhelming me to the point of major anxiety and panic attacks, my emotional and spiritual health was at its lowest. I remember crying out to God often, "Lord, if you are good then why am I going through such turmoil? I have children and I would never treat them the way I feel like you are treating me right now!" My anger and frustration was directed at God as if He were the cause of my woes. My wife had recently recovered from cancer and now this? "What was God doing to us," I thought.

What was God doing?... That is a really good place to start. And when it is asked with a genuine desire to understand His ways I believe we can find answers in His word. The key words in my question was "to us." As if God was simply trying to punish me or cause me harm. God wasn't doing anything to us, rather, He was doing these things "for us."

When we look at the story of Job we see some similar questions being asked. Job had finally came to a place of frustration in his trials to the point of even asking God, "Why did I not just die at the moment I was born?" (paraphrase Job 3:11) "Lord, why did I not just come out of the womb and die?" It would have been better for me to die than to go through all of these troubles. I have been there. God, please just take me now! All of these things you are allowing me to go through are simply too much for me to bear and I would rather just die than continue to go through them.

We even find Jesus asking the Father to remove the suffering He is about to endure. "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." (Luke 22:42) No one wants to walk into a situation that will cause harm, difficulties, and suffering. It isn't a natural place for us to be. But as we see from the prayer of Jesus, we are to desire the will of the Father over our circumstances. Yes, Jesus willingly went to the cross knowing beforehand what the outcome was going to be. What is our end going to look like in this trial? That is a piece to our suffering puzzle we may never fully understand. Never-the-less, God calls us to desire His will over our comfort. Yet, in the midst of our suffering He is always there to bring us comfort when we draw close to Him. One of the ways Jesus will bring us comfort during suffering is to grab hold of the Scriptures. Psalm 119 is a clear example of the connection between our affliction and God's Word:
  • Psalms 119:25  My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
  • Psalms 119:28  My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
  • Psalms 119:43  And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.
  • Psalms 119:50  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
  • Psalms 119:61  Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.
  • Psalms 119:75-77 ESV  I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.  (76)  Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.  (77)  Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
Putting our focus on the Word of God is inexplicably tied to our comfort and understanding. As we read through the book of Job we realize some things about his story that we can relate to our own story. Here are just a few:
  • We should trust that God is working behind the scenes: We often neglect to see what God might be doing because we are focused so closely on what is happening right in front of us. I often hear well meaning Christians say, "You need to look at this from an eternal perspective." And yes that is good, but often eternity seems so far away. I want to see what God is doing right now... Remember that God is not only doing a work in this trial for eternal purposes, but He is also doing a work in many ways for you today.
  • Though it is good to confide in friends, they may not have the right answers: Often we hear from our friends advice that doesn't seem to fit quite right in the situation we are going through. After Job had a conversation with his friends there was more confusion than solution. Yes, it is good to receive sound advice, but the best thing his friends ever did was to sit quietly by his side and walk with him in is suffering.
  • We should not turn from God and question His goodness: After Job was done questioning God regarding the trials he encountered, God rebuked Him for his unbelief. One of the most profound cries of forgiveness is contained in the book of Job. Job 42:1-6 ESV  Then Job answered the LORD and said:  (2)  "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  (3)  'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  (4)  'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.'  (5)  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;  (6)  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
So why do we go through trials and suffering? Why did Job have to lose his entire family only to have twice what he originally had restored to him? Why did that pastor lose his daughter at such an early age? Those are really good questions... I am not sure we can answer each and every individual "why" question about suffering, but we can find from the Word that there are some universal reasons for it. Trying to answer why to our individual circumstances may be futile. It is probably void of meaning and if you ask ten people why you are going through a particular time of suffering, you may get ten very different answers.

So why does God allow suffering? 
  • To Draw Us Closer To Him: John Piper, in a sermon on suffering, says this, "No one every cries out to God for help when they are sitting on a beach, looking at a sunset, drinking a drink with a little umbrella in it." Well, maybe he said it a bit differently, but the meaning is the same. When we go through difficulties we are forced to draw close to Jesus for our comfort, peace, and joy.
  • To Bring Him Glory: It may seem a bit strange that suffering brings Glory to God but it does. And it is intended to. When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead he told Mary and Martha, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." And in the story of Jesus healing the blind man he tells the disciples, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." God wants to bring Glory to Himself in our afflictions.
  • For Times Of Discipline: God does discipline those He loves. (Heb 12:4-11) We should not make the mistake in assuming all difficulties are because of disobedience. We should, however, spend time in fervent prayer asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sin and see if what we are going through could be a byproduct of our sinful and disobedient behavior. 
  • To Refine Us: (Isa 48:10-11; 1Pet 1:6-7) God uses testing and trials to refine His people. Often affliction will come to a person and they will fall away. Difficulties display whether our affection to God is true, even in the difficult times.
  • To Make Us More Like Christ: (Phil 3:10) As we enter into a time of suffering and trials we discover things about ourselves, our faith, and our character that may not be revealed at any other time in our walk with Christ. To share in the sufferings of Christ will make us more like Him.
These are just a few examples of why we may go through suffering and trials. Whatever the reason may be in your particular situation, one thing rings true in all we go through... Jesus is no stranger to the struggle we are facing. He has been tempted and tested in every way, yet was without sin. He will comfort us when we are feeling alone in our greatest time of need in ways beyond our understanding. (Heb 4:15-16) He will never forsake us in our trials and promises to provide us with the strength we need to overcome it. The Eternal Son of God suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross.

However, there is hope. He overcame the grave and defeated death's sting. That is not to say that we don't grieve during hard times. Of course we do. Jesus defeating death brings us hope. It gives us a purpose and a meaning to all we go through that allows us to look to the things eternal. Our difficulties may bring others to Christ because of how we get through them. They may bring us to our knees in fervent prayer in ways we never experienced before. Suffering will afford us the blessing of seeing His hand work miraculously in and through our situation. Though the pain and sting is there, we are assured of one very important thing:

Our Struggles Wont Last Forever...

Revelation 21:3-5 ESV  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  (4)  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  (5)  And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (emphasis added)

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