Monday, August 03, 2009

The Theology Of Suffering-God's Purpose in Pain-Part Two

"God has appointed who shall suffer. Suffering comes not by chance, or by the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God."
-John Bunyan, quoted in The Hidden Smile of God, by John Piper.

"God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves."


Oft times it happens suddenly; the phone call in the middle of the night, the truck crossing the median, the dive into shallow water. Immediately you are thrust into a difficult period of life, a season of struggle, a short or long period of trial.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that life should be easy. Difficult experiences were the rarity, the intruders, and the abnormal freakish events. Historically and biblically I’ve had it all backward.

In thirty years, I’d never had a call from my friends’ mother, then, one night it came, “John didn’t want me to call until he was certain he’d live…” In short, a truck had crossed over the median and straight into his car, all family inside. John had to be extricated from the car with the “jaws of life.” All four of limbs shattered, both eyes blinded by battery acid. His wife suffered spinal injuries, one child a small concussion, the other fine. Three years later John has made great progress, but struggles daily with the damage done to him in the accident.

One of the best-known, present day stories of struggle is that of Joni Eareckson Tada, who, “26 years ago, was lying on a hospital bed in suicidal despair, depressed, discouraged, after the hot July afternoon when I took that dive into shallow water, a dive which resulted in a severe spinal cord injury, which left me paralyzed from the shoulders down, without use of my hands and my legs.”

Since God is for us, and since,
“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven” ---Why trials? Like the climber with his piton (a piton acts as an anchor to protect the climber against the consequences of a fall), I need fixed concepts for my mind to hold onto. So I wrestle with trials, to grasp their purpose, to gain solid hold in a slippery chasm.

Joni lays out three key reasons for trials in our lives.

1) They are like a sheepdog leading us to God. Nobody is naturally drawn to the cross.

2) People suffering great conflict always have something to say to those who are handling lesser conflict. As Paul says in Corinthians, “Blessed be the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort …with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

3) They increase our capacity for God.

As I wrestle with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of each difficulty that comes across my path, the pitons holding me up are rooted not in the possible answers to the why questions, but in the ultimate purpose of a God that has love, mercy and goodness as key components of His character.

Make time to watch or listen to the video, because, as Joni shows, “People with disability are gods’ best audio-visual aids to how we should handle trials.”

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