Our responses to mental and physical pain vary. Atheists use pain as one of their biggest reasons to reject God--like Charles Darwin, who walked away from the faith after his young daughter died. Christians cling to God instinctively, knowing that somehow all the pieces fit together, but deep inside doubt tears at them. If God has made me clean in Christ, why do I still suffer? Is He punishing me? Does He care?
Whether our suffering is caused by our own actions or comes from something completely out of our control, none of us like the discomfort it inflicts. I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately, both in my own life and in watching the trials of others around me. And I just read a book that I'd really like to share with all of you today, one that sharpened and clarified my perspective: How Could a Loving God? by Ken Ham.
Written both for those who are in the middle of suffering, and those who wish to support others going through grief, How Could a Loving God? takes the reader on a theological overview of the cause of heartache. Ken helps the reader first of all change the question from "How could a loving God allow death and suffering?" to "How do you explain death and suffering in a world where an all-powerful, loving, and just God exists?" The word change is simple, but the ideological change is profound. One question throws doubt on God's sovereignty. The other acknowledges God is sovereign, and that it's us who don't understand.
Then Ken talks us back to look at the big picture--how sin came into the world through us, not through God. And how, even though we marred his creation, God through His amazing work brings about redemption through our pain.
This book isn't a collection of cliché, warmed-over comfort. While Ken explores the effects of the Fall, the work of Christ on the cross, and our hope in ultimate restoration, he admits that he, too, has to accept some of this through faith and submission, and not through complete understanding. He's walked the road he's preaching, for intertwined through his teaching he gives us the story of his brother Robert, a faithful preacher of the Word who died at a young age from a horribly debilitating brain disease.
I soaked in the teachings of this book this last Sunday afternoon. Praying, exploring Scriptures, underlining things God showed me--taking the time to meditate on Him and His grace. I found this book a comforting balance of appeal to reason and call to faith. And if you're struggling to understand why God is allowing a certain trial in your life, you might find it comforting, too.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 1:6-7
As I read this book, God used it to recalibrate a lot of my thinking. Just for the record, I'm a person who has a pretty low physical pain tolerance--if something's hurting, I find the ibuprofen so it stops and I can get on with life. With mental pain I can go a lot longer and tough it out--but even if I can bear it, I don't like it. But through this book I learned some new things, and was reminded of some principles that I had forgotten.
1. Pain is normal.
When I have a headache or a cold, or a migraine--when my expectations are disappointed, and my hopes aren't fulfilled--I always tend to think of the hurt as abnormal. But Ken Ham points out in this book that our perspective is completely backwards:
In Eden our expectations could have been different. But now, outside the Garden, the consequences of sin dictate our destiny. While our unavoidable confrontation with illness and death will still pierce our hearts with grief, they should not come as a shock. As Peter counseled the first generation of Christians, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you..." (1 Peter 4:12).
Yes, illness and death is the norm in the post-Fall era of human history, and we should not expect otherwise. ~Chapter 4We're not in heaven, yet, folks. That's coming. But right now, we're still in this sin-cursed world, we're none of us undeserving of consequences, and we all deal with the effects of sin.
2. We share in the sufferings of Christ.
One quote on page 99 of Ken Ham's books really startled me: "He has allowed us to live--while at the same time giving us a taste of what life is like without God." And I thought Why in the world would God want us to taste that if He's forgiven us of our sins?
Had to think about that one for a moment. And then, when it came down to it, I had to admit that sometimes I like to think of God's grace as a free pass from the consequences of my wrongdoing. But God doesn't allow us to taste in the glory without tasting in the suffering. He doesn't want to give us empty grace, cocooning us from the knowledge of what He freed us from. We can't be like Christ--we can't appreciate His redemption--without knowing what He endured to save us from suffering the anguish He suffered. What amazing grace that God would take our pain, and instead of making us somehow 'make up for' our own wrongdoing, make it instead so that we share in the sufferings of our Lord. Turning it from punishment to privilege. Christ had to undergo great pain for our sakes, and should we not taste of the cup that Jesus drank from?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
~2 Corinthians 1:3-4
3. God is God.
When it comes down to it, God is God. He is sovereign. He works all things together for our good. And like Jesus, sometimes we kneel and plead that He might take the cup away from us. But we must kneel before him, and hold open hands for whatever He chooses to send, and give thanks. Through our light and momentary affliction, God works an eternal weight of glory, an everlasting, soul-satisfying, deeply healing triumph. He comfort us; He gives us grace; through our weakness He makes us strong; and He does not see our tears without weeping with us and sharing in our grief.
How gracious--that He would take the very things we broke and turn them back so that we, through the pain we marred His world with, might glorify Him. Think about that for a moment--the consequences of our rebellion become the very instruments He uses to make us like Him.
Only a loving God could do something that amazing.
The best thing about today's review? You can read How Could a Loving God? for free on the AiG website. (Scroll down past the purchasing info for free links to each chapter.) While I highly recommend purchasing your own physical copy as well, and hope to purchase my own eventually, this is a great way to get a taste of the book.
Suffering is a normal part of life, whether it's a car that keeps breaking down, or a broken relationship that puts up a barrier between two hearts, or a little sister with mysterious seizures, or an adult brother with a debilitating mental disease. We can't realistically expect to go our whole lives without suffering on every level, for that is what we brought into the world through sin, and until this world is made new, that's the reality we must face.
But the grace of it all is that through our suffering, Christ takes us and pours us into the crucible of His love, that we might come forth as gold refined. He does not leave us in the futility of our brokenness. He sees our tears, and uses them to draw us closer to Him. And if we bow the knee in surrender, receiving everything He chooses fit to send us with thankful hearts, then we shall see in part the goodness of His working, until he takes us up to glory. Then we shall see fully, as all pain and grief are wiped away for the eternity of praise.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~Romans 8:18
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. ~2 Corinthians 4:17