Our Sovereign and Suffering God

During 2017 I am using Timothy Keller’s book, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, to awaken and deepen my religious affections. Keller is a shepherd for our time with a voice that is both intelligent and winsome, simple and sophisticated. I have found much consolation in this talk held at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on October 2, 2013.

Here are some notes:

When Christianity came along, it gave people three resources that are not available in any other culture:

  1. Christianity gave the world a sovereign and suffering God in the person of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 52:13-53). The consequence is twofold. First, when you undergo suffering, you are not being punished for your sins because Jesus already was punished for your sins. Second, Jesus is with you in your suffering.
  2. Christianity gave the world a future of love that endures eternally.
  3. Christianity gave the world a resurrection of the body. There will not be a consolation for the life we lost but a restoration of that life.

Christianity always looks good when you are comparing:

  • Eastern culture: Accept suffering (passive response).
  • Western culture: Decry suffering as outrageous and meaningless (active response).
  • “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine. Suffering – Buddhism says accept it, karma says pay it, fatalism says heroically endure it, secularism says avoid or fix it. From the Christian perspective, all of these cultures of suffering have an element of truth. Sufferers do indeed need to stop loving material goods too much. And yes, the Bible says that, in general, the suffering filling the world is the result of the human race turning from God. And we do indeed need to endure suffering and not let it overthrow us. Secularism is also right to warn us about being too accepting of conditions and factors that harm people and should be changed. Pre-secular cultures often permitted too much passivity in the face of changeable circumstances and injustices. But from the Christian view of things, all of these approaches are too simple and reductionist and therefore are half-truths. The example and redemptive work of Jesus Christ incorporates all these insights into a coherent whole and yet transcends them.”
  • Is suffering just or unjust? Both. Suffering is a fair penalty for mankind turning away from God, but suffering is also unfair.
  • When you suffer, should you cry and complain or trust God? Both. Jesus cried and complained about bearing the Cross, but he also submitted to the sovereign purpose for his suffering.

The power of suffering

  • Suffering can either make you or break you. Suffering can make you humble or haughty, tender-hearted or hard-hearted. Everything depends on how you view your suffering. See your suffering as God sees it.

Pastoral care for sufferers

  1. Weep – pour out your heart to God; be honest about how you are suffering (Psalm 39, Psalm 88)
  2. Trust – hold on; where else are you going to go?
  3. Pray – cast your care upon the Lord and entreat healing
  4. Reorder loves – put your love of God above everything
  5. Hope – add up the blessings that overshadow the suffering

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