Archives For suffering

iStock_000001124202XSmallBeloved, do not be surprised . . . (1 Peter 4:12)

This October, someone may jump out from behind a tree and scare the daylights out of you. That’s not your fault. Hooligans have no business taking advantage of jumpy people such as ourselves. As the author of Unpacking Forgiveness, I give you permission to withhold their caramel apples. We’ll come up with a verse to justify our behavior later.

But if it’s okay to be surprised by people who jump out of the shadows, there are challenges that come up in the Christian life that really should not make us jump. In fact, we can fully expect that these challenges are going to come leaping out of the darkness. Rather than being surprised by them, we should spot them before they try and catch us off guard. Below I share three challenges that should never surprise a local church.

Don’t Be Surprised By:

  1. A Shortage of Workers – Since Noah tried to get his family to stack up gopher wood, there has been an abundant harvest but a shortage of workers (Matthew 9:35-38). If your church is struggling to find workers, don’t be surprised. Don’t imagine that there are churches where recruiting is easy. It’s always a challenge. If someone tells you it is easy at their church to find enough help, don’t believe them. God wants us to be on our knees pleading for workers. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself doing so. For more, read Struggling to Find Workers at Your Church.
  2. Painful Trials – God allows suffering into the lives of believers for many reasons. Suffering and difficulties humble us and teach us patience (James 1:2-4). They soften us so that we can comfort others in their suffering (2 Corinthians 1:6). They show us that we are weak and God is strong (2 Corinthians 4:7). If you do not have a trial currently, then thank God. But the week isn’t over yet. Expect trials and be prepared to count it all joy.
  3. Conflicts When Your Church is Moving Forward – In a fallen world, any time God’s people are moving forward, we can expect opposition. Paul summarized it well at Ephesus. There is a wide door, but many oppose me (1 Cor 16:9). In World War II, no one got shot at flying over Des Moines. But things got a bit dicey over Berlin. Likewise, if your church is making headway for the glory of Christ, then expect some anti-aircraft fire from the evil one (Ephesians 6:13). For more, read Expect Conflict.

What else shouldn’t surprise Christians?

Of course, we do look forward to being surprised when Jesus returns – – – And that will be soon!

What President Reagan said to school-children following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident:

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

You can read the whole thing here or watch below. It is under 5 minutes.


Oklahoma Pastor Sam Storms reflects on the tragedy and devastation in Moore,OK:

I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort. So how best do we love and pastor those who have suffered so terribly?

I’m not certain I have the answer to that question, and I write the following with considerable hesitation. I can only pray that what I say is grounded in God’s Word and is received in the spirit in which it is intended.

I first put my thoughts together on this subject when the tsunami hit Japan a couple of years ago. Now, in the aftermath of the tornado that struck Moore and other areas surrounding Oklahoma City, I pray that those same truths will prove helpful to some. Allow me to make seven observations.

(1) It will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature. He can himself send devastation. Or he may permit Satan to wreak havoc in the earth. Yes he can, if he chooses, intervene and prevent a tornado, a tsunami, and all other natural disasters. In the end, we do not know why he makes one choice and not another. In the end, we must, like Job, join the apostle Paul and say: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

(2) God is sovereign, not Satan. Whether or to what extent Satan may have had a hand in what occurred we can never know. What we can know and must proclaim is that he can do nothing apart from God’s sovereign permission. Satan is not ultimately sovereign. God alone is.

(3) Great natural disasters such as this tell us nothing about the comparative sinfulness of those who are its victims. Please do not conclude that the residents of Moore, Oklahoma, are more sinful than any other city that has not as yet experienced such devastation. Please do not conclude that we are more righteous than they because God has thus far spared us from such events. The Bible simply won’t let us draw either conclusion. What the Bible does say is that we all continue to live and flourish not because we deserve it but solely because of the mercy and longsuffering of God. Life is on loan from God. He does not owe us existence and what he has mercifully given he can take back at any time and in any way he sees fit.

Read the rest here.

John Piper:

Earlier this year, a grieving mother, who recently had given birth to a stillborn son, wrote to me asking for counsel and comfort. The team at Desiring God thought this letter might be helpful to some others, whether other mothers who have lost infants, parents who have lost young children, or perhaps even more broadly.

Dear _____,

This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful.

First, please know that I know I don’t know what it is like to give birth to a lifeless body. Only a small, sad band of mothers know that. I say “lifeless body” because, as you made clear, your son is not lifeless. He simply skipped earth. For now. But in the new heavens and the new earth, he will know the best of earth and all the joys earth can give without any of its sorrows.

I do not know what age — what level of maturity and development — he will have in that day. I don’t know what level of maturity and development I will have. Will the 25-year-old or the 35- or the 45- or the 55-year-old John Piper be the risen one? God knows what is optimal for the spiritual, glorified body. And so it will be for your son. But you will know him. God will see to that. And he you. And he will thank you for giving him life. He will thank you for enduring the loss that he might have the reward sooner.

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That’s why we cry. It hurts.

And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.

There is a paradox in the way God is honored through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honored would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.”

But there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.

So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honor him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.

May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.

Grace to you and peace.


Pastor John

The Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Swiss AlpsDuring times of danger, Psalm 121 is a great comfort. Say it to yourself. But when you do, be like the lady from my church. Speak up enough for the doctors and nurses to also hear.

I called on one of our ladies today who has surgery later this week. Rather than pick out a Bible verse myself, I asked her. “When you face something like this Scripture, what is a Scripture you like to remember?”

She immediately replied, Psalm 121. She quoted, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).”

She went on to tell me that once during a cataract surgery she was quoting the Psalm loud enough that the doctor and nurses had to ask her to be sure and hold still.

So I read Psalm 121 aloud to this lady and her husband. She knew almost every line before I read it. She’ll be ready to quote it again before her surgery on Thursday.

Sooner or later you will face a dark trial. You may be tempted to be afraid. If you are, quote Psalm 121 to yourself. Maybe quote it loud enough for the people around you to hear also.

1       I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2       My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

3       He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4       Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5       The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6       The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7       The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8       The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Feel weak?

Chris —  April 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

Feel weak? Watch J.I. Packer on his forthcoming book.

Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer from Crossway on Vimeo.

Calvin saw the testimony of Christian martyrs as a firm proof for the credibility of Scripture.

Read the quote. Watch the video.

 Now with what assurance ought we to enlist under that doctrine which we see confirmed and attested to by the blood of so many holy men! They, having once received it, did not hesitate, courageously and intrepidly, and even with great eagerness, to suffer death for it. Should we not accept with sure and unshaken conviction what has been handed on to us with such a pledge? It is no moderate approbation of Scripture that it has been sealed by the blood of so many witnesses, especially when we reflect that they died to render testimony to the faith; not with fanatic excess . . . but with a firm and constant, yet sober, zeal towards God.” John Calvin, Institutes I, page 92

Carl Trueman has written an excellent article reflecting on the book of Job. Just breeze through the bit about Driscoll and read what he has to say about the book of Job.

Do we make too much of suffering?  Is depression sinful?  Is it always the result of personal sin?  Or poor preaching?  Or defective theology an unbalanced homiletic emphases?  I am convinced that this is not so.   Once one moves in that direction, one is positing a tight and necessary connection between personal issues and specific suffering.   That is not biblical and is pastorally very dangerous.  Yes, suffering can sometimes be that way: the man who cheats on his wife and loses his family suffers as a direct result of his personal sin.  But is the depressed person necessarily suffering because of some specific sin?   The Bible, I believe, teaches that this is not so.

Read the whole thing here.

D.A. Carson addresses a reader’s question:

Connor S. from Crystal Lake, Illinois, asks:

Hebrews 12:6-7 reads: “For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

Does this mean that hardships, sickness, disease, and the like happen because God is disciplining his children? (Moreover, what about hardships that happen to unbelievers? If this is not God’s discipline in their lives, then why do these events happen? Is it God’s punishment?) Does this mean every bad thing (or only some bad things) that happens to Christians, happens because God is disciplining us? If a Christian gets the flu, or a cold, or cancer, or gets in a car crash, or loses a job—should these hardships be seen as God’s discipline? Of course God is sovereign over all things–but when bad things happen to Christians, should these happenings be seen as God’s discipline, or God’s soverign use of evil for our good, or results of sin and the Fall, or all of the above?

We posed this question to D. A. Carson, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and author of many books, including How Long, Oh Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Carson is the co-founder and president of The Gospel Coalition.


It is easy to think of passages in which God sends catastrophic judgment in a purely retributive way, without an ounce of cleansing discipline (e.g., the destruction and death of Saul, for whom Samuel was ordered to cease praying). It is easy to think of passages in which a human being experiences years of suffering entirely unconnected to any immediate human sin (e.g., the man born blind in John 9)—and in this case one must assume, on the one hand, that the blindness was part of living in a fallen world (he would not have been born blind had Genesis 3 never occurred), and, on the other, that in God’s providence the suffering, according to Jesus, provided an occasion for God to be glorified through the display of Jesus’ miraculous power. It is easy to think of passages in which long-term suffering (e.g., the man paralyzed for 38 years, John 5) and even death (1 Cor 11) is the direct result, not of the entailments of the Fall, but of particular sins. In the first of these two cases, the paralysis leads to Jesus’ healing miracle, and Jesus’ subsequent instruction to stop sinning lest a worst thing befall the man suggests there was a disciplining function; in the second of these two cases, so far as the record goes, we do not know how many of the Corinthians heeded Paul’s warnings and repented, but for some it was clearly too late (they had already “fallen asleep”).

It is easy to think of passages where suffering is clearly not deserved for any direct offense, and where the only “explanation” given is not so much an explanation as a powerful appeal to trust the living God whose power and knowledge are infinitely greater than ours (Job). It would be easy to list other passages with variations on these themes. It is easy to remember that in the Old Testament God declares that he is the Lord, the Healer (Exod 15:26), while in the New Testament Jesus is disclosed as the great Physician—but of course we must remember that God is also the sovereign Judge who deploys the cruel Assyrians to punish his covenant people (Isa 10:5ff), and the Apocalypse warns us to flee the wrath of the Lamb.

Pastoral Implications

From such diverse passages, we should draw at least three important inferences with substantial pastoral implications.

First, we are likely to make exegetical and theological mistakes . . .

Read the rest here.

Ravi Zacharias:

The tragedy that shook Newtown, Connecticut, and indeed the entire nation, defies analysis. What must have gone on in the mind of this young man for him to walk into a school of little children and wreak such devastating carnage numbs the soul. At the same time this was happening, I was under the surgeon’s blade for minor surgery. When I left the recovery room and returned home, among the first pieces of news on my phone was the news of this mass killing. Something within me hoped that I was still not clear-headed, but I knew deep inside that I was reading an unfolding story of horror and tragedy.  What does one say? What is even appropriate without violating somebody’s sacred space and their right to scream in protest?

I am a father and a grandfather. I simply cannot fathom the unbearable weight within a parent’s or grandparent’s heart at such a personal loss. It has often been said that the loss of a child is the heaviest loss to bear. I have no doubt that those parents and grandparents must wonder if this is real or simply a terrifying nightmare. . . .

Read the rest here.