Over the last few weeks I have watched some dear Christian friends of mine suffer greatly and for differing reasons. It’s been terribly hard as a friend, being unable to do anything to help in a practical way. I would dearly love to be able to step in and take away their pain and suffering, and to make it all better for them, but I can’t. Only the Lord can, but mostly He doesn’t.
It is during times such as this, that many of us shake our fists at the Lord and ask how He could allow this to happen. Whether it be rejection, loss or physical pain, many of us have an expectation that God should not allow His children to go through the suffering. But I feel differently about it. The Bible tells us quite clearly, as I have discussed several times in this blog previously, that those who follow Him will suffer. Whether it’s persecution or pain and suffering, we are told for sure that we will suffer. And I believe it and know it first-hand. It’s an indisputable fact. What the real issue for me is at this time, is what we know and believe about God, and how that manifests itself during times of immense pain and suffering.
The majority of my Christian friends are reformed, and they believe firmly in the sovereignty of God. They know the Scriptures and they know the Lord, through walking with Him for many years. It is precisely because they know the Scriptures, and have lived them out for many years, that they have a solid base, built on rock. When hard times come, and they are very hard at the moment, they know who God is and they know they can trust in Him. To be a Reformed Christian, means to believe in God’s Sovereignty. This may sound as though it has nothing to do with times of pain and suffering, but it is the single most important thing about being a Christian in times of pain and suffering. A Reformed Christian stands on God’s sovereignty at all times. We know that when hard times come, that not only has the Bible prepared us to expect the suffering, but to rest in God during this time. We can rest because we know that just as God is sovereign over sustaining the world, providing for us, and controlling all things, that our current difficult circumstances are exactly what the Lord wants for us at that exact moment. John MacArthur once said, ‘Everything is exactly the way it’s meant to be’. My times of suffering are exactly what the Lord wants for me at the exact moment, and He is just as much in control of those times as He in when we are in seasons of peace. In fact, during times of pain and suffering, His hand is upon us, changing and transforming us into His image, in a way which cannot happen during times of peace and calm. It is during the hard times that we learn to live out what we believe about the Lord, and our faith and trust in Him is grown.
I don’t always react well to the hard times in my life. I still feel pain and loss, and I feel great sadness at times. Just because I trust that God’s hand is in control of my situation doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the agony of it all— that would be a lie. I feel the pain as much as the next person. The difference is that I know that what is happening to me is not some random event that is spiraling out of control. Instead I can trust the Lord in the process and I can know that however it ends, it is exactly as the Lord intended. Nothing takes Him by surprise. The Lord is not startled by something we are experiencing and scratching His head trying to work out what He should do to fix it.
Before I believed in the truth of God’s sovereignty, when hard times struck I felt that I somehow had to follow a formula, or to be faithful enough, or stoic enough to get through. I thought that I controlled the situation with my free-will, and if I acted a particular way, I would make it through. At the time I was attending a hyper Charismatic Pentecostal church, and I was told that I had to be happy as Satan was scared of me and that’s why I was being attacked by him. I was also told that I obviously wasn’t being faithful enough, or tithing enough, or I was in sin somehow. The explanations never included God. God was never given any credit for being a part of the situation but instead, sat back idly watching me battling Satan, or blustering my way through name it and claim its or smiling through some of the darkest times in my life. And to make it worse, I missed learning more about a God who is faithful and loving even in the difficult times, because I would not acknowledge that He had anything to do with it. The God I was serving back then, was weak and indecisive. He had no control over evil and He had no control over the attacks against His children. I often felt lonely and separated from God during these times and that couldn’t be further from the truth. When the Lord opened my eyes to the truth about election and His sovereignty, my life changed. I finally knew the Almighty God, the same God about whom it is written, ‘Great and marvelous are Your deeds Lord God Almighty. Just and true are Your ways King of the ages’ Revelation 15: 3. Isaiah penned this beautiful description of our Almighty God,
“Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.”
This Almighty God is not only in control of the entire world and every breath we take, but also of our pain and suffering. When we are grieving and sad, in pain and distress, we can trust in Him. We can rest in His sovereignty and His might. We can trust that our situation is not random and meaningless. In fact our situation is full of meaning and exactly what the Lord wants for us at that time, despite the pain and our inability to understand what we’re experiencing. The Lord is using these times to grow us and change us, to make us more like Christ. Every tear is precious to Him and will not be wasted. His care for us is so intimate that He will bring us through every dark time, and bring healing and sunshine again. That’s not to say that we’ll be restored fully, and it’s not to say that we won’t be battle scarred and weary, but it does mean that we will walk more closely with Him, and know a deeper intimacy. Ultimately, intimacy with the Lord should be our greatest desire— to know and love Him and to walk closely with Him. Surely that’s worth more than anything this world has to offer?