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Redeemed Suffering [1-24-21]

Here is a tale of three men. These are thumbnail sketches of actual events.

The first man, around 50 years old, had a heart attack. His heart stopped for about 15 minutes. He was resuscitated and in a coma for a few days. The day he was released from the hospital, he decided to celebrate his new lease on life by buying a lottery ticket on his way home. It was a scratcher. He won $25,000. Word got out and the local television news station wanted to do a story on it. They set up a reenactment at the same convenience store where bought the winning ticket. Cameras rolling, he scratched off another lottery ticket. This time, he won $250,000.

The second man was a Swedish mountaineer/adventurer. When he was 36-years-old, he rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal. He proceeded to climb Mt. Everest without the aid of a guide or oxygen. He then rode his bicycle about halfway back to Sweden. Less than two years later, he died rock climbing in Washington state.

The third man is composer Irving Berlin. He was born in 1888. When he was five, his family immigrated from imperial Russia to the United States. When in his early 20s, he and his first wife honeymooned in Havana, Cuba. While on their honeymoon, she contracted typhoid fever. She died that same year. It was while working through his grief that Berlin wrote one of his most popular love ballads.

Several years later, he met and fell in love with a young Irish Catholic woman. One of their children, a boy, died in infancy, on Christmas Eve. Every year, he visited his son's grave on Christmas Day. As he worked through his grief, one of those Christmas Day visits inspired him to write the song White Christmas. Knowing the story, you can never hear the song without hearing a sense of sorrow and longing for what could have been:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas Just like the ones I used to know Where the tree tops glisten And children listen To hear sleigh bells in the snow, oh, the snow

I said, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card I write May your days be merry and bright And may all your Christmas' be white

I said, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas Just like the ones I used to know Where the tree tops glisten And children listen To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card I write May your days, may your days, may your days Be merry and bright And may all your Christmas' be white

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card I write May your days be merry and bright And may all your Christmas' be white

Three different men. Three unique layers of tragedy and triumph. Life can be filled with sadness and woe. And people will always ask, "Why?" Where is God in the pain and suffering?

In 1981, a book came out titled "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." It resonated with a lot of people, including me. I was 24 at the time. Four years earlier, my mom had died after a long battle with colon cancer. It spoke to my grief. Why do bad things happen to good people?

Buddhism proposes detachment from life as the way out of suffering.

Hinduism addresses suffering through karma and reincarnation.

Atheism proposes a real swell philosophy of suffering. As one prominent atheist observes:

"Our universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

- Richard Dawkins

He's a real charmer, that one.

Physicist Stephen Hawking's take was equally cheerful. He believed the brain is a computer that stops working when its components fail:

"There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

As we bring Biblical truth to bear on suffering, we're going to do two things. First, we're going to lightly touch on ten Biblical takes on suffering. And then, after that, we're going to look at the sovereignty of God. God's sovereignty goes hand-in-hand with understanding suffering.

First, ten ways the Bible talks about suffering.

  1. Suffering is the result of our sin and rebellion against God.

Genesis tells the story of how, because we chose to reject God's one command, the world became corrupted by sin. Original sin, with us still, has caused untold suffering and pain.

  1. God's chosen people {the Hebrews} suffered when they disobeyed the Law spelled out in Deuteronomy 28:

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.

And here are the consequences for disobedience:

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.

3. People sometimes suffer from the wrong choices other people make, even though God uses the suffering for good.

We especially see this in Genesis 50. Joseph's brothers treated him horribly. You think your family is dysfunctional? They sold him into slavery. But he rose to a position of influence and prominence in Egypt. Here's how

it played out:

When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

- Genesis 50:15-21

4. Suffering brings faithful believers into deeper understanding

and relationship with God.

We see this in Job. Job suffered greatly. There are exchanges and

questions between Job and his family and friends and between Job and God. The whole book searches for meaning in suffering. There are three keys sections that best summarize Job.

The first is Job 1:20-22:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

The second is Job 40:6-14:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?

“Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below.

Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you.

Third, Job's response in 42:1-6:

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

5. Believers suffer because of the jealousy and hatred of certain people who reject the Christian faith.

Here's what happened in Acts 7:54-60:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he

had said this, he fell asleep.

This is still happening to Christians today. It happens in places like North Korea, India, China and many predominantly Muslim countries. You have to wonder what is so weak about a person's faith or what is so warped about a person emotionally that they would be angry at or even harm someone who believed differently from them.

6. Believers suffer as a testament of faith to others.

In Hebrews 11, we read about how the suffering of faithful believers inspires and encourages others.

7. God allows people to suffer so they will turn to Him in repentance and not perish for eternity.

We see this in Jesus' answer when people ask him about people who

suffered. Luke 13:1-4 says:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?

8. Christians suffer so they can be conformed more closely to the character of Christ.

Romans 8:28-30 directly addresses this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Jesus' brother adds to this in James 1:2-4:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In other words, no matter what we experience or go through in life, we know God is with us and we remain in His will for our lives. So we are obedient to God in all things.

9. Believers suffer so they can know Christ more fully.

Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:8-10:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his

resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

This comes after Paul warns against false teachers. He goes on to point out that following Jesus doesn't provide freedom from hardship. Life in Christ

includes both joys and struggles. Christianity isn't an escape from suffering. Faith alone saves, and walking with Jesus is all that truly matters.

10. To prepare followers of Christ for the glory of heaven.

This is not escapism, but Biblical truth. Here's how Paul frames it in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul does more than compare his suffering to the glory to come. He also describes it as preparation. For Paul, suffering serves a purpose. It's getting him ready for the depth and weight of the glory of eternity. In other words, Paul doesn't lose hope because anything he suffers in this life will pale in comparison to being in the glorious eternal presence of Jesus Christ. This is not our only life. What we have here and now pales in comparison to the joy of eternity with Christ.

Those are the ten ways the Bible addresses suffering. Next week, we'll see how the sovereignty of God is essential to our understanding of suffering.

Let's affirm together:


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