Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The key to suffering: knowing God

I am daunted by the question of suffering. 

When someone confronts me with this question, my heart races and my muscles tense. My mind is nothing like an orderly collection of reasoned and sensitive Biblical reflections. It is empty and bursting at the seams, all at once. I scramble for an idea, a thought, a concept… 

But instead I need to look at a person.

In my last post I talked about how God reveals himself to us in Scripture. It is only as we come to know God that we can have any knowledge about suffering. The answer to our suffering is not philosophical, it is personal - it is found in knowing God.

This week's reflections on chapters four to six are about getting to know this God.

God is Just

The Bible portrays suffering and death as God’s judgment on sinful humanity. The author helpfully explains that God’s judgment is always in response to wickedness. This is what makes God a good judge.

In God’s mercy, he satisfies His justice at the cross. In Mallard's own words, “It is in the cross of Christ that the fullest displeasure of God against human sin was most clearly demonstrated.” 

Our suffering, and Christ’s suffering, are in response to wickedness. God is just.

God Knows

Does this judging God take any notice of our suffering? He does! He knows every detail of our lives. I was overwhelmed by Mallard’s analysis of God’s unfathomable knowledge:

“He knows what you are thinking long before you think it. What will be in your mind in exactly one week from today or one year from today or ten years from today? No, you have no idea - but God does!”

I am comforted by this knowledge, because God knows me as a friend. Our God does not stand far above us and peer down from a great height. He sits beside us in our suffering. He knows us personally.

God Has a Plan

Not only does God know the details of our lives, but he planned each of them.

The author draws on his own experience of God using his wife's suffering for good. He explains that her counsel now 'carries credibility because it is not bland cheerfulness, but truth purchased through the agony of personal experience'. In his mercy, God can use suffering to equip us to care for others.

Personally, I can't help but feel hard done by to think that God might put me through suffering so that someone else could benefit. But this is exactly what Christ has done! 

And so, Jesus is the model for us to follow. As Jesus suffered, we will suffer. And as Jesus comforts us in our suffering, we can comfort others in their suffering.

The very fact that I hold this book in my hands is a testament to God’s good purposes for our suffering.

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