Five Purposes for Suffering
By John Piper
For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
We seldom know the micro reasons for our sufferings, but the Bible does give us faith-sustaining macro reasons.
It is good to have a way to remember some of these so that, when we are suddenly afflicted, or have a chance to help others in their affliction, we can recall some of the truths God has given us to help us not lose hope.
Here is one way to remember: 5 R’s (or if it helps, just pick three and try to remember them).
The macro purposes of God in our sufferings include:
Repentance: Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything on earth above God. Luke 13:4–5:
“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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Reliance: Suffering is a call to trust God and not the life-sustaining props of this world. 2 Corinthians 1:8–9:
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Righteousness: Suffering is the discipline of our loving heavenly Father so that we come to share his righteousness and holiness. Hebrews 12:6, 10–11:
“The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Reward: Suffering is working for us a great reward in heaven that will make up for every loss here a thousandfold. 2 Corinthians 4:17:
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Finally, Reminder: Suffering reminds us that God sent his Son into the world to suffer so that our suffering would not be God’s condemnation but his purification. Philippians 3:10:
. . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings.
So, it is understandable that the Christian heart would cry out in suffering, “Why?” since we don’t know most of the micro reasons for our suffering — why now, why this way, why this long? But don’t let that ignorance of the micro reasons cause you to overlook the massive help God gives in his word by telling us his macro purposes for us.
“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).
The “Omni” God: All Knowing
How often have you heard it said, “If I had only known, I would not have said, I would not have done that!” We humans sometimes act unwisely simply because we do not have all the facts. We take a shortcut down a two-lane road not realizing that an automobile accident has tied up both lanes ahead, and we will have to turn around and come back. We take the vacation of our dreams not knowing our house will be robbed while we are gone. We all remember how the United States got involved in the Iraq War. Why? Because faulty intelligence claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which he did not.
Thankfully, God always knows. He has access to all the pertinent information. He has all the facts! Job 37:16 says that God is perfect in knowledge. First John 3:20 tells us that God knows everything. What does that mean? Let’s start with a mind-boggling definition, and then we will proceed to unpack its meaning. And once again, you will be amazed and filled with wonder as you discover the greatness of our God. Here’s the definition. God is all-knowing. God fully knows and understands himself and all things that are or could be, and the knowledge of them is always fully present in his consciousness, and that knowledge never changes or grows.
Now let’s show you how helpful these truths are to you:
I. God fully knows and understands himself and you.
That means, He is never unaware, never doubts, never second guesses nor is he perplexed about who he is or what he plans to do. He knows what to do.
Does it not follow then that if our great big infinite God can understand every part of himself, he certainly can understand every part of you. He knows you inside and out. He even understands what you can’t understand about yourself. Haven’t you heard yourself asking: why do I do this; why do I cringe with fear at that; why am I plagued by those thoughts; why do I feel this way? God knows. Further, he will never misunderstand your motives. He empathizes with your every need. He knows the intensity of your pain. He shares the exhilaration of your joy. Matthew 6:8 tells us that your Father knows what you need before you even ask him. Matthew 10:30 says even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God knows and gives attention to even the tiniest detail about you. Psalm 139:1-3 adds, O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. 2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. 3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it. God exhaustively knows and cares about you!
On the day Reagan was shot, I was hit head on by a truck which came completely across the highway into my lane. I was struck unconscious with a severe concussion. The driver had reached down to pick up a cup of coffee he dropped, and had taken his eyes off the highway. Not wearing a seat belt, I shattered the entire windshield. The neurologist told me it was a “miracle” that I had survived. It would be two months or more before I fully recovered.
While recovering, I was urged to file a lawsuit. I decided that the thing to do was to display God’s grace and refused. The insurance company paid for a new car. But then something happened I didn’t expect. The insurance company sent one check paying in full all medical expenses (I expected that.), and then, by mistake, sent a second check for the amount of those same medical expenses. When I informed them of the mistake, they said “keep the money.”
O how the all-knowing, all-caring God had been at work. He rescued me from death, rewarded my desire to not file a lawsuit. And God worked things out so that a particular driver, who did not believe in God, would see something good from a Christian, in a town where Christians were surely not known or thought of being merciful or compassionate.
II. God knows all things that are or could be.
God not only knows everything about you, as the Creator, he knows everything about everyone and everything else. Hebrew 4:13 says, nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. Job 28:24 agrees, he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He has numbered the stars and given each a name (Psalm 147: 4-5). How many stars is that? That is at least the number seventy with twenty-two zeros after it.
And this exhaustive knowledge is not only confined to the present but is also true of the future. I am God, and there is none like me. 10 Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish (Isaiah 46:9-10).
We live in a day of marvelous inventions. The latest is high tech flying robots. And now scientists are developing flying cars that can both fly and drive through a simulated city-like setting that has parking spots, landing pads, and no-fly zones, and all this without colliding with each other. But there is more! Scientists have developed a new method by which an atomic fingerprint, a unique molecular pattern can be incorporated into a holographic label or a smartphone app. putting a big dent into the counterfeiting industry. We could say more about windows that double as solar panels, tiny lens free cameras that can be hidden in your clothes or even your glasses, see around corners smartphone technology, the invisible motorcycle helmet, edible water, and the mess free toilet “unclogger”. Who knows what’s coming next?
What is amazing is that the all-knowing God knows every truth, all the secrets of the universe, and even those inventions that have yet to be discovered by mankind. And therefore, he knows every possibility even when they seem unlimited in number. For example, God has created an incredibly complex and varied universe, but he surely could have created thousands of other variations of our present universe. Indeed, one day, he will create a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21-22). What will that be like? We can only imagine, God already knows!
Now what does this mean for us:
1. God knows what is best for you!
Since God has access to all the pertinent information. Since he sees everything in its proper perspective, you can pray confidently and live confidently knowing that all things are being done with your best in mind. You can totally trust him! Further, it only makes sense to follow him and obey him if he alone knows what is best for you.
2. God cannot be ultimately manipulated, fooled, or marginalized.
God knows your intentions and even the most brilliant of your schemes. You can push him to the perimeter or even out of your life, but one day you will have to stand before him and give an account for every thought, word, and deed. If you have asked Jesus to save you and have surrendered your life to him you have no need to fear that day. But if you have turned your back on God and refused his free gift of salvation, you have everything to fear on that day.
III. Everything God knows is fully present in his consciousness.
God does not have to access information as a computer might retrieve a file. If God wanted to tell you how many grains of sand were on a beach or how many fish are in the sea, he would not have to count them all quickly like some monster computer. He already knows. He always knows all things at once. God doesn’t need time to recall as if he had not thought about it for some time. He doesn’t need time to reason through, to ponder or mull over a situation before he answers. He never learns anything or forgets anything. He never gains knowledge or loses knowledge. Every bit of his infinite knowledge is fully present at all times in his consciousness. Nothing he knows fades or dims into his non-conscious memory. To summarize, God sees a billion years in the past and a trillion years into the future as vividly as if it were in the present - as if it were happening right now. Now that is a lot to take in!
But wait a minute, doesn’t the Bible say that God will not remember our sins (Isaiah 43:25). Yes, it does. But how that is to be understood is that God will never let his knowledge of those sins play any part in the way he relates to us. He has totally forgiven (will never hold against us) what he clearly knows. That is the pristine beauty of his amazing grace!
Have you ever wondered how many times you are photographed every day? Those times you stop at a light, enter a department store or bank, pull into a parking lot. And yes, the Echo Spot, that new alarm clock by Amazon (with hidden microphone and camera) for your bedroom. It is as if an all-seeing eye is following you. Who knows what they are all up to?
But our society will never come close to the knowledge God has of you. And O how different is his knowledge of you. In the words of Jeremiah, the prophet, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
In one of the early scenes of The Matrix, the character Trinity meets Neo in a club and she tells him, “It’s the question that drives us.” Later Neo meets Morpheus, who describes this inherent curiosity as a “splinter in the mind.”
We are born into a world that is populated with stories, pregnant with multiple meanings. From our very entrance into the cosmos until death, the reality and presence of story envelops our lives. Like the deep-seated quest of Socrates to discover what, in fact, was the good life, we find ourselves asking questions and wanting answers. These questions are not mere curiosity, or intellectual pursuits; they carry enormous existential significance and importance. These questions haunt us.
Consider the following words from Lee Iacocca in Straight Talk: “Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it’s all about… I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds.” Our minds are splintered—or made numb—with pressing inquiry: What is the point of it all? What gives our lives meaning? Novelist William H. Gass expresses a similar nagging reality. “Life is itself exile,” he writes, “and its inevitability does not lessen our grief or alter the fact.” Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge notes further, “The first thing I remember about the world—and I pray it may be the last—is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling which everyone has in some degree, and which is at once the glory and desolation of homosapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.” Why are we here? Where are we going? Why do we at times find ourselves as strangers in our own home? Is there a greater story we are a part of, but ignoring?
In the Western world, we are progressively abandoning the metanarratives that for centuries served to define and give shape to our society and individual lives. Indeed, the very idea of a “defining story” is now considered offensive, imperialistic, sexist, or worse. The individual is left alone before a mind-boggling array of options and both the responsibility and the authority to reach a conclusion are totally rooted in the self. Yet, despite brave predictions of the demise of God or the eventual waning of belief under Modern conditions, the questions have not gone away. If anything, they are more at the forefront than we would have expected, given the nature and shape of progress.
In the opening pages of the Lord of the Rings, the narrator tells us of the process whereby history became legend and legend became myth and slowly it was all forgotten. Tolkien’s brilliant insight into what he deems our “real but forgotten” past is a telling representation of the story we are currently trying to tell. But if the world and our lives are the product of a divine creator, then though ignored or unknown, the echoes of our distant past and essential nature still call out to us. And they are calling.
“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.”(1) The heavens are yet declaring the glory of God; the skies are yet proclaiming the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display the love of one who invites us into the story of life itself.
Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia
(1) Romans 1:20.
GOD IS EVERYWHERE PRESENT (omnipresent).
Heaven is the place where God most displays his splendor and glory, but heaven is not the only place he is to be found. Now hang on, because, for a couple minutes, you are going to be blown away by what I have to say. We have just said that God is a spirit, and this allows him to be everywhere present. He is not confined or localized by a body. Everything we know, such as a person, a city, a mountain or an ocean has a specific location. They are somewhere which prevents them from being somewhere else. We simply cannot be two places at one time.
But God is vastly different from us. God is present at every point in space with his whole being. That is to say that God is not stretched out over the universe, but all of him (100 percent of him) is present at the same time in South Korea and in Argentina and in England and one hundred percent of him is wherever you are at right now. We cannot say then that some of God or part of God is in one place and part in another. All of God is everywhere and in every space at the same time.
Just to “blow your mind” even more, we cannot say that God can be contained by any space no matter how large. We cannot think of God in terms of size. Solomon says that “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you.” (First Kings 8:27) God is greater than the entire universe!
Further, God is present everywhere in his creation but is distinct from his creation. He is a person. For example, water fills a sponge, but it is distinct from the sponge.
Now how does all of this relate to you:
1. God is always present so you are never truly alone. (Psalm 139:7-11)
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
God is fully present at all times and in all places. If you are seeking him, you need go nowhere to find him. He is right where you are. He is only a prayer, a conversation, away.
2. God is present to bless you.
It is noteworthy that the vast majority of the times God’s presence is mentioned in Scripture, it is for the purpose of blessing:
(1) The blessing of freedom
Second Corinthians 3:17 says, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. You are free from the fear of death because to leave the body is to be instantly present with the Lord Jesus. You are free from the bondage of guilt. A heartfelt confession to God for any sin and a desire to turn from it means instant and total forgiveness. What do you need to be forgiven of? God is present right now to forgive. And God wants to go even further – setting you free from the power of sin, from the grasp, the entanglements of that sin. You will be free from the presence of sin. Any verbal abuse, physical abuse or any other abuse will one day be forever behind you. Any doubt of the polished diamond God is fashioning you into will be forever gone.
(2) The blessing of being God’s home
In John 14:23 Jesus said, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Think about it! When you become a follower of Christ God takes up residence, God makes a home, God comes to live in you. He is the ultimate room-mate, your best friend forever. He is there to share your joys with, to share your plans with, to share your fears, your dreams, your everything!
3. God is present to punish the wicked.
Amos 9:1-4 describes God’s chilling presence in bringing judgment upon the wicked and persecutors of his people,
Not one will get away,
none will escape.
2 Though they dig down to the depths below,
from there my hand will take them.
Though they climb up to the heavens above,
from there I will bring them down.
3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent to bite them.
4 Though they are driven into exile by their enemies,
there I will command the sword to slay them.
“I will keep my eye on them
for harm and not for good.”
It is not for us to worry for God will take care of the “Hitlers, the Stalins, and ISIS killers” of this world. God is a loving gracious God, but he is also holy and cannot allow evil to forever go unpunished. They cannot ultimately hide from him, because he is everywhere present to take them down. Believers should never feel lonely and the unrelenting wicked should never feel safe.
We have looked at some of the ways God is different from us and they should be of comfort to us. It is helpful to know that God will never go out of existence, that he is totally self-sufficient and will never be needy, that he cannot change his character or feign to be something he is not, that he is everywhere present and we will never get a busy signal when we call. God also amazes and confounds us for everything we know has a beginning. We are forever dependent on others. We change and sometimes not for the better. We can only be in one place at a time.
Next, we will ask how he is like us. We will see ways, in which to some degree, we too have power, intellect, can love, and so on… This journey of wonder has only begun. And we will also help answer some puzzling questions along the way. Perhaps you have some. Just email us here on the website and we will try to answer them.
Grace and Favor (Part 1 of 2): A Lesson in mutual respect and selfless love by Alistair Begg @ Truth for Life
GOD IS A SPIRIT
One of the most renowned professors of the past century was asked the question, “What is the most profound thing you have ever learned in your study of God?” He answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” His students giggled at the words of this childhood chorus. But what this professor was trying to get his students to realize was, that the simplest Christian truth about God is so profound, that it can occupy the minds of the most brilliant people for a lifetime. I like to call this the “awe and wonder” effect. Some things about God hold us speechless, they will forever remain an unsearchable mystery: 1) God has no beginning and no ending – he always was, always is, and always will be. 2) God doesn’t need anything or anyone in the universe to exist. He is and has in himself all he needs to exist. 3) We constantly change, but God never does. Yes, there are things about God that he has clearly revealed, but there are other things that are hidden to our searching minds and hearts. So, we can only know God to the degree that he reveals himself to us through Creation, through Christ and the Scriptures.
Today, we once again ask the question, how is God different from us? Answer: God is a spirit (immaterial). Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). As a spirit, God has no body. He is not made of matter. Since he is not a material being, he is invisible to our earthly eyes (“the invisible God”; Colossians 1:15). Indeed, one of the reasons Jesus came to earth and took on a human body was to make God visible to us. We will say more about that later.
Well then, is God like Casper the friendly ghost? Not really. A spirit is not an inanimate object like a rock. It is very much alive. In fact, the word spirit in the Hebrew of the Old Testament means “breath.” Something or someone that can breathe is something that is very much alive. In him and through him is breath, is life. Consequently, a spirit is a person, not some impersonal force. Just engage in a simple reading of the Bible and it will reveal that God is very self-aware and has the freedom to choose his own course of action as he deems best.
Now rather than spooking us out, this is a very positive truth. We can know God apart from our physical senses. I don’t have to see him, to know him. We have spirits too. There is a part of us, within our physical bodies, that is not flesh and bones. God’s spirit can, therefore, connect, commune, interact with our spirit anytime, anyplace, and under any circumstances. You can enjoy God through a praise song while driving to work, see his creative power in the waves while sunning at the beach. You can be reminded of the joy that he has cleansed, washed away, your every sin while doing the unthankful job of washing the dishes. He can whisper “I love you!” when you feel unloved. He can give inward promptings for a course of action, overcome your worries with the promise and peace of his presence and power.
Now wait a minute, why doesn’t God make himself visible to me right now. I need someone with “skin on.” One reason is that our present mortal bodies would be blinded and even die. We cannot withstand the blazing light of his presence (See Exodus 33:20; First Timothy 6:16). But there will come a day when you will meet him face to face when the waiting will be over when your new body will be able to see his glory.
God of the Ordinary: How God's unseen hand guides us through seasons of grief - Alistair Begg @ Truth for Life