An often unasked but most important question in suffering

Suffering is an enigma in and of itself. It is so confusing and so frustrating and so intense that the one who bears it is tempted to miss the meaning of it. Is there anything to be gained in suffering? I can list out several that you might MOST suspect:

1- An incredible opportunity to know Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior. 

2- An incredibly deep and full relationship with God that might not have been possible another way. 

3- A wonderful opportunity to display and share the Gospel with others. 


And

4- A chance to repent of besetting sin.


Wait, the first three of those things are biblical, but is #4 biblical? I’ve been in ministry for 16 years, I’ve studied theology and apologetics on both an academic and personal level. I’ve walked with others in suffering, and I am dealing now with my own. From my personal and ministry experience, we rarely, if ever, consider #4. When asked what happened to cause such suffering, we have been trained to all but avoid saying “maybe the cause is personal sin”. After all, that doesn’t seem helpful now does it? And in our PC culture, we abhor victim shaming. But is it biblical to ask if suffering is an opportunity to shake free from some sin or sins?


Consider David in Psalm 6 (Psalm 6 is a psalm of penitence). His whole opening statement should get our attention:

1     O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, 
nor discipline me in your wrath. 

Now the question has to be asked: is David expressing a biblical truth or simply just how he feels about the situation? We might be tempted to comfort David and tell him that he should not feel that way, that he should never consider his suffering in the light of God’s judgement. But maybe David is expressing sound biblical theology. Consider these verses from Hebrews 12:


 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

 

It is a really simple analogy: a good father punishes and corrects a child who is straying. We meter out punishment according to the weight of the disobedience. Our child refuses to make his bed, we ground him for a few days. Our child gets caught drinking and driving, we take more serious measures. God is our Father, and if He is a good Father, He will get involved in our life to get our attention in a way that works. You cannot miss that analogy in Hebrews 12.


Sometimes, and maybe more often than we think, our suffering is to get our attention to deal with sin. Consider what David says: it isn’t just that he feels emotionally or spiritually bad, but he is physically suffering:

2
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
3
My soul also is greatly troubled;
But You, O Lord—how long?

Notice what David confessed? He does not just feel bad, he is physically hurting. He is literally sick because of God’s chastisement. If this is not convincing to you, consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 to God’s people who were openly taking the Lord’s Supper while living in unrepentant sin:

27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.


Sin can cause us to suffer far beyond the consequences of our actions, or the misery of knowing we have sinned. It may be God’s way to bring us back. So how should we respond to suffering? I think the pattern David gives in Psalm 6 shows four needed steps


First, serious self examination and introspection is called for. Asking the serious and needed question of God, “Is there something in my life you are trying to prune from me”? Often you will already know, but in a case like this you need to ask every question you can.


Second, petition God for his gracious Mercy. Listen again to the response of the Psalmist in verse 2-5:
2
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
3
My soul also is greatly troubled;
But You, O Lord—how long?
4
Return, O Lord, deliver me!
Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!
5
For in death there is no remembrance of You;
In the grave who will give You thanks?


Its at this point we must come to realize we are helpless. We have sinned, and sinned to the extent we are not prone ourselves to seek repentance on our own even by the Holy Spirit’s prompting.  God has stepped in to intervene with a seriously wayward child. What we have done/are doing is no small matter, its done something to harm ourselves and bring reproach upon God’s glory, at least potentially. This was certainly the case in David’s life, and can easily be the case in ours.


Third there comes the need to experience deep remorse and grieving, not over our suffering (although that will certainly be case in suffering, we will feel grief in the process), but over our sin. Again, hear the words of David:

6
I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.
7
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows old because of all my enemies.

David had serious and deep grief over his sin. He didn’t just have a passing penance in which he briefly beat himself up for his sin, he rode his sorrow to the bottom. It stuck with him day and night, he was completely worn out because of grief of his sin. It was then that David found God again. In his sin-caused suffering He found himself drawn strongly toward the one who could cleanse him and also heal him. 


And fourth, he committed to live holy. Once again, hear the words of David:

8
Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
9
The Lord has heard my supplication;
The Lord will receive my prayer.
10
Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled;
Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.


David made no small move here. He understood there was underlying cause to his suffering and he desired that cause to be far from him. He understood God’s position on his sin, and desired to take up God’s position, not his own. He came to hate what God hated and had the firm resolution to remove it from his life, to live holy unto God.

 

We see this same idea echoed in James 5:


3 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

 

My suffering caused me to see what was amiss in my life. I’m thankful for a Father who does not let us languish in sin, but knows that eternity is far too great a time, to let us relish the present. 


Is your suffering the hand of a Holy God working to draw you back? That is something you must decide, but please do not miss it. 

Posted on January 26, 2016 .