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Suffering: The Whys and Wherefores
The topic, the doctrine we're going to look at this evening and probably next week as well comes out of the next couple of verses. Actually, the last verse we've already looked at in Romans 8: 17, as well as in Romans 8:18, introduce the concept of suffering. For some people, suffering has to do with something that is extreme. But the word for suffering in both Greek and Hebrew, merely means that something has happened to a person. Over the course of the development of the language, these words for suffering in both Greek and Hebrew came to be associated with something that was not positive.
That can operate on a scale of intensity. We have things that happen every day that are not what we wish to happen, not extreme, but not what we would like to happen. They provide difficulties and challenges for us and that is suffering in one form. I often think that some of the more extreme things we think of as suffering are just so large and overwhelming that they're easier to handle than the constant little nitpickings of the adversities of the world because we just get tired of the battle. As my friend Jim Myers often says, "We have to learn to love the battle." It's often wearisome. We live in the devil's world. That's one reason we encounter suffering and adversity and suffering is simply dealing with the fact that we're living with fallen creatures in the midst of fallen world.
It's not necessarily an overt or extreme persecution or oppression or the hostility of going through a hurricane or a tornado or going through a major economic collapse. Suffering can involve a lot of minor areas, as well. It's just the difficulties of life. Some of us have been around long enough to know that sometimes our walk with the Lord on a day-to-day basis gets wiped out more by the little tiny things than the major things. So when we hear the word suffering, don't think in terms of something that is horrible and extreme and large. It includes a whole spectrum of things.
A lot of times the way in which we respond to something and the way in which we perceive a negative event is dependent upon the mental attitude that we're in at the time. If you're tired, if you're weary, if you've been going through a series of negative events, then you can hit the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It's not very large but it just seems to absolutely wipe you out. On another day, when you're fresh and you're well fed and you're energetic, it may not be such a big deal or may not faze you too much and you're able to focus on the Lord. And the Lord designs these as tests for us for a number of reasons.
This is what I want to get into as we begin this study so I want to look at suffering in terms of what the Bible teaches about the reasons for sufferings: the whys and wherefores for suffering. Romans 8: 17 says, "And if children..." We all are children if we're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage teaches us that at that instant of salvation we're adopted into God's royal family and we become heirs of God. Then if we pursue spiritual growth, we become joint heirs of Christ, conditioned on suffering with Him.
Now that is not a suffering that is related to what He endured on the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ faced a lot of different suffering, opposition, antagonism, and frustration. Can you imagine being the absolute perfect Son of God? In the Old Testament as God is present in the tabernacle or temple, sin or anything unclean could not even come into His presence. And yet now we have the incarnate second person of the Trinity living and growing up in the midst of a fallen family, in the midst of a fallen culture or world, and with uncleanness and sin in His face, day in and day out. That would present a measure of adversity and as He entered into His ministry, constantly facing the opposition from the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes, the religious leaders, as well as others who had their own agenda. That, too, was another form of suffering.
There are a lot of different ways in which we can suffer when we stand for the truth of God's word and take our stand with the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 18 goes on to say, "...we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." Now that's not talking about heaven. That's talking about, as I pointed out, the distribution of rewards when we are at the judgment seat of Christ because we have taken on the challenge to be a disciple. The term disciple is not a word that is a synonym for a believer. There were many disciples who did not believe. Judas Iscariot was one example of a disciple who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. A disciple is simply a term for someone who is a student, someone who is dedicated to following the teachings of their master or their instructor or their rabbi.
And so a disciple is really a term for a believer who has taken on the challenge to pursue spiritual growth to some level. So as Paul introduces this topic of suffering in verse 17, he then goes on to explain it and put it into perspective in verse 18 by saying, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Whether the sufferings are great or small; whether this adversity is on the magnitude of a scale of 10 or 15 or 20 or whether this just barely makes a blip on the screen. Whatever the suffering is, they're not worthy, no matter how extreme it is, once we compare it with the glory which will be revealed in us. When we understand the purpose, when we can focus on the why to the degree that we can comprehend it, understanding that God is using it for a purpose, even though we can never comprehend that purpose, it all makes sense.
We'll spend some time in Job tonight. That was God's message to Job, that no matter how horrible things were God told Job He wasn't going to answer his questions because even if He answered them Job couldn't understand it so the issue is you have to trust Me. So Paul says here that the perspective is that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. So I want to start by looking at some categories of suffering that we learn from the Scripture. We're going to look at about five or six categories this evening in terms of understanding the kinds of suffering that God allows in our lives.
The first category is preventative suffering. God allows suffering in our life to prevent us from giving in to carnality, going further in our arrogance, giving in to our sin nature. Under this category there are several ways in which preventative suffering occurs in our lives. The first is that suffering is preventative in that it warns and instructs us. God sent suffering to Job. Job, as you know, lost his children, his possessions, his wealth, and he did not curse God. Then there was a second round of losses where he lost his health and again he did not curse God but due to the influence of his friends, the questioning we all have in times of adversity were exposed. God did not send suffering to Job because Job had done something wrong. Again and again at the beginning of Job, God says to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job who a righteous and blameless man?" This is stated several times.
Job had done nothing wrong so why did God allow this suffering in his life? And one thing you need to remember as we go through this is that God is the original multitasker. So we may encounter suffering that has several different facets to it and several different reasons for it. It's not just one or the other. God is doing several things at the same time. So the first is that suffering is used to warn us and instruct us.
Now this could fit under another way suffering is often evaluated and analyzed, that there's deserved suffering and undeserved suffering. Deserved suffering is when we can attach to the suffering to some specific decision or course of action in our life. The reason we're going through this adversity is because we have made certain bad decisions in our life and we're just reaping the consequences either in terms of the direct consequences or because God is exacerbating those consequences as divine discipline.
Then there's undeserved suffering, sometimes called unjust suffering, suffering that is not attached at all to anything in our life. We may be doing everything right like Job was and yet we go through some form of adversity or suffering. One reason is that God often uses that suffering to expose areas of independence and autonomy in our lives that we're not facing or dealing with so that in the process of spiritual growth we have to understand the depths of our own depravity. Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things and wicked, who can know it? So we've camouflaged our own sin nature so much that sometimes God has to bring adversity or suffering into our life to expose that arrogance that is still present in our life so we can deal with it. So it's designed to warn and instruct. In Job 33:16, in one of Elihu's speeches to Job, he says, "Then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction. So God uses suffering to get people's attentions, to get us to learn something about Him.
The second form of preventative suffering is to get us to turn from sin. What is sin? I didn't say sins. I said sin. There's a difference. Sins in the plural usually talks about specific, individual acts of disobedience, different kinds of sin. Whether we're talking about overt sins, such as murder or illegality or physical actions of violence or dissension or whether we're talking about sins of the tongue, slander, gossip, or maligning people or whether you're talking about mental attitude sins, these are what we mean when we say sins. The purpose for suffering is to expose the actions of the sin nature so we turn from it. We say, "I'm not going to do that." Job 33:17a speaks to this, "In order to turn man from his deed." So that's a reason for preventative suffering so we don't continue on the wrong road as we're talking about in our Proverb study on Sunday morning.
The third reason for preventative suffering is to prevent that pride and sin associated with arrogance from developing in our lives as it continues to grow and expand. Job 33:17b says, "That he may turn man aside form his conduct, and keep man from concealing pride." This means to remove pride from the life. A fourth reason is to protect us from death, the end result of sin. We've studied in Romans and other passages that the end result of sin is death, not eternal condemnation in the lake of fire but living a death-like existence apart from the power of God so that we're not living and experiencing the blessing and the happiness and the joy and the peace that God has for us. Job 33:30 says that another reason for suffering is "To bring back his soul from the pit..." This is a metaphor here used for death or death-like existence. "… that he may be enlightened with the light of life." So preventative suffering is to get our attention before we've gone down the path of sin to prevent us from taking the wrong course. So that's the first reason for suffering.
A second category of suffering is corrective or disciplinary suffering, punitive suffering. This is what we often think of that God is punishing us for taking certain courses of action or doing certain things. The word that is used most frequently in the Old Testament for this is the Hebrew word yakach. It's used in Proverbs 3:11 and 12, a verse we're all very familiar with. It's a verse we'll be studying soon on Sunday morning and that's a word that's used in Job 33:19 and it means to correct someone by punishment. It refers to a penal disciplinary action. So this is for the believer who doesn't pay attention to the preventative suffering and keeps going forward in terms of his own willfulness in disobedience to God. It's used in these passages in a passive form, especially in Job 33:19 to show that it is God who is the ultimate source of the chastening.
In other passages like in Proverbs 3:11 and 12, the genitive construct there views that which informs us of the source of the chastening. Proverbs 3:11 and 12 says "My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof." Don't react with anger to God and don't blame God because you're going through suffering or adversity. God in His sovereignty oversees everything; He's not directly causing it but He allows through His permissive will certain things to come in to our life. He sovereignty oversees these things because He allows them to come into our life for these various purposes. We're always reminded and the promise you should memorize is 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No testing has overtaken you but what is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able but will with the testing make a way to escape that you may be able to endure it."
Psalm 6:1 uses this same word again where David prays, "O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in your wrath [hot displeasure]." Remember the word 'anger' doesn't mean God is throwing a temper tantrum or He's becoming emotionally upset. It is a metaphor to understand the intensity and the negative aspect of God's judgment for disobedience. The word 'rebuke' and 'chasten' are parallel to one another and it emphasizes that corrective nature that comes with suffering.
So God used suffering in Job's case, not to discipline him for wrong behavior, but it was part of preventative type of suffering. It exposed certain ideas that were wrong in Job's thinking. He had developed a false idea of his own righteousness which comes out in some of the passages and some false ideas about the value of his service to God. This is what Elihu is contending in these passages. He contends that Job had said, according to some translations in Job 34, "I am righteous before God", but other scholars believe this should be translated that Job said "I am more righteous than God." This would indicate a certain self-righteousness and arrogance that he had and he's defending his innocence with such vigor that he has overstated his own righteousness. This is part of the purpose for suffering. It exposes these aspects of arrogance within our own sin nature which we have camouflaged and covered up.
Elihu quotes Job as saying "What advantage will it be to you, what profit will I have more than if I had sinned?"
In other words Job was contending with his friend, saying what value would this be if he had sinned. In Job 34:9, he goes on to say, "It profits a man nothing when he is pleased with God." Job is expressing his dissatisfaction with God so what the suffering does it begins to expose areas in our soul where human viewpoint begins to leak out and reveal and expose areas of arrogance in our soul. Elihu points this out to Job to get him to wake up.
Now a third category of suffering is a pedagogical or educational suffering. It's designed to teach something. It's designed to give us instruction, so we learn something from it. We're not just going through suffering. When we go through difficult times we should say, "Now what does the Lord want me to learn here? How am I supposed to respond to these circumstances and to this situation?" There are many different ways in which this is accomplished. We'll look at the passage a little later on but in 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talks about the fact that God had given him a thorn in the flesh and then it is further defined as a messenger from Satan. That word 'messenger' is the Greek word angelos [a)ggeloj] which means messenger and it's the word for angel. So it's an angel from Satan.
That thorn in the flesh wasn't a health problem; it didn't have to do with his weak eyesight; it didn't have to do with any of those other things but there was a demon assigned to Paul. Later on it talks about how he's overcome all this opposition and persecution and it's clear that is how this thorn in the flesh manifested itself. It's apparently in the context of spiritual warfare. There was demonic activity stirring up opposition to the Apostle Paul. Here was probably the most brilliant man on the face of the earth. He had one of the greatest rabbinical educations known to mankind during his lifetime. Plus he has all the revelatory knowledge that God had given him and yet he's rejected time and time and time again. He is opposed by people who don't want to understand anything he's saying and he is constantly going through rejection and hostility and persecution so God has allowed this to keep him humble.
So that's one reason we have pedagogical suffering is to teach us something about humility. In doing that it teaches us to develop patience in two categories. The word 'patience' in English is often used to translate two different Greek words. One is hupomeno [u(pomenw] which means to stay under something, to endure a testing situation of negative circumstances. The other word is makrothumia[makroqumia], makro meaning long and thumia which is anger. It means not losing your temper, not losing your patience, so the two go together. To endure something involves a patient endurance and long suffering. The Lord is teaching these things. In doing that it teaches us humility to recognize the authority of God to oversee all of the events in our life. Our life is not about what we want. It's not about you. It's not about me. It's not about your agenda. It's not about my agenda. It's about God's agenda. When we forget that, God has to instruct us and teach us and correct us. He will do that through His Word. He'll do that through preventative suffering. If we don't get the message, it will be through punitive suffering but all of that is part of educational suffering.
In Job we read passages such as Job 36:22, "Behold, God is exalted in His power..." When we come to understand the omnipotence of God to sustain us in the midst of suffering, then God is exalted. When we say, "Oh, God can't really help me," what we're saying is "Scripture lies. God's not omnipotent. I'm in a situation God never thought about before. God's omnipotence isn't able to take care of me. I've got to do it on my own." That's essentially what we're saying so "God is exalted by His power." We have to let His power be manifest and then the verse continues, "Who teaches like Him?" He teaches through suffering and adversity.
In Job 34:32, we have the cry to God, "Teach me what I do not see; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more." We're calling upon God to expose what the real issues are in the midst of testing so we can be successful in the test and not have to go through it again. Another passage in the Psalms that also talks about this pedagogical aspect is in Psalm 25:8–14. Let's look at Psalm 25 and just sort of think our way through this Psalm so we can understand what the message is and how we can apply some of these principles and promises in our own lives. This is a psalm of David and it's in the context of forgiveness for sin. In that sense it is also what is called a lament psalm. That's the technical, scholarly term they use for these but it's a psalm that's a cry to God in the midst of suffering. David is crying out to God that he's going through all this adversity and suffering in life and calling upon God to sustain him. David begins by saying, "To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul." So the psalm begins focusing on God.
Sometimes in a lament psalm the focus isn't on God but it just goes right to the problem. That happens with us a lot of times when we are in the midst of suffering. We're so focused on who we are; we're so self-absorbed and we're so focused on our own problem that that's where we start with prayer. And some people think that's just wrong. They think they have to just wait until they get in fellowship and get everything straightened out but that's not what David does. You don't need to feel the need to do that. We can confess our sins but we have to start with, "Lord, I'm really upset here." There's honesty there. "I'm upset; I don't understand what's going on. This is happening and my life is cratering around me. What's going on?" That's the cry to God but we don't stop with that. We don't stop and have a pity party. We continue to press through to focus on who God is and what His plan is and it's that focus that then changes the perspective.
Now in this psalm David begins with a statement of trust in God. See, not all situations or all responses are the same. Not all people are the same. One day we're going to respond one way; another day we're going to respond another way. In this situation David begins by focusing on the Lord, "To You, O Lord, I life up my soul. O my God, I trust in you. Let me not be ashamed." Now the underlying statement here is "Lord, I'm trusting You but this looks pretty bad and I'm afraid you're not going to pull me out of it and, if you don't, I'm going to be embarrassed in front of everybody." So, see, he's starting out with trust and confidence in God but he wants to lay the issue out. "Let me not be ashamed. Do not let my enemies exult [triumph] over me."
The other thing that is going on here and that is embedded in this is a rationale to God that "Lord, if you don't pull my fat out of the fire, we're all going to be embarrassed about Your plan." He's pointing out the rationale that if God lets these horrible things continue, then it will give aid and comfort to the enemy so that's part of his rationale of why God should intervene in his life. "... Don't let me be ashamed. Don't let my enemies triumph over me, Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed."
Now this phrase 'waiting on the Lord' is a synonym for trust because in trusting in the Lord we have to relax and not impose our timetable on God's plan. "Those who wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings as eagles."
That's the same idea in Isaiah. We need to wait on the Lord. That waiting may take days, months, years but that's part of the test is to wait on the Lord. There's the contrast in verse 3, "Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed." In other words, he's talking about the evil doers, the bad guys. "Make me know your ways, O Lord, Teach me your paths."
So ultimately there's this statement that's reflective of humility that "Lord, I'm in the midst of this adversity, this opposition but I know this is a teachable moment. It's a time for me to learn and apply some doctrine so help me understand the lesson and to put it into practice." Then he focuses on where the solution is in verse 5, "Lead me in Your truth and teach me for You are the God of my salvation. For You I wait all the day." So he has affirmed his trust in God in verse 2 and he has affirmed the fact he is waiting on the Lord. That's implied in the first part of verse 3. It is restated at the end of verse 5, "On You I wait all the day." Then he verse 6 he calls to the Lord, "Remember, O Lord, your compassion [tender mercies] and your loving kindnesses."
Now, what's he doing here? He's focusing back on the character of God. He's doing it not only to remind himself of God's attributes but he's reminding God of His attributes, mercy and loving kindness. These are terms that are often linked together in Scripture. Rakham has to do with mercy. It's an idiom that comes out of the bowels that God is a God of tender mercies and compassion and loving kindness is faithful loyal love. Verse l6 goes on, "For they have been from of old." Lord, this is who You are. Again, he's building and embedding a rationale in his prayer for why God should answer his prayer positively.
Then there is the confession in verse 7, "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions." Sins, khatawth, refers to the violation of God's standards and transgressions asah which means to transgress or violate a commandment. "According to Your mercy remember me. For your goodness sake, O Lord." So he appeals to the character of God. Then we come to verse 8 and focusing again on the righteousness and goodness of God, He says, "Good and upright is the Lord. Therefore he instructs sinners in the way." So God is instructing us. We're all sinners as Paul says in the New Testament, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Therefore he teaches sinners in the way. "He leads the humble in justice." But what does He do with the arrogant? In other passages God takes a stand against the arrogant; He opposes the arrogant but for the one who is humble, He guides in justice.
Now, the passages that talk about David being a man after God's own heart indicates his basic orientation in his thinking was to be obedient to God. But many times he failed. That's true for many of us. Our ultimate desire is to obey God but there are other people who go to church but it's just a show and its superficial but their heart's desire isn't to truly obey God. Just because your heart's desire is to truly be obedient to God and to learn and to grow, it doesn't mean it's any easier and doesn't mean it's not going to be difficult and doesn't mean there's not going to be difficult challenges. But that's the basic orientation, the life's course that David chose. We all know David fell off the wagon many, many times. Sometimes he really crashed and burned. That can be true for any believer but God still said David was a 'man after His own heart'. So we can be focused on God. You can have a believer who is tremendously focused on God, mature, growing, and his life orientation is on Bible doctrine but that doesn't mean he's not going to crash and burn a few times. We all will and we all do. So God teaches sinners in the way, the humble he guides in justice.
Part of the guidance is through suffering. God's allowance of suffering is compatible with His righteousness. He guides in justice. This is the same word for righteousness in the Hebrew, tsehdak. It says the humble He guides in justice and the humble He teaches His way. So He guides through teaching and that instruction comes through suffering. Verse 10, "All the paths of the Lord are loving kindness [mercy] and truth." This is like Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good." Too many people hear "All things are good". That's not what it says, It says, "God is working all things together for good." In God's sovereignty He has an end game and in His omnipotence and omniscience He's able to weave together all the evil, disobedience, horrible things so that when we get to the end of the plan of God in time, God is going to work all these things together for absolute good. "So all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies."
Then he comes to the end of this period about confession in verse 11, "For Your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity for it is great." Now we don't know which particular sin this was. There's no historical annotation here to indicate a particular time of carnality but it's obviously a significant sin. Verse 12 we read, "Who is the man who fears the Lord?" What does Solomon say, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." So David is asking who is the man who fears the Lord, that is truly oriented to the grace of God, the authority of God, the sovereignty of God. "He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants shall inherit the earth." That is, the descendants of the one who fears the Lord.
Verse 14, "The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him." Now this passage is focusing on that God is constantly involved in teaching us about Himself, teaching us how to depend on Him, and teaching us how to grow. Psalm 94:12 echoes the same idea stating that, "Blessed [happy] is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and whom You teach out of Your law." So God's instruction ultimately comes out of His Word. The only way that you and I can have a framework for understanding suffering in the very limited, finite way that we do, is when we have a framework that comes from God's word and understand what He has revealed to us.
We see something about this in Job 37. Up to chapter 37 we see this interchange between Job and his three friends and then we see a fourth individual, Elihu, who seems to be saying something different form the three friends who are saying, "Job, get a grip. You screwed up. God is punishing you because you're guilty." But all along God had said that Job was blameless and upright in all his ways. Now Elihu comes along and he addresses it from a different perspective and there's a lot of debate whether Elihu is just as wrong as the other three friends or whether Elihu is more correct in pointing out the justice of God. These are some issues I haven't really had the time to get into, they're complicated but that beside the point, something I'll have to deal with when I get around to Job. But in chapter 37, we see that Elihu is still focusing on challenging Job's sort of resentment toward God and causing him to think a little bit more about suffering.
In the first verse of chapter 37, he talks about a metaphor of a storm that's coming. He says, "At this also my heart trembles and leaps from its place. Listen closely to the thunder of His voice and the rumbling that goes out from His mouth." So he's describing the approach of God and the approach of suffering in terms of a storm. This extends down through verse 5. Then in verse 6, he talks about God's control over even the harshness of the winter weather or storm. This is covered in 6 through 13 and then starting in verse 14, Elihu begins to ask Job a series of rhetorical questions. Starting in chapter 38, God is going to start asking Job rhetorical questions. He doesn't expect an answer. The questions are asked in order to give Job a chance to think about how he would or could even answer those questions.
So starting in verses 14 through 18 we have these various questions that Elihu is asking, "Listen to this, O Job, stand and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God establishes them [dispatches them] and makes the lightning of His cloud to shine? Do you know about the layer of the thick clouds [how the clouds are balanced], the wonders of One perfect in knowledge." See, Elihu is beginning to point out to Job that his knowledge is pretty finite. This is a perfect set-up for when God begins to answer Job starting in verse 38. So Elihu asks those rhetorical questions and then in verse 19 he focuses on what Job's attitude should be in terms of responding to the instruction of the Lord. "Teach us what we shall say to Him. We cannot arrange our case because of darkness." In other words he's looking at God being in this impenetrable darkness we can't really understand what God understands because our knowledge is so finite and limited but God's is so comprehensive that we can't understand.
Verse 20 says, "Shall it be told Him that I would speak? Or should a man say that he would be swallowed up?" God is so overwhelming. Verse 21, "Now men do not see the light which is bright in the skies." You look at the sun, you're going to go blind. "But the wind has passed and cleared them. Out of the north comes golden splendor, Around God is awesome majesty." I think this is a point where the whole trajectory of Job has been building to this point in Elihu's speech and then God comes on the scene. So Elihu is setting the stage for God to come on and address Job. Verse 23, "The Almighty—we cannot find Him. He is exalted in power and He will not do violence to justice and abundant righteousness. Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard [shows no partiality] any who are wise of heart."
That, really ends the first part of the whole book of Job and then in 38:1 the Lord comes and appears to Job and begins to ask him a series of questions through the next several chapters. So we have this focus in 37:19-24 on the transcendence of God's justice and His omnipotence. God instructs us. We learn from Him. We have to submit to His authority. We see this in passages like Psalm 119:66, 67, and 71. "Teach me good discernment and knowledge for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I keep Your word." He's been instructed in the midst of affliction. Verse 71, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." So one purpose of suffering is that we learn God's statutes. As part of this suffering, God is helping us to understand more of who He is. It's not revelational in the sense of God giving verbal information to us but the suffering enables us to comprehend as we apply and implement God's word. It gives us that ability to gain greater insight into an understanding of the reality of the text.
Moses refers to this in terms of the adversity that the Israelites went through in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 8:3, he says, "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor that your fathers know..." In other words, God let you get really hungry "that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." Psalm 119:50, "This is my comfort in my affliction that Your Word has revived me." Psalm 119:67, "Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I keep Your Word." Psalm 119:71 is another one. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted that I may learn Your statutes." Again and again this is reiterated. Psalm 77:1-3, "My voice cries out to God and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord. In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness [without ceasing] and my soul refused to be comforted." Some of you have had nights like that; some of you have had many nights like that when you just couldn't sleep because you were going through such adversity that once you closed your eyes and tried to go to sleep at night, all you could think about was whatever the troubles were. David had the same kind of experience, so what does he do? He turns to the Lord where he would receive comfort but he was not receiving comfort because he wasn't responding to it.
Psalm 77:3, "when I remember God, then I am disturbed; when I sigh, then my spirit grows faint." Until David focused on doctrine there's no real solution. Another way in which this educational aspect of suffering comes through is seen at the time of Lazarus' death. Lazarus died in the early part of John, chapter 11. You all remember the story. Jesus and the disciples are up in the northern part of Galilee where they are ministering around the Sea of Galilee. Some messengers come from Mary and Martha, saying, "Lord, your friend Lazarus is sick unto death. Come and heal him." I always think it's interesting because earlier in John there's a centurion who has a son who is sick and he sends a messenger that says you don't have to come, just heal my centurion from where you are. But here Mary and Martha don't say that. The Lord is up in Galilee and he can heal Lazarus from there. They say, "Lord, come and heal him." And the Lord who could immediately heal him from there or could leave and get there before Lazarus died says, "No, I'm not going to go."
He continues about His business for another four or five days and then He decides to head south to take care of the situation with Lazarus. By the time the Lord arrived, Lazarus was already dead and in the grave for four days. The family and friends are all around. Martha comes out and she's quite distraught. This is the context of these verses. Jesus is talking to His disciples as they're on their way down to Bethany and he said, "Lazarus is dead and I'm glad for your sakes that I was not there that you may believe." Believe what? They were already believers in Jesus as the Messiah. They're already born again, regenerate, but they have to learn to trust God.
Their belief in terms of the faith-rest drill had to be developed so this is going to be an opportunity where Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead and it is going to give more empirical evidence of His Messiahship and His power to raise people from the dead.
Whatever problem you're facing God has the ability to solve that problem. So He says again that He was glad He wasn't there so that they might believe but "nevertheless, let's go to him." 2 Corinthians 8: 1 is a core issue of Paul's teaching in relation to affliction and suffering and in relation to financial suffering, dealing with giving and he's talking about the Macedonians and how they gave out of their poverty to help the believers in Jerusalem that he was collecting along the way to take money to help those who were suffering in a famine down in Israel. He says, "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality [generosity]." See, out of their poverty they gave because of their understanding of the grace of God, so their suffering was used to teach others about the grace of God. Verse 9 says, "For know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." Jesus Christ, as the eternal second person of the Trinity had all things and then He entered into human history as a child living in a lower middle class, working class family, and he grew up without a whole lot so that He could go to the cross and through His death on the cross, He might be made rich.
Fourth category of suffering is to glorify God. John 9:3, when Jesus was dealing with the blind man, people are saying, "Well, who sinned? This man or his parents?" This man was born blind. Jesus said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned but that the works of God should be revealed in Him." This was so God could be glorified through the healing that was about to take place. John 11:4 takes place right after Jesus hears about Lazarus being sick unto death. "But when Jesus heard this, He said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." So adversity and suffering may have nothing to do with you except the opportunity to bring glory to God.
This is the backdrop of what Paul says about his thorn in the flesh. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 he says, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself." Paul's knowledge is so great he's saying a thorn in the flesh was given to him to make sure he didn't cave in to arrogance. He goes on to say in verse 8, "Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me." Now there's nothing wrong with Paul praying to God to remove the suffering. He didn't know what the answer was until he asked.
There's nothing wrong with asking just because God's answer is no. So it's legitimate to pray and request anything but recognize God may say no, that there's a reason for this suffering. The reason for Paul's suffering was so he could learn that God's grace was sufficient for him, that God's power, His omnipotence, was sufficient. His strength was made perfect in weakness. So Paul concludes, "Therefore I boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." In other words, I recognize that by my limited power going through this, God is glorified as I depend upon Him. God says to David in Psalm 50:15 says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue [deliver] you, and you will honor [glorify] Me." That's a great promise we can all claim: "Call upon Me and I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me."
Then the fifth reason I have for why suffering occurs is to remove distractions in our lives so that we learn to focus on what's really important and what has eternal value. It teaches us to organize our life and get rid of the stuff that's irrelevant for why God has us here, that is a distraction from our ambassadorship and to put our focus on the fact that we're not here for our personal pleasure and enjoyment. We're here to represent the heavenly court and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 1: 9 and 10 Paul says, "Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead..."
He's talking about the fact he's been under persecution and had been sentenced to death and so that life was on the verge of execution but it was that way so they would trust in God, not in themselves. In verse 10, "Who delivered us from so great a peril of death and will deliver us in Whom we set our hope [trust] that He will still deliver us."
Suffering also teaches us to organize our life so we spend more time in prayer. Psalm 77:2, "In the day of my trouble, I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness [ceasing]. My soul refused to be comforted." That often is our experience. We go through adversity and it is so overwhelming that we claim promises and we pray but we're so unsettled that that continues all through the night. Some people say, "Well, you're just not really claiming the promises if you didn't go right to sleep." That's the silliest thing in the world because that comes from someone who has a silly, superficial attitude about suffering. Think about the fact that the night before Jesus goes to the cross, when He's in the Garden of Gethsemane, He is as if he's sweating blood. He is under so much emotional turmoil. Do you think He could have gone to sleep? Peter and John went to sleep. They're supposed to be guarding Him but Jesus couldn't go to sleep. He is under extreme emotional distress. That's the language that's used in the Greek. He is overwhelmed but He's turning to God and He's praying. Now if they hadn't come out to arrest Him, He would have been up all night sweating blood and praying.
Just because you're praying and claiming promises doesn't mean instantly your mental attitude gets straightened out. It doesn't mean instantly that which is bothering you and overwhelming you goes away. It might but there are times when we go through things and we just feel so overwhelmed that it takes time to let the Word of God have its impact in our life and to settle things out. That's what David is talking about here. He's doing all the right things; he's seeking the Lord, his hand is stretched out without ceasing but his soul refused to be comforted. It just didn't happen because the soul is so overwhelmed by the circumstances.
James gives us a couple of prescriptions in James 5:13. He says, "Is anyone among you suffering, let him pray." That's the solution and if you have recovered and if you're cheerful, "Let him sing songs." Now I'm not going to embarrass anybody here but I should ask, "How many songs could you sing if you were cheerful? Could you sing through a whole hymn? By memory? Shame on you. Better get to work because the Bible says that if you're happy, sing hymns. You have to learn them. Gee, what a concept. Not just memorizing Scripture but learning hymns. You can't exactly apply that Scripture if you don't know any."
Okay, suffering removes distractions, 1 Peter 1:6 and 13. The Petrine epistles are great epistles for understanding suffering. He says, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed [grieved] by various trials..." So on the one hand you can have great joy but on the other hand, you're going through hell on earth. In verse 13, he says, "Therefore prepare your minds for action [gird up the loins of your mind]." Straighten out your thinking. It's thinking, thinking, thinking. God doesn't care how you feel. I don't care how you feel. The issue is are you "girding up your thinking"? If you start thinking right, your emotions will come in line. It may not happen overnight. It may take time but the issue isn't how you feel. We all recognize we have all kind of screwed up emotions. The issue is are we thinking according to the Word of God? "Therefore prepare your minds for action, keep sober ..." That means to have objective thinking. The only way you can have it from the Word of God. "... Keep your hope [rest your hope] completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Now that closes out those five categories of suffering. Next time I want to come back and address it from a more personal, subjective perspective of ten reasons why we all suffer. Why do I suffer? We say, "God, why am I suffering?" I'm going to give you ten reasons why we suffer. Only one of them has to do with your own bad decisions.