Saturday, March 24, 2007

Suffering Within the Sovereignty of God

Understanding the purpose of our lives is the foundation to understanding the events in our lives. The catechism begins by asking, 'what is the chief end of man'. The answer of course is 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever'. Glorifying God is to acknowledge the weightiness of God's being; to apprehend his attributes in such a way that it transforms our thinking and actions. Enjoying God cannot happen unless our thinking is radically transformed because we are, by nature, God haters.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

To know God is why we are here. This is why, after all was said and measured, the apostle Paul said,

Phil 3:8 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 9 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Remarkably Paul connects knowledge of God and suffering is this passage. Nobody can have any depth of intimacy with God unless they have suffered. Not just running short on cash or having your car break down, I'm speaking of the suffering in which you lose everything. You lose assurance in your wallet, your family, your friends, your health and you have no where to hope or even fall except into the arms of the Father. I repeat, nobody can claim an intimacy with God the Father who has not suffered. Suffering is the means to transformation - suffering is applied theology.

We must not avoid suffering or think that when we suffer that life has spun out of control. Suffering is discipline, not punishment, discipline. Scripture is very clear that the Father disciplines those whom he loves. The soldier, the athlete and the scholar will all tell you that discipline is the tool of transformation.

But God is also revealing himself to us. This is amazing that the Creator of the universe is personal and loving and is willing to reveal himself to us. The believer has been given the ability to surrender to God's Word as the ultimate source of truth and knowledge - in it we learn of God's attributes.

God is good and merciful, God is love, wise and holy. Because of the infinity of God, when we name his attributes we are naming characteristics that have no limit. They are the standards by which human attributes are measured. In other words, there is no standard of good that is outside of God. There is no standard of justice outside of God. Wisdom is the best end arrived at by the best means. God's wisdom means that there is no such thing as a plan 'B'. God's plan, as painful as it may seem, is always the perfect and wise plan. This truth is rarely understood by reading it on a page, it's truth becomes real in the fires of proving.

We are being transformed into the image of Christ. That image is 'pure gold'. In regeneration, Christ's purity is imputed to us but in our sanctification God will help us to work out what he has worked in. When Gold is purified it is burned to removed the 'dross' (impurities). We call this 'proving' the gold. If more impurity is found then it must be 'proved' again, or 'reproved'. God 'proves' us, not to be mean but to transform us into a person that loves what he loves, thinks his thoughts after him and enjoys the abundant life he has created us for.

Another item that God is revealing to us is the UGLINESS of sin. We, by nature, don't find sin ugly. We like it. We treat our sins like pets. We play with them, we cuddle them, we keep them close and protect them. In the horrible face of human tragedy we begin to see the ugliness of sin. Sin always destroys. A baby with cancer is the result of sin. Mudslides, earthquakes, deadly fires are the results of sin. A husband abusing and abandoning his family is the result of sin and specifically the result of that husbands sin. It is ugly, it destroys, it's effects are far reaching. God does not cause the sin nor is God responsible for the sin in any way.

But God ordains sin. God causes sin, demons and the devil himself to act as agents to accomplish his purpose. His purpose may be wrath (punishment) but in the case of his elect the purpose is always transformation (discipline) and a display of his glory (revelation). We will understand more and more of God's ways as we become more like Christ but we must also leave room for the mystery of God. As much as we know about God and his ways there will always be MORE that we will never know about our incomprehensible Creator.

Nevertheless, we will know that He is good. The cross is irrefutable evidence of God's goodness and that he loves his elect. Dr. Douglas F. Kelly has rightly said, "Remember this, eternal, sovereign power is weilded by one, and through one, that has nail prints in his hands."

Jer. 3:19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

2 comments:

jdlongmire said...

"Remember this, eternal, sovereign power is weilded by one, and through one, that has nail prints in his hands."


Wow, excellent post, Bob - thank you for this quote, also. Very timely.

Bob Vigneault said...

Thank you JD. I'm working through a course (mp3s) on Systematic Theology right now. It is taught by Dr. Kelly. That quote was one of the many treasures he has imparted in the course. Blessings brother.