What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

Seeing God At Work!

-We Minimize Sin’s Damage!

It seems like one of the most difficult things, for us to discern, is when and where God is at work in our lives!  In our own little world—that we’ve created in our own little minds—we tend to think of God’s work, in our lives, as little more than a “clean-up on aisle 7.”  No harm! No foul! Our sin is just a little “spill” that God cleans up for us! But, in fact, our brokenness & our sinful depravity runs so deep that God’s work, in us, requires major surgery; not, just a little “clean up.” We minimize the extent of the damage that sin has done to us!

-Missing God’s Construction Signs!

It’s part of our brokenness that we’re blinded, by our brokenness, so we can’t even see how badly broken we are! We exaggerate how good we are & how far we’ve come in our faith! So, it’s easy for us to miss the “construction signs” when God is at work in us! He uses your marriage to work on you! He can use your job! He can use medical issues & a lot of other things that we may not think about! That’s what this post is all about— seeing God at work in our lives! Not just in the big things or the obvious places; but, sometimes in the corners of our lives! Places where we wouldn’t necessarily think of Him as working!

-We Need Spiritual Eyes!

If we’re looking at life strictly through the eyes of our human flesh we won’t see everywhere that God is at work! We need spiritual eyes! We need the help of God’s Holy Spirit to remove the blinders from our eyes & unstop our ears to hear what He’s telling us.  Without His help, we cannot see the work that God is doing, in us, through the events in our lives! It may feel, at times, like He’s distant! Like He’s left you on your own to figure things out! But, He hasn’t & He never will! He’s using the difficulties and pressures you face to bring to the surface all the areas of your life that He’s working on in you!

-Signs God Is At Work!

And, I can tell you that He’s at work, in you, every time you’re angry or agitated or you have a heightened sense of frustration! So, take a deep breath! Bow your head & ask Him to show you what He’s doing; and, to support you even as He works! Don’t ever make the mistake of separating out the secular part of your life from the sacred! Let me tell you what I mean by that— don’t ever assume that there’s like “church” & that’s God’s part of your life; but, God’s not involved with the rest of your life! All the earth is Holy Ground! There is no secular! God rules over everything! He’s in all the details!

-God’s Providential Blessings!

And, that’s, in part, what God’s Holy Spirit intends to show us in many of the Old Testament stories! We don’t have all the doctrinal details laid out for us in the same way we do in the New Testament. God’s Spirit intends to help us wrestle with these stories & reveal the truth in a way that might not be obvious at our first reading of the passage. We see how God uses someone’s betrayal, against us, to return us to prayer! The pain of the betrayal, in your life, can be so painful that God may use it to get your attention & get you re-focused on spending time with Him! David experiences the betrayal of his own son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15). Absalom had the appearance of a movie star! In fact, the Scripture says he, “…had a handsome appearance from the soul of his foot to the crown of his head.” When Absalom betrayed David & forced him to run for his life, God used the experience to return David to his spiritual roots of prayer!

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It’s Counter-Intuitive To The Majority Culture!

(PART II) In so many ways, keeping step with Jesus and Scripture is counter-intuitive to the majority culture! The culture will often tell a woman to divorce her husband if they don’t share the same values! But, the Apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired words tell us that a husband, who is disobedient to the Lord, “…may be won over without a message by the way their wives live…” 1 Peter 3:1.  She doesn’t need to NAG! It’s possible that the Spirit can use her life, in such a dramatic way, that her husband may be “won over WITHOUT A MESSAGE.” She doesn’t need to PREACH at him!

-Internal Adornment & Beauty!

And, Peter builds on that point in the verses that follow:  “…when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” 1 Peter 3:2-4.  If you’re a wife, who’s a follower of Jesus, your life should be marked by an internal adornment and beauty! And, let’s be clear, Peter is not teaching that women should refrain from makeup and jewelry! What he’s saying is that your life should consist of more than the “paint” and “bling” on the outside! How shallow! Live pure & reverent lives, he says!

-Have A Beautiful Heart!

Focus on making your heart beautiful by yielding to God’s Word & his Spirit! Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t give your husband a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose! My girls are familiar with a verse of Scripture that I often quoted to them:  “A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” Proverbs 11:22.  Your hope ought to be placed in God’s Sovereignty—  “…in the past, holy women like Sarah PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD as they submitted…” 1 Peter 3:5-6.  Go back and read the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s interesting that she was never present when God gave Abraham His instruction; but, she submitted to Abraham by putting her hope in God’s Sovereign control of the situation.  She let God work out the kinks in her husband’s head! She didn’t nag!

-Husband: Know Your Wife!

Let me finish by drawing your attention to Peter’s words, to the Christian husband: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” 1 Peter 3:7. Your life, as a husband who follows Jesus, will be marked by an understanding of your wife! Now, I know that some of you men, reading this, are laughing inside— “You really think we can ever understand a woman?” No, I don’t! And, this is a subject I have a really hard time preaching on because I personally stink at it so badly! But, what it seems Peter is saying, in part, is that “…AS you LIVE with your wife, gain an understanding of her…” Study your wife! What causes her tension & frustration? Serve her in those areas! Be a help to her!