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Suffering, Assurance, and the Sovereignty of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 24, 2022 12:01 am

Suffering, Assurance, and the Sovereignty of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 24, 2022 12:01 am

We must always remember that the God who is sovereign over the suffering of His people is a loving Father. He does all things for a purpose and does all things well. Today, Burk Parsons and Derek Thomas discuss divine providence and human pain.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind... We as Christians can take comfort and courage in knowing that God is working all things for you. .. We are asking, how do we define suffering? What do we mean when we say suffering? Suffering is any experience that doesn't fulfill our joy, our sense of well-being, our sense of who we are and why we are here, providences that call into question my sense of purpose.

I think, I can't help but think of, you know, millions of people, literally millions of people in the Ukraine, refugees in Eastern Europe who are asking some of the profoundest questions imaginable about real pain and suffering, that they're walking along a road with a rucksack with all of their worldly possessions with no guarantee that they will ever be back again and no guarantee of where they're actually going. And all of us to some extent experience some of that in microcosm, but there are experiences of suffering both physical, mental, psychological, relational, where we are out of harmony with who we eventually will be in Christ and in a place where there are no tears and there is no pain. I like the way you put that at the outset, especially regarding our desire for joy, our desire for feeling well.

And when anything comes into our lives that threatens that joy, threatens that sense of comfort, and being well, wellness for our loved ones, we can truly begin to suffer. One of the questions I'd like to discuss, Derek, on this is something I've considered a lot over the years, especially in teaching on discipline and all of your teaching and writing on Job, is the way in which Scripture relates discipline, God's fatherly chastisement and suffering and how they can overlap and how we can distinguish them at times as well. And when we encounter discipline in Scripture and in Job from Job's friends and talking about the discipline of the Lord in Proverbs 3, Hebrews 12, one of the questions I've run into often in teaching about God's loving hand of discipline, the question that people ask is, well, is anything that bad happens to me or any suffering I endure, is that a result of discipline?

And so, I'd like for you to answer that question. Well, we use the word discipline in more than one ways. We can sometimes use the word discipline. I teach in the discipline of theology.

I work in this discipline. And that meaning of discipline is not punishment. In the case of Job, we are expressly told three times in the prologue, once by the author of Job and twice it's put into the mouth of God himself, that Job's suffering had nothing to do with his sin. So the possibility of innocent suffering, like the man that was born blind in John chapter 9, and the disciples asked, who sinned?

Was it him or was it his parents? And Jesus said, neither. So there is a category of suffering where the discipline that it brings about, the transformation of character and godliness that may result from it, which is discipline, is not discipline in the form of punishment. But when you read something like 1 Corinthians 11, in the very dysfunctional church that is Corinth, and Corinth I think is not stereotypical of any other church in the New Testament, it is hopelessly dysfunctional. Paul says that some of them were sick and some of them had died, and that this was due to God's retribution for their behavior, their wrong behavior. And so being trained in discipline, and when we hear the word discipline, you know we almost immediately think of punishment and retribution. But discipline can be something else, it can be a form of discipleship. And Joseph, for example, is not that Joseph is sinless, not that Job was sinless, but you know Joseph will say to his brothers, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

So he experienced the retribution of his brothers, but in such a way that it was part and parcel of God's plan to grow Joseph, to providentially place him in a position of enormous usefulness for his father Jacob and brothers to survive the famine that they were experiencing. So there are multiple ways I think of understanding what discipline is. I think it is, if we suffer something big, something substantial, I think that it is the right course of action to at least ask ourselves, is this God speaking to me about some area of my life that needs to be repented of, that needs to be mortified.

Now if you ask that question, there's bound to be somewhere, I mean you could list 500 areas where you need more sanctification and more holiness. And therefore, as a pastor, I certainly wouldn't want to go into a situation and begin to suggest this is God disciplining you in the sense of saying there's a sin in your life and you need to confess it. I think it's interesting that when we're afflicted with some measure of suffering in our lives, I think sometimes our first response is, God what did I do to deserve this? Implying, I didn't do anything to deserve this. But when suffering comes upon someone else that we know, I think our conclusion is well they must have done something to deserve that.

I know they did. There must be some sin in their life, something that is not there like Job's friends. And I think it takes the experienced, wise Christian growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ walking in the Spirit that recognizes that when suffering comes, that they're asking that question. They are examining their hearts, that we are looking at our sins and if we have not repented of particular sins particularly that we do so. But you know in talking about discipline and the different ways in which discipline is understood and used both in the Bible and even in our own language and context, one of the things I like to remind our people from time to time is that we're all under church discipline in the sense that we are all under the discipline, under the authority, under the training of the Word of God and those that are authorities in the local church. We're all under the training of the Word of God, all under the care and the shepherding care of our elders. And so even in coming to worship, we ought to remember that, that we're coming to sit under the ministry of the Word of God.

I mean that really is the language that many Christians used for many years, both in the UK and in the United States, that we're coming under the ministry, we are coming to set ourselves under the ministry of the Word of God to receive its correction, to receive its challenge, to receive its conviction by the Spirit, and to receive its edification and encouragement. So there's a lot we could discuss here further, but I'll turn it back to you. Well, we've brought up Job and Job's friends a number of times already, and Job experienced significant suffering and then in some sense had to go through the suffering of the counsel of his friends. Could we talk a little bit about some of the ways that we misunderstand suffering in our life, perhaps particularly how it relates to our view of God or even assurance? Well, suffering is always purposive. In other words, God doesn't act whimsically.

There is always a reason why we suffer. We may not know what that reason is, and in a sense that's the major lesson of the book of Job, that at the end of the book of Job when God finally comes to him in a whirlwind and says, who is this that questions me with words without knowledge, Job had been asking for a fight, not a physical fight, but an epistemological fight. He wants, he believes that he deserves the answer to the question, why? And the shocking thing about Job 38 is that God says, I will question you and you will answer me. And you want to scream and say, you know, that's not fair because it's Job who's been asking the questions and God is the one who should now be providing the answers. So he's completely done a 180 on Job and the very first question, you know, where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? And you want to say, what kind of question is that?

I mean, that's just not fair. And there are 65, 70 questions about the heavens above, about caves that man has never been to, about what's at the depth of the ocean, none of which Job has an answer to. And then, and then that, that beautiful section where, where God raises Behemoth and Leviathan.

And there are many interpretations of Behemoth and Leviathan, but, but if we just, for the sake of this time, go with a traditional interpretation that says that Behemoth is a hippopotamus and Leviathan is a crocodile. And you think of Job, he's lost 10 of his children, he's lost all of his wealth, his skin and bone, he's at death's door and God is saying, Job, do you know why I created a crocodile? And what in the world has that got to do with anything? And the point is, the answer is, well, one answer is, I don't know. And pain is like that, suffering is like that. A lot of suffering in the lives of God's people have, have no one-to-one correspondence.

I suffer because of X or I suffer because of Y. Actually, I think the ultimate answer to that question is, why did God create Behemoth and Leviathan is for His own glory. And suffering, I think, is designed to bring about in us a desire, no matter what, to give Him glory.

Because providence is, is always purposive. There is always a purpose to what God does, to bring about His ultimate glory. But we may not be privy to what the reason is. We may not be privy to the details of it and, and it's not important that we understand what's important is that He understands and that we trust Him. And I think that is the lesson of the book of Job. For that reason, regarding the purposeful way in which the Lord allows, permits, but not by a bare permission and ordains in our lives, I've, I've really never been comfortable using the language of what many people use, even our forefathers of hard providences. I certainly understand what people mean when they use that term.

I don't think it's altogether wrong or inappropriate. But if, if God's purpose and His sovereign providence in working all things together for our ultimate good and our salvation, even our suffering, who am I to call what He is doing in my life hard, which I think in some ways can imply even something bad, certainly is bad, but ultimately all of God's providences, if you will, are for His glory. But this, this, this I think is very important, you mentioned at the end about trust in our faith and I think that is really at the heart of this entire discussion. I have found over the years that in some senses it is harder to trust the Lord than to obey the Lord. I think when we really examine our lives and examine the lives of those in Scripture who trusted the Lord that oftentimes they could, they could do the things that were obedient to the Lord, but it was trusting the Lord that was sometimes more difficult. And that in our lives God brings suffering in order to make us trust Him more. I mean, how many times in your lives, I can certainly not count the number of times in my life I have asked the Lord to grow my faith, that the Lord would increase my faith.

My faith in Him, my faith in all His works, and my faith in His Word, I've asked Him to grow the faith of those that I love, that they would grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, that their faith in Him would be even more steadfast, more robust. I think the way the Lord has answered that in my life is sometimes by bringing trials and bringing suffering with many tears and much anguish. And there are times, if I'm being completely honest, where I almost wished I had never prayed God increased my faith. I think when we're young Christians and we hear passages like Romans 5, 3 through 5, James 1, I think 2 through 4, considered all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials of many kinds and so on. When we're young in our faith we think, yeah, okay, sure, right.

But it's only when we're older. It's only when we've experienced suffering as a Christian that we really begin to understand the depth of those words. We begin only after suffering and through misery to understand Paul's words in Corinthians where he's talking about the strength and the power of God being made perfect in our weakness. It's only when we've suffered that we really do begin to identify with Christ and share in the fellowship of His sufferings, which Paul promises and tells us this is going to happen.

But I don't think we believe it. And then it happens and we wonder, why is this happening? And I think for too many of us we too often try to figure out the reason for the trials, you were saying, the reason for the suffering when the whole purpose of suffering is not to try to figure out the reason ultimately, but to come under them, to get on our knees and go to the Lord.

Too often today, and I have to say this in social media, I think for some people it's almost as if they use their trial to exploit them and gain more attention from them. And the purpose of them is to drive us to our knees and to drive us to repentance where necessary, to drive us to worship, to drive us to full and more and more complete dependence on the Lord. And as a pastor, one of the things that is so hard for me to see, but one of the things that I'm grateful to see is when older saints have to endure such misery and suffering in their lives, it's almost as if the Lord is reminding them even as wise, older, experienced, mature and godly men and women, it's almost as if the Lord is continuing to teach them that they must remain holy and completely dependent on Him. FERGUSON I find it so interesting that one of the areas I seem to get the most pushback on social media is when I tweet or write about suffering and the sovereignty of God and how I find the sovereignty of God in the midst of suffering a comfort. And so many want to push back on that idea and say that God does not ordain all things and particularly not suffering in the life of people or Christians. How would you counsel someone that finds the idea of God's sovereignty not a comfort, but they actually find it troublesome? GODFREY Well, I don't find it a comfort to think that I can be on I-4 and God isn't sovereign. I don't find it a comfort to undergo major surgery when I'm unconscious and have no power of will or reason and think that three quarters of the way through this surgery you reach a spot where God isn't in control anymore. So Romans 8.28 is as clear as day that all things work together for the good of those that love Him and they work together because God works them together.

They don't work together by an inherent power within themselves. So all things, good things, bad things, all things. Now if the question is a philosophical one and often it is, though it's not couched in those ways, why does God not prevent suffering?

And that's a tough question. And it's not just why does God not prevent evil, but why does God allow so much of it? It's not just that there's suffering in the world, but there's a lot of suffering in the world. And the only answer that satisfies me is Augustine's answer. In dealing with this, he comes up with the Felix Cooper argument, the happy fault argument, that a world in which grace is experienced is a better world than a world in which you would never experience grace.

So in the realms of theory, God could have created a race of automatons with no freedom of will. But I think the only satisfying answer to me is that a world in which Jesus comes, a world in which we see the immensity of God's love for us in the sacrifice of His Son is a better world than one in which there would be no incarnation and there would be no experience of grace. I have to believe that the totality of all that is is underneath the sovereignty of God. To guarantee that this story of redemption is going to be fulfilled and fulfilled in all of its detail.

It would only take one random atom to undo that entire program. So from a pastoral point of view, to be able to say to somebody who's passing through the most horrible experience that God is still there. There is a purpose here. You may not understand it.

It may be extremely difficult right now, but His hand is on the tiller. He is guiding this ship and He has you in the palms of His hands and He says to you, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I think sometimes we make the mistake when we are talking about a particular attribute of God that we fail to remember that God is also all of His other attributes at the same time. And so when we think about the sovereignty of God, we also have to remember the goodness of God, the love of God, and we also have to remember how we are to approach God and how we are to regard God. We understand that we are to fear the Lord, and I think that the evangelical church over the past at least few decades has attempted to water that language of fearing the Lord down to where it essentially just means honoring Him or reverencing Him. But when you look at the word, especially as it's used in Hebrews 12 and with coming to Him and worshiping Him with reverence and awe, and the various uses of the word fear in English, but in various other words in Greek and Hebrew, we really come to get a much bigger picture that in coming to the Lord it really is a trembling fear, but also through Christ resting in Him and His sovereignty and His character and who He is, but we also still fear the Lord. There is a sense in which I should fear God's disciplining hand which I know is for my good ultimately when I sin.

There should be a sense of fear in me that God sees, that God knows, and that God also loves me. Like a good parent, a good grandparent, a good friend, a good spouse that wants to care for his child or his grandchild. If they want to help them, if they love them, they're going to correct them. If they don't correct them, if they don't challenge them, if they don't speak words of truth to correct and help mold them, it means they don't love them. I mean, one of the worst forms of child abuse in our day is parents not spanking their kids.

It's not correcting their kids, not disciplining their kids. They think it's love, it's neglect, it's a lack of care, it's a lack of true love. And when our kids are little, that's why God tells us to spank them.

Because that's how they understand. And as they grow, we understand that we turn to other methods and communicating to them and helping them understand their sin and helping them to also see immediately the forgiveness of God in Christ and the repentance of their sin and God's full restoration of them and how we so need Jesus. And that's why discipline should always begin with love and end with love, and that's why Christ and the gospel should be right there in the middle, never in anger, never… never just rashly or harshly, always in love and even with tears and even reminding our children that we're sinners, we're sinful as they are. But suffering is similar to that, that we have to remember that the God who is sovereign is also the God of love, and the reason He does what He does is perfect. We don't always know all the reasons, but we know the ultimate reason. We know the ultimate reason is for our good in this life and in the next, and it's for His glory, and we have to rest in that. And again, that's about trusting Him and trusting what He's told us, and that's hard to do, especially when we're in the midst of suffering because in the midst of suffering, we feel like God's far away from us, that He's holding us at arm's length, that He hates us, He's not looking upon us when the fact of the matter is He's right next to us and right within us.

In the final moments that we have left, we don't want to be Job's friends. We want to be good friends to our Christian brothers and sisters. What advice or counsel would you give to Christians that want to helpfully come alongside their brothers and sisters in the faith that might be suffering right now? I think too often, and this comes to dealing with suffering, it comes to talking with our Christian brothers and sisters in the church, whether it's on social media or whether it's face to face, too often we come with a finger shaking in their faces rather than an arm around the shoulder.

The best things that Job's friends did was to say nothing for seven days. We never know what a day may bring. Life brings with it so much potential for suffering, and you may be walking through a valley right now. I hope today's conversation was an encouragement to you. Thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. The discussion we heard included Dr. Burke Parsons and Dr. Derek Thomas, and they pointed us to one remedy for suffering, the truths that we find in Scripture. God's Word addresses the ethical and spiritual difficulties we face in this life. It provides the principles we need in those trying circumstances. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to live it. And with that in mind, let me recommend Dr. R.C. Sproul's book, Everyone's a Theologian, An Introduction to Systematic Theology.

In it, R.C. surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith, and if you've never contacted us before, we'd be happy to send you a free copy. You can make your request online today when you go to If you are new to the ministry, let me also recommend our free app. You'll find hundreds of free resources there, from audio and video teaching to daily guided Bible studies.

Just search for Ligonier in your app store. Next Saturday, we'll feature another session from our 2022 Ligonier National Conference. The panel of our speakers will discuss what it means to stand firm in a morally crumbling society. I hope you'll join us for that next week, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-09 09:42:58 / 2023-01-09 09:52:53 / 10

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