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Trials and Suffering

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 7, 2022 12:01 am

Trials and Suffering

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 7, 2022 12:01 am

Where is God when we suffer? How can His people find hope when trials come? Today, Burk Parsons and Derek Thomas join Chris Larson to consider God's heart for His children in difficult times, providing pastoral counsel for sufferers and caregivers alike.

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Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind. We're praying that God would help us to become more holy. We're praying that God would help us to give Him more glory and that we would not be self-centered, that we would not seek glory, but that we would give it to Him. And He does that through suffering. If we're united to Christ, we will share in His sufferings. Hello and welcome to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. One of the most requested series that R.C. Sproul taught is called Surprised by Suffering. He gave it that title because typically the first reaction we have when we're faced with a devastating diagnosis, a debilitating injury, or the death of a loved one is surprise. One day we're healthy, comfortable, and happy. The next day we find ourselves ill or injured, struggling. We didn't see it coming. Tomorrow and through the remainder of this week we will feature Dr. Sproul's series, but we want to begin by listening to a recent webinar hosted by Ligonier on this topic.

Our president and CEO Chris Larson was joined by Dr. Burke Parsons and Dr. Derek Thomas. And the first question deals with the why. Why do we experience suffering? Well, the Bible is very clear that suffering is the consequence of sin, the fall in the Garden of Eden. Had there been no fall, there would have been no suffering.

And we look forward to a day when the world will be restored. Paul speaks in Romans 8 of creation, groaning and travailing in birth, waiting for the regeneration of all things. And in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no tears, there'll be no pain, there'll be no sorrow, there will be no suffering. So the general answer to that question is there is suffering in the world, and all of that is a consequence of Adamic sin. I think one of the things that we are often curious about is how there can be so much suffering when God is God, God is sovereign, and God is loving, and God is good. Why is there suffering at all? And why is there so much suffering? I was just talking with someone who has a son who has been very skeptical about the faith and about the Bible and about God and creation, and really grappling with this very question about suffering and the goodness of God. And one of the things we talked about is the question is really not why is there suffering, and why is there so much suffering?

But the bigger question is, because of everything that Derek has just said about the realities of sin, the realities of the fall, the realities of our enmity with God, that in our sin we are in opposition to God, we are really His enemies in our sin, dead in sin. The real question is, why isn't there more suffering? Why isn't there more evil? Why are we not just killing each other off from the face of the earth? Why isn't there more terrorism?

Why aren't there more murders? And that is because of the restraining mercy of God. And I think that the reality of suffering is clear and present to all of us, but I think at times it becomes very acute in our lives when the suffering seems to continue, when the suffering doesn't end quickly. And then we wonder, why am I suffering? Because most of us, we think that because we know the Lord and because we trust Him and because we are striving to follow Him and live lives as becoming the followers of Christ, that we don't deserve to suffer. And this question as to why so much suffering exists, I think, needs to be answered with the more fundamental question, why isn't there more suffering?

And C.S. Lewis is noted to have referred to as pain as God's megaphone that wakes up the world. Do you agree with that assessment? Yes, sometimes, certainly in God's mysterious providence, He employs allows, if you like, suffering to take place in order to get our attention. And we are, however, willful creatures, stubborn creatures, and sometimes we refuse to listen.

And certainly among the population of the world, there are a great many people who are not Christians, but they're suffering and in trial, but they still put their fingers in their ears and refuse to heed Him. You know, Chris, you're asking a question which philosophers and theologians have been discussing and arguing about from the very beginning of time as to the so-called problem of pain. And I do think that somewhere into the equation, we have to insert the existence of Satan and the existence of evil spiritual beings whose objective is to destroy everything that is good.

And although it's not, it's not it's not the answer. The answer to the problem of pain is not Satan. Why is there Satan in the first place? But in trying to address the issue of pain and suffering, we do have to take into consideration the malevolence of the evil one.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said you can make too much of the devil, but you can also make too little of him. And I think we do have to reckon that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world.

I think you're exactly right, Derek. I found that Christians tend to either make too little of the devil or too much of him and give him too much power, even thinking that Satan is omniscient and omnipotent and so on. I think the struggle for a lot of Christians that I've spoken with over the years, when they come to understand the biblical doctrine of God and His sovereignty and His sovereignty over all, His sovereignty and salvation, I think that question becomes even more acute, more significant, because that's when we begin to ask the question, well, now we know that Satan is powerful, but now we understand that God is sovereign and that somehow in God's providence and in His sovereignty, He permits Satan. It's not a bare permission, but He allows and permits Satan to do His work. And I think that is a very difficult question for people first coming to these doctrines of God and salvation and striving to understand the relationship between God and Satan and us.

I love what Spurgeon said. I think it was Spurgeon who said, you know, the devil is God's devil, that ultimately God is over him and in control of him. And that's very difficult for us to understand because we understand that there is mystery there, yet we also understand that Satan is not God and there's not some dualism between God and Satan.

They're not of equal power and of equal authority. We know that God is all powerful. Even in Job, Satan's coming to the Lord and the Lord granting him permission to do all that he did to Job and his family and in his life.

And so it presents, I think, for many Christians a real mysterious dilemma and what to do with that, because we're not quite sure always how to pray, recognizing that God is sovereign, recognizing that God is in control, yet also knowing that God is neither the author nor the approver of evil, that he permits, but he does not condone according to his righteous standard. Well, of course, you allude to Job and in that prologue, chapters one and two of the book of Job, we're introduced to a day when Satan has to give an account of himself. And one assumes, therefore, that Satan cannot lift a finger, he cannot do anything without the decree or the permission, and maybe that's not strong enough a word, but without the decree of God. And twice in those two opening chapters, Satan has to give an account and he is given freedom to act according to his will, but there are very definite boundaries. In the first instance, he can do whatever he likes to Job's family, his children and his wealth, but he cannot touch Job. And in the second chapter, he is given permission to touch Job, make him sick, but not kill him.

And that's mysterious. And I think as a theologian, I would have to say that it is to be understood in a compatibilist way that the idea of Satan's freedom to act and therefore his moral responsibility for what he does is compatible with God's decree and without God being the author of sin. Now, do I understand what I'm saying? Actually, I don't, I just know the right words that will remain I think within an orthodox understanding of the problem of pain and suffering. But there in Job's case, Job's sickness is a direct result of Satan's doing and understanding the role of Satan in suffering is very important, I think, for Christians. Derek, I really appreciate your talking about what we do with our trials and how we respond to them. I think this is really the heart of the matter for us as Christians.

I think that we are to ask of the Lord, search me and know me, see if there's any wicked way in me. Sometimes we play games with God and when it comes to our sin and suffering, and we try to get away with just enough that we don't incur his suffering and discipline in our lives because it hurts, and it's painful, and it's supposed to be. I think that there's a tendency among some Christians, especially on social media, when they suffer rather than going to the Lord and striving to learn from that suffering and to be patient in long suffering through that suffering, to determine through prayer and the Spirit of God within our hearts, what is God wanting to teach me through this suffering? I think too often, we take that suffering and we sort of exploit it.

We sort of try to get the immediate attention of everyone in our lives, even people we don't really know that well via social media, to feel sorry for us. And of course, that's not wrong, that's not inappropriate, it's not sinful, but I think we need to not simply exploit our trials. And I think another tendency that we have as Christians is to really try to sort of get through and on the other side of the trial as quickly as possible, and that's our tendency, of course, naturally. But one thing I've learned over the years through suffering is that sometimes the Lord doesn't want me to get through it quickly.

Sometimes that suffering needs to take in my life because of indwelling sin, because of stubbornness, whatever it might be, because of my just not getting it. But months and sometimes years of teaching me through that suffering, all that He needs to teach me and wants to teach me. I mean, as Christians, we are praying, aren't we? We're praying that God would grant us humility in life. We're praying that God would help us to become more like Christ. We're praying that God would help us to become more holy.

We're praying that God would help us to give Him more glory and that we would not be self-centered, that we would not seek glory, but that we would give it to Him. And He does that through suffering. If we're united to Christ, we will share in His sufferings. Christ promised it. The apostles told us that this would be the lot of our lives as Christians. And I think a lot of people, when they come to Christ, they think, well, now my suffering is going to be over. And sadly, so many preachers out there are telling people that nonsense. If you become a Christian, if you come to Christ, then your life's going to be filled with happiness and joy, and you're never going to suffer again.

That's just a satanic lie. It's only when we come to Christ that we really begin to experience the war, the war of the flesh and the spirit, the realities of pain and suffering, not only that others cause us, but even we begin to be more and more aware of the pain and suffering and hurt that we can cause others. And so when suffering comes, the goal should not be simply to try to get through it and out of it as quickly as possible, but to slow down and to pray and to get on our knees and to say, Lord, what are you showing me through this?

What are you wanting to teach me about myself that I'm not saying? What is your spirit wanting to convict me of? And it usually means that we will more and more die to self. And that's why we hate suffering because death hurts. Taking up our crosses hurts and dying to self, dying to the inward man hurts, becoming more humble hurts because it makes us disappear.

But it's good. And that suffering in the end is good because it makes us draw closer to our Lord as our closest companion. There would be some listening to this whose suffering is leading them in one sense to doubt God. What would you say to them?

They are in good company. Anyway, John the Baptist, who was a relative of Jesus, had known him for 30 years, had watched him grow as an infant and a teenager into adulthood, had baptized him, had witnessed the Holy Spirit coming down upon him, had heard the voice, this is my son. But in the final days, imprisoned as he was in that dungeon northeast of the Dead Sea somewhere, he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, are you the one or should we look for another? And he has a moment of doubt. And if John the Baptist, of all people, who is greater than John the Baptist, must none according to Jesus. So if John the Baptist can experience doubt, you're in good company. And you take those doubts to the Lord. And when Gresham Machen found himself studying liberal theology in Germany and experienced a great deal of doubt, he would read the gospel of Mark.

Of course, he would read it in Greek from beginning to end until he captured once again the reality of who Jesus is historically and spiritually. And that was always effective, he says, for him to go back and really ask the question, who is this Jesus of Nazareth? You know, Chris, we've talked about this together a great deal over the years, you and I, and something we've addressed at our national conferences at times, I know. But I think this is a really, really important subject that Christians would do very well to spend time studying and considering. And as Derek said, if you doubt, you're in good company. The disciples doubted even just before Jesus gave to them the Great Commission. Some of the greatest men and women have been used by God, the most faithful, faithfully used by God throughout the world as pastors and missionaries and ordinary moms and dads have doubted all sorts of things, doubted God's goodness. And here's what's interesting to me, that when suffering comes, sometimes that suffering comes in the form of God's discipline. And when we read Hebrews 12, and even from Proverbs 3, it teaches us that God's discipline is out of his love for us. And he only disciplines those whom he loves, every son that he receives. And it's painful, and it's supposed to be painful, but this discipline is a blessing from God, ultimately. It's not in and of itself a blessing that brings joy and peace, but through the discipline. And again, not all suffering is discipline.

And we need to be clear about that. But it does bring about that peace and that joy. And I think sometimes when that discipline comes, and we're striving to discern if this is the disciplining, loving chastisement of the Lord, sometimes our tendency is to run away from God, to push away from God and not to go to God in prayer, not to draw near to God in worship, knowing that he'll draw near to us, but to almost become at odds with God saying, God, why are you allowing this?

Why are you doing this to me? To become even angry, as we see often in the Psalms, from unidentified Psalmists in the Psalter to David, somebody's becoming upset with God. And while we have no right to become angry with God, we're presuming upon the grace of God to be angry with God. We need to silence our mouths, but we see this struggle. And what we need to do is recognize that God's discipline is painful for the moment, but it's good, and it's because he loves us.

I mean, most of us, if we look back upon our childhood, many of us, perhaps not all of us, but many of us would probably admit that we're grateful that our parents disciplined us, and now we know why they disciplined us, and we're grateful that they did because it showed us just how much they loved us. In closing, how would you encourage God's people to find hope and suffering with whatever suffering they may be going through? It may be just a passing inconvenience, or it could be something much more substantial and ultimately life-ending. Help us to just close with a gospel perspective on hope.

We need to look to Jesus with whom we are united spiritually. He knows all about suffering. He knows about bereavement. He knows about the loss of a friend. He knows about excruciating physical pain. He knows emotional pain in the garden of Gethsemane, weeping and perspiring great drops of blood falling to the ground.

What on earth is that? Except that he knows what real, real suffering is, and there isn't a trial. There isn't a suffering that we can't share with him, and know that we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like us we are, yet without sin. It's also the hope that suffering produces in us sanctification. It's the message of Romans 5, 3, and 4, that hope does not make us ashamed. So, one of the things that suffering does is it points to the real hope, and the real hope is not here in this world, but in the world to come where suffering will be no more. So, in one sense, the hope of suffering lies beyond this world, in union and communion with Christ, in a world of bliss and tranquility, first of all, in heaven, and ultimately in the new heavens and new earth. So, the hope that lies in suffering is a hope that is rooted and grounded in the gospel that brings us into union and communion with the Lord Jesus, who will never let us go. I think that hope is something that we often do not feel in our suffering. We don't feel that sense of hope and joy and peace that we so desperately want to have restored to our hearts. And when our suffering is severe, and again, for some of us, it takes all sorts of shapes and forms, and sometimes our suffering, as I said earlier, nobody else can see it. It's just something that's deep within. And I want to say something to those of us who really do suffer in that way, that we have to pray that God would give us hope. We have to pray that God would give us joy.

God would give us joy. It doesn't just come by osmosis. It doesn't just come by time. It doesn't come by doing various daily habits or consuming or not consuming certain things in our lives. We have to pray that the Spirit of God would restore to us the joy of our salvation, that the Spirit of God within would grant us joy.

It's not something that we can kind of work up. We can't muster it from within. It has to come from the Spirit of God. And see, even that is making us go to the Lord and draw near to the Lord. I think there is a tendency that some of us have, and I want to be very careful how I say this, but there is a tendency that some of us have to wallow in the mire of doubt and despair and hopelessness.

I think sometimes we can even think it's godly to dwell and to wallow in a feeling of despair and sadness. And what we have to do, as I've heard you say, Derek, over the years, we have to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to our own stubborn hearts. We have to be that megaphone of God's word and God's truth and that hope and proclaim it to ourselves and to remind ourselves that we are not hopeless. We are not without hope because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who's been given to us. And so, dear friends, who are in that place of suffering and regularly suffer with the inner turmoil and sadness and anxiety and the burdens of your heart and your sin and life, pray for God to give you hope and joy.

And what will happen, I believe, is that He will surprise you with that joy and that hope. When we do suffer, we can rely on God's word to give us comfort and perspective. Chris Larson, Burke Parsons, and Derek Thomas have helped us think through these difficult issues today here on Renewing Your Mind. We're glad you could be with us. And we're kicking off a full week of dealing with this problem of pain, of suffering in the Christian's life.

Beginning tomorrow, we'll feature R.C. Sproul's series, Surprised by Suffering. Dr. Sproul wrote a book by the same title and in it he argues that we should not be alarmed by suffering. God promises in His word that we can expect trials, suffering, and times of great personal anguish. But He also promises that He allows suffering for our good and for His glory.

As you think about this topic further, let me recommend Dr. Sproul's teaching series and his book on suffering as helpful guides. For a donation of any amount, we will send you the hardbound edition of the book along with a digital download of the series. Just ask for Surprised by Suffering when you contact us today with a donation of any amount.

You can reach us online at or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. I'm sure that many of you listening right now are dealing with circumstances that may have caught you by surprise. Perhaps a diagnosis you weren't expecting, the loss of a loved one, or you know someone who is struggling right now. There's an easy way to let them know about today's program.

Just look for the share button in the middle of the page and you can send them an email right away or you can post a link on Facebook or Twitter. The website again is Well, as I mentioned, tomorrow and the rest of this week, we will listen to messages from Dr. Sproul's series Surprised by Suffering. And here's a preview of what we'll hear tomorrow. If there is a God who is sovereign over all of life, over all of death and over all pain and over all disease and over all illness and over all sorrow, then what that means is that it is flat out impossible that any pain could ever be without purpose. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-07 07:01:42 / 2022-11-07 07:07:04 / 5

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