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Suffering in the Believer’s Life (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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January 22, 2024 3:00 am

Suffering in the Believer’s Life (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 22, 2024 3:00 am

At some point in our lives, each of us has suffered—and can be certain we’ll face more trials. So how do we continue to trust God when everything seems to be falling apart? Learn how to deal with suffering biblically, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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All of us have at one point or another in our lives experienced suffering, and as long as we're alive we can be certain more trials are ahead.

So how do we continue to trust God when everything seems to be falling apart? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg shares some biblical thoughts about suffering. I'm going to endeavor to address a subject with you that has been lying on my heart and which I can only pay a kind of fifty thousand feet treatment this evening. And I invite you to turn for a moment to the book of Lamentations, and that will give you an indication of what is on my mind. That will take some of you some time just to find Lamentations. By and large, if people would come around Parkside Church, they would get the impression that here is a group of people who are living fairly well on the level of social life and material provision, and probably know little to nothing of anything that has to do with the problem of suffering or the peculiar demands of pain.

Such an observation would, of course, be entirely superficial and completely wrong. Because as we have lived together over these past years, despite all of the many benefits that we have enjoyed, and there have been many benefits, we have also known and continue to know the peculiar challenges that life brings. And we might say that we have known this to a peculiar degree in relationship to certain areas of both illness and the loss of loved ones. And through it all, we have never really addressed this whole question of suffering in the life of a believer. And I want to take just a cursory glance at it this evening, because as I say, it has been something that I've been mulling over in my mind for some time, and we will need to get to and give it some faithful scrutiny as time allows. But I want simply to draw our attention to it this evening, and it will be immediately clear that we could stop at various points and can't, but we won't.

I want to give you just a broad sketch of things. And I want to read further verses that identify the predicament of God's people in Lamentations chapter 2 and verse 20. Luke, O LORD, and consider, whom have you ever treated like this?

Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the LORD? Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets. My young men and maidens have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of your anger, you have slaughtered them without pity. As you summoned to a feast day, so you summoned against me, terrors on every side.

In the day of the LORD's anger, no one escaped or survived. Those I cared for and reared, my enemy has destroyed. Now, that is simply to dip into this book of Lamentations. The key verse may well be the twelfth verse of chapter 1.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see, is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger? For those of you who are not familiar with the Old Testament and have not been around Christian circles for any length of time and have never heard anyone preach on that, I ask you, look at it carefully and see if you think it is descriptive of someone that is as yet to come in the Old Testament revelation. And of course, your answer will be, yes, it sounds like Jesus speaking from the cross.

And of course, that is exactly what it is. It is pointing forward—and indeed, the book of Lamentations is largely pointing forward to God's identification with his people in the suffering and sin of life and his identification supremely in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus. It's not my purpose to expound Lamentations this evening, but when you read Lamentations, you understand why someone has said of it that it is the Easter Eve of the human soul. For in it, the soul weighed down by God's judgments is nevertheless confident of his unconquerable mercy.

So that you have what is juxtaposed in the poetry of the hymn writer, with mercy and with judgment, my web of time he wove. And the book of Lamentations sounds essentially two keynotes. And the one is doom, and the other, interestingly, is hope. But it is not all hope minus doom, and it is not mercifully all doom minus hope.

It is both doom and hope. And to that extent, it gives a very honest portrayal of the pilgrimage of life. The context in which we consider the matter of suffering is one in which we have been exposed over a significant period of time now, in American Christianity primarily, to a form of triumphalism which is just unbiblical. We are continually being reminded by people that we can have it all now, that if we are able to name it and claim it, then we can banish all of the demons of darkness and suffering and disappointment and so on. And if you take a steady inrush of that to your mind, you will find that it will turn you crazy eventually or turn you into a liar, one of the two.

But you will not be able to take that theology and the experience of life and marry it in any way that gives you anything that is sensible. As a result of that, some of us try simply to deal with suffering by pretending that it doesn't exist—which is, of course, the position of the Christian scientist. The little doggrel I always quote at this point, so I hate to disappoint you, there once was a Christian scientist called Deal who said that pain isn't real. But if you sit on a pin and the point enters in, you'll dislike what you fancy you feel. And the approach to suffering, which says, you know, if you ignore it, it will go away, isn't true.

It isn't true. The idea of giving a balloon to a child who has jammed her fingers in the door severely is the kind of distraction tactic which really pays scant attention to the problem of the injury and makes little of the child's real pain by the distraction of the balloon that is offered. We may endeavor to talk it out of existence. We may be tempted to search for an instant cure. But the fact of the matter is, our human experience confirms the biblical record that suffering is a reality that, to a certain degree, all of us are caused to face. Now, if we're going to tackle the issue of suffering, there are certain pitfalls that we need to avoid.

One is to engage in philosophical ramblings that are devoid of any theological foundations whatsoever—basically, a lot of high-sounding nonsense which stimulates the mind but is seldom able to settle the heart. That is not to say we don't want to think deeply about these things, nor is it to say that there is never a place for us to test and stretch one another's thinking, but the idea of just philosophically letting stuff jangle in our heads is really no way to tackle the subject at all. We do well constantly to remind ourselves of what we discover in the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 29, 29, a verse that not everybody will have discovered. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. In other words, God has secrets, and there are issues in life that he has determined not to make plain.

There are unanswered questions. And therefore, to take ourselves into the realm of philosophical nightmare will be no help whatsoever. We also need to avoid the pitfall of adopting a simplistic approach to the problem of pain which hurts rather than heals—the kind of things that Job's friends did when they came out very quickly with all their explanations for Job's predicament. One of them said this, one of them said another thing, one of them accused him of sin, and so on, and they were all flatly a royal pain in the neck. And it wasn't that they were trying to be unkind, but in their endeavor to provide answers to questions that they didn't fully understand, they really were just blowing in the wind. So we need to avoid philosophical ramblings that don't have any theological foundation to them.

We need to avoid taking a simplistic approach to problems that are very deep. And also, we need to ensure that we do not forget the eloquence of empathetic silence. Probably the most helpful thing that Job's friends did is recorded in chapter 2 and verse 13, where it says that they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.

And frankly, they did him more good sitting in total silence with him than they did when they started to talk. Because his great need was for companionship and comfort that was expressed in their solidarity. Now, if these pitfalls are there to be avoided, what is the perspective that we need to adopt in relationship to the issue of suffering?

Let me say just a number of things briefly. First of all, suffering does exist, and it does hurt. Suffering does exist, and it is eminently painful. None of us can have lived life for any length of time without understanding that. There are pastoral incidents and personal circumstances through which each of us are gone that have marked us indelibly for our lives.

We will never be the same again as a result of having been exposed to that circumstance. And of course, that is exactly what Jesus understood was his situation when he says to the disciples, jockeying for position in the kingdom to come, I have a baptism to undergo, and do you really think that you can undergo it with me? And he was referring to the fact of what Peter was then to articulate when, by the time he writes to the scattered Christians of his day, he says in 1 Peter chapter 1 and verse 6, he says, You need to realize that in living the Christian life, we're going to suffer trials, and they will be all kinds of trials. That's the second thing to notice, that while suffering does exist and it does hurt, suffering comes in a variety of ways. 1 Peter 1 verse 6 says, all kinds of trials.

Poikilos pyrasmos. Multi-faceted trials. Somebody has just come up with this jigsaw. I think I saw it in Britain this week.

I don't know if you saw it covered in the press. But the problem is, there's absolutely no plan to it at all. It's geometric. It's all green.

There is no variation whatsoever. And all you have are just the jagged edges of hundreds and hundreds of pieces. And that is the very notion that is conveyed in the way in which suffering and pain and evil and discomfort flows into our lives. It comes in manifold ways, and often in ways that impinge upon us in the realm of our psyche. And that's why it's very, very important that we beware of saying to one another, when we experience vicariously somebody else's suffering, that we beware of saying, Oh, I understand exactly how you're feeling. Do you know what a sore trial it is when somebody tells you they understand exactly how you're feeling?

What they're trying to be is very encouraging. What they're being is less than helpful, because nobody understands exactly how another person is feeling. Your wife doesn't if you're a husband. Your brother doesn't if you're a sister. Only Christ does. And the multifaceted way in which suffering washes over the child of God has all kinds of ways of impacting you. The third thing we need to say is that suffering is inevitably limited in its timeframe.

It is inevitably limited in its timeframe. Again, 1 Peter chapter 1, he says, you're going to suffer all kinds of trials. You will go through them for a little while, even if for a little while, he says, you have to endure suffering of all kinds. I remember on one occasion having surgery, and the doctor said to me—it was local surgery—he said, If you can endure the next forty seconds, everything will be fine after that. Some people's complete earthly pilgrimage is suffering.

Isn't it? Oh, not that there aren't bright rays of sunshine that fall upon their days, but there are people within the framework of our church family here who have been entrusted with a pilgrimage in life that either has brought to them an illness that will not go away or has given to them someone in their care who suffers from an illness that will not go away. That's why the Bible says so much about heaven, to remind us that our lives are relatively short.

Indeed, they're infinitesimally brief in relationship to the issue of eternity. This, says Paul, is the reason why we never collapse, though outwardly we're wasting away, inwardly we're being renewed, and it is the prospect of what's coming that allows him to keep going. Fourthly, in the pain of suffering, there is the presence of God—not exclusively, but especially. And when you read the Bible, you find that the groaning of God's people is entered into by God himself. For example, in Exodus chapter 2, it says that God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant. It says in Isaiah 63 that in all of their distress, he too was distressed. Have you ever thought about the amazing statement in the voice that comes from heaven in Acts chapter 9, in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus?

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? This is the ascended Christ speaking. So the fact that Christ is risen on high, is victorious over sin and death, means not that he is somehow removed from the sufferings of his people. So in all of the threatenings and all of the slaughter and all of the beatings and all of the imprisonments, Christ was supremely involved in the experience of his pain through which his people were going.

We should not, says John Stott in his wonderful book On the Cross of Christ, we should not envisage God on a deck chair but on a cross. And the fifth thing we want to say is this, that suffering in and of itself does not lead a person into a deeper relationship with God. Suffering in and of itself does not lead a person into a deeper relationship with God.

If you think about this, you know it to be true. In your own life and in the lives of friends and family, people who have experienced great heartache, there is often about such individuals either a brittleness that is born of a resentful and rebellious spirit, or there is actually a gentleness that is born out of a heart of humility. And those of you who have recently gone through great pain and great suffering and great loss know that to be the challenge sixty seconds a minute. For everything in you wants to cry out and rebel and distrust and mistrust.

And yet, down that road is only further pain and further disappointment and a horrible attitude, and it is in childlike trust that we're able to make progress. Now, the answer to it in a phrase lies in our preparedness to bow under God's sovereign purposes. To bow under God's sovereign purposes. At the moment, in contemporary theological circles, at the level of high academic rationale, there is a whole resurgence that is about to come down into the body of Christ, both in America and in Great Britain, that is going to argue again feverishly against what I'm suggesting to you is the biblical response. And in a number of very pivotal works, which are hard to read, there are scholars on the fringes of evangelicalism seeking somehow or another to preserve God by arguing for an ancient form of dualism which says that certain experiences through which God's people go are not traceable to the sovereign hand of God but are actually significantly and supremely the work of the evil one, and that there is a great dualistic battle in the heavens. Some of the battles are won by the devil, and some are won by God. It's one thing for it to be rattling around in the realm of academic theology. It is another thing for it to hit the pews and the hearts of God's people. Is it possible to say anything with biblical certainty concerning the purposes of God in the experience of suffering? Yes, I think it is, and I'm going to tell you what these things are, and I'm not going to count on a single one of them, and I think I have probably ten of them.

I'm going to mention them, and we're through. What can we say with biblical certainty concerning the purposes of God in the experience of suffering? How would God use suffering in the lives of his children? Number one, to develop perseverance. To develop perseverance. That's what James says in James 1.3, Count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. When I tried unsuccessfully to baptize one of those gentlemen this morning, I had the thought running through my mind at some point in it—not a very spiritual thought—but I remembered the phrase.

It came across my screen, saying, You too could have a body like mine. But the fact of the matter is that when you see somebody whose body physically is structured in a certain way, it all has to do with pain. It all has to do with resistance. It all has to do with perseverance.

It all has to do with increasing the weight or increasing the repetitions or increasing everything that makes these guys make these dreadful, guttural noises that I have only heard but never made. In the same way—which is apparent to all—but in the same way—you don't need to state the obvious alright—in the same way, none of us will become all that God intends for us to be if we choose always to run into the sunshine. Sunshine always, only desert. You're listening to Alistair Begg with a message he's titled, Suffering in the Believer's Life. We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. Today's study may have resonated with you, and if you'd like to hear it again—or maybe it brought to mind a friend who would benefit from hearing this message—all of Alistair's teaching is available free to download or to share with others at truthforlife.org. All of this is made possible because listeners like you pray for this ministry and give to cover the cost of distributing Alistair's messages. Every time you donate to Truth for Life, you're helping deliver God's Word to someone else.

And today, when you make a donation, we want to encourage you to request a book called Divine Providence. This is a collection of sermons that Puritan pastor Stephen Charnick originally preached from his pulpit. Although Charnick preached hundreds of years ago, his writings methodically unpack the timeless topic of God's providence. He addresses questions like, Is God overseeing the intricate events of our world? Why do wicked people thrive while good people suffer? How does God use sin and suffering for the good of his people? This new edition of Divine Providence contains updated language that's more readable than the original text.

There are also helpful questions added at the end of each chapter for you to consider on your own or discuss with a study group. Ask for your copy of the book Divine Providence today when you give a gift to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life. You can give through the mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. If you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to Truth for Life at P.O.

Box 398000 Cleveland, Ohio 44139. By the way, if you request a copy of Divine Providence with your donation and you'd like to purchase additional copies for your church or to share with others, you'll find them and other great books in our online store. They're available for purchase at our cost while supplies last. Visit truthforlife.org slash store. Thanks for listening today. In the midst of painful situations, it's not uncommon for people to have questions. Tomorrow we'll hear 10 reasons the Bible gives us for why a good God would allow his people to suffer. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-22 05:16:03 / 2024-01-22 05:24:28 / 8

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