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“Why Has This Happened to Me?” (Cancer Support Dinner) (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 30, 2024 3:00 am

“Why Has This Happened to Me?” (Cancer Support Dinner) (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 30, 2024 3:00 am

Prolonged suffering has a way of undermining confidence. At some point in our lives, most of us have been tempted to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Hear a message of encouragement when you study along with Alistair Begg on Truth For Life.



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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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Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

Suffering has a way of undermining our confidence, especially when it's prolonged. At some point in our lives, most of us have been tempted to ask, why is this happening to me? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg looks at Naomi's experience in the book of Ruth for a message of encouragement.

What I want to do is read part of the story of Ruth in a moment or two. But before I get to that, as we move around the world, it's not uncommon to hear just bystanders say, Is there anybody in charge around here? You know, whatever it might be—in business or in education or in the grocery store.

Is anyone in charge around here? And the feeling, the prevailing feeling, that somehow or another the world seems just to spin. And unless there is some place we can go, some answer we can find, then the journey through life is a perilous journey. And if we don't have a foundation for navigating that journey, then we're all in need of one.

And I think there is an openness on the part of men and women to consider the claims of anybody who can offer the suggestion that we're not living in a random universe. And of course, that is the testimony of the Christian. And if we've been involved in church for any length of time, we've learned at least a few verses, and we know that Romans 8.28 declares the fact that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes. In other words, that God who created the universe is providentially sustaining the universe and is working everything, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, according to the counsel of his will. The big word for that, of course, the theological word for that, is the word providence, which really finds its genesis in Genesis 22, where you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac. And Isaac says to Abraham, well, we seem to have everything here, but we don't have a lamb for the sacrifice. And the answer that Abraham gives to his son is, God will provide a lamb, that we can trust the providence of God. And that, of course, extends not just to the huge, big pieces of the movements of the world, but it actually extends, the Bible says, to the intricate details of our lives, and that God is immediately and consistently involved in the ebb and flow of all that comes our way.

Which, of course, is a relatively easy doctrine to handle, when the things that are coming our way seem to be very pleasant, seem to go in line with our hopes and with our dreams, seem to fulfill the longings of our hearts. And then suddenly, one day, that doesn't actually fit anymore. Suddenly, one day, there is one of those routine blood tests that turn out not to be routine. And it is on that day, as we have faced it, that each of us then have to determine whether we actually believe in this God, who is working even the details of our lives out according to his purposes. And it is an unusual thing if, in an event like that, we do not, at least at some point, ask the question, Why is this happening? Why is this happening? Not just why is anything happening, but why is this happening? And in the vast majority of cases, the answer to that question has got very little to do with the this. Because God is working in a variety of circumstances, of which the this may only be a very small part. Furthermore, that God is always working in a variety of lives, so that when we add to the Why is this happening, we add to me, Why is this happening to me? Again, the answer to that may actually have very little to do with the me and have a tremendous amount to do with the lives of other people.

Now, that's not simply the case in relationship to the concerns of physical illness—cancer in specific, as we're here this evening—but it is true also. Sue and I are dealing with a lady who's in jail at the moment, and when we first encountered this lady, her question was exactly that question. Why is this happening to me? Why would God allow this to happen to me? Two and a half years later, she now finds herself in jail. She has resolved that question by the grace of God. She has come to an understanding of the goodness of God, and she is now testifying to the impact that the grace of God is having on the relatives in her family who, when she first was sentenced, were asking the very same question. But you see, what God is doing in her mom's life and in her aunt's life is directly related to what has happened in her life. So God is at work in a variety of lives. He's at work in a variety of ways.

He's at work in a variety of circumstances. And, of course, the classic illustration of that, when you start your Bible, is the story of Joseph. You know that Joseph's dad doted on him.

He bought him a special coat. Joseph had various dreams in the evening, and he liked to get up at breakfast time and tell his brothers, especially the ones where they had to bow down before him. And as a result of that, he stripped naked and sold into slavery, with every reason to ask the question, Why is this happening to me? The enslavement on the part of his brothers was due to their own animosity.

The purchase that was made by the slave traders was due to their entrepreneurial skill. The context in which he found himself was directly related to the ebb and flow and movements of the various pieces involved in the puzzle. But when it finally comes to the end of the story, when you get to the end in chapter 45 and then on to 50, and he reveals himself to his brothers, he says the most unbelievable thing.

You will perhaps recall it. He says to them, Don't be distressed or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life. That God knew. Not interfering in any way, but sleeping into the eternal counsel of his will, a plan that would involve the famine-stricken family of Jacob in being restored.

What a strange and wonderful way to do that. Now you're saying to yourself, Well, I thought we're getting to the end of the talk, and you haven't even started it because you wanted to do Ruth. Well, you can just put your hand up at any point, and I will stop. That will be fine. It's okay.

I will be glad to do so, and it won't be the first time that people have been putting their hands up. But I decided I wanted to do Ruth. Don't you love stories? I mean, incidentally, when we say something is a story, this doesn't mean it's a fairy tale. It means it's an unfolding story. It's a great story. And arguably, the four chapters of Ruth are one of the finest short stories that exist in all of literature. And I want to read just chapter 1.

I'm going to read it in The Message once upon a time. It was back in the days when judges led Israel. There was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem and Judah left home to live in the country of Moab. He and his wife and his two sons. The man's name was Elimelech. His wife's name was Naomi. His sons were named Malon and Killiam. All Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah, they all went to the country of Moab and settled there. Elimelech died, and Naomi was left—she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives. The name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. They lived there in Moab for the next ten years.

But then the two brothers, Malon and Killiam, died. Now the woman was left without either her young men or her husband. One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home.

She'd heard that God had been pleased to visit his people and give them food. And so she started out from the place she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law with her, on the road back to the land of Judah. After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, "'Go back, go home, and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me.

May God give each of you a new home and a new husband.'" She kissed them, and they cried openly. They said, "'No, we're going on with you to your people.'"

But Naomi was firm. "'Go back, my dear daughters, why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters, on your way, please. I'm too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said there's still hope, and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown?

Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters, this is a bitter pill for me to swallow, more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.'"

Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye. But Ruth embraced her and held on. Naomi said, "'Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people, and God's go with her.'"

But Ruth said, "'Don't force me to leave you. Don't make me go home. Where you go, I go. And where you live, I'll live. Your people are my people. Your God is my God. Where you die, I'll die. And that's where I'll be buried.

So help me, God. Not even death itself is going to come between us.'" When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was soon buzzing. Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time? But she said, "'Don't call me Naomi. Call me bitter. The strong one has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn't.

The strong one ruined me.' And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest." Now, if you've never read Ruth, this is your homework assignment. And that is to—I'm not going to finish it for you, you'll be glad perhaps to know—but it will repay your study.

And I hope we'll fill in any almost inevitable blanks that are left in the comments that I have to make. What this does, in part, is reveal the fact of what has happened to Naomi, or what happens to Naomi, in her triple bereavement. She is bereaved three times over. And what we discover—and I don't like to finish the story for you if you don't know it—but in the slow unfolding of the providence of God, it leads to the conversion of Ruth, to Ruth's marriage to Boaz, to motherhood, to the coming of David, Israel's king, and to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of that, coming out of a circumstance where Naomi would have every reason to ask, Why has this happened to me? The first five verses just actually describe, if you like, a life that is falling apart. The events of life are caving in on her. Now, Bethlehem was the land of bread—that's what its name meant—but there was no bread, there was famine. Her husband, Elimelech, takes the initiative and decides, Well, then we'd be better going somewhere than starving here.

And so it's in that context that they leave. Bethlehem, the house of bread, not living up to its name. And what we're going to discover is that this lady was a lady of faith. And her faith is exemplified even in this trauma.

And Naomi, her name actually means lovely, or pleasant, or delightful. And so her name is actually challenged by the circumstances that she faces. The experiences—she's called Miss Lovely, Miss Delightful, Miss Pleasant—and the experiences into which she comes are ugly, painful, and depressing.

So the challenge is there. Every time she looks in the mirror, I'm Miss Pleasant, but why is life so horribly unpleasant? She's left with her two sons after she's left with her two sons after her husband dies, and then she's left without her two sons and without her husband.

Now, if you're like me, then you try and conjure these pictures up in your mind. You squeeze your eyes together, and you imagine her standing now at the doorway in her adopted homeland for the time being. She looks out of the door. She looks down the street.

There's no familiar face. The three men in her life that meant everything to her have been taken away, and she knows why. And she knows how.

Because God, in his providence, did this. This was not, like, seven-one to the devil, and God had taken a vacation. No, she understood exactly what was going on. It is important, I think, also to recognize that her faith—although it's pushed, tried, tested, stretched to the limits, the limits of, if you like, emotional endurance—it's still faith. It's not unbelief.

This is important. Faith is still faith when we trust God. It's not unbelief in her part.

She recognizes… If you read the story, as I'm sure you're now going to, you realize that she references the Lord all the time. The Lord has done this, she says. This is the Lord's doing. And it is not marvelous in my eyes. This is the Lord's doing, and it is difficult to handle.

It's straightforward. She doesn't doubt that Yahweh is still in control, despite the pain of her experience. Now, I don't know about you, but I think this is wonderfully helpful. I think that when I find people who are honest about things like this, it has a ring of reality to it that is both demanding and at the same time assuring. I'm not one for the triumphalistic statements. I'm not one for the, well, it doesn't really matter at all, because after all, well, fine, perhaps you live in a realm of spiritual geography that I have never experienced.

That's just not something that has an immediate appeal to me. But I do recognize when someone's heart cry is staggered by the incident, and yet at the same time is an expression of faith. I thought of this lady when I was working on this talk. Fiona Castle came here years and years ago. She spoke to ladies in the church.

Fiona Castle's husband was a well-known singer and entertainer in Britain. He died of cancer himself. And in the aftermath, she wrote a little book called Rainbows Through the Rain, which is actually a collation of different—or compilation—of various bits and pieces. And in one of them, one of the pieces, there is a poem by another cancer lady, Shirley Vickers. And her poem is called Black Hole, a prayer for those going through dark places.

Now, the reason I read this is because I want to suggest that Naomi, while her faith is faith—she's faithful in her faith—I think she might have been happy to add her amen to these sentiments. It goes like this. Oh God, I'm right back in that limbo world again. Can't feel you close to me, can't feel anything. It seemed as if things were fine walking in the light, then suddenly panic. It's all dark. I'm drowning.

Worries no more than there were before. And yet they're now so heavy, so unsolvable, so endless, sucking me down. And I'm listening to the enemy who is condemning me to death with his sly lies.

Doctors tell us that feeling low is just like any other illness brought on by stress, hormones, exhaustion, debility. Then why do I feel so guilty about it, so powerless to drag myself out, so unguarded? Where is my knowledge of you being there, right beside me, part of me, while my feelings scream that because I am like this I have failed you? Therefore I am less than nothing, useless rubbish.

Please give me the disciplined mind to refuse to entertain these trespassing thoughts, which have no right to be there, because I am your child. To wait quietly in faith until my receiving equipment is repaired and switched on again, and I could feel you filling me with your big heart, forgiving, empowering, and remobilizing me where you have been all the time." So, there we have it. Her faith, while still faith, fascinatingly, somehow or another, didn't quite cover the little bits and pieces of God's provision for her. What I mean by that is that her faith was blind, actually, to the fact that God was providentially at work in her life. In other words, she had faith enough to believe that God is sovereign, that he overrules all things, that he understands what he's doing with his people, that he will bring them back to the place of his purposes.

That's all well and good. But what about for Naomi? What about for her? She was very aware of the fact that God was able to provide, but what about a special provision for her? You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, with the message he originally delivered at a cancer support dinner.

We'll hear more tomorrow. As we heard today, God is providentially working out his purposes through a variety of circumstances and a variety of lives in a variety of ways. While you may not always understand God's purposes in your particular circumstance, we can be assured of his providential care.

We're currently recommending a book called Divine Providence that will help you better understand how God directs the events of life, whether they're happening on the world stage or happening in your backyard. Tomorrow is the last day that we're offering this book, so request your copy of Divine Providence when you make a donation today. You can give a one-time gift at truthforlife.org slash donate, or you can arrange to set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit truthforlife.org slash truth partner. If you'd prefer, you can call us.

Our number is 888-588-7884. Keep in mind your giving is what makes this daily program and all of our free online teaching possible. Here at Truth for Life, we're always searching for ways to help you become more established in your faith and to help you tell others about what you believe. In fact, we have a number of online resources that are available to access or share for free. For example, you can watch or listen to thousands of Alistair's messages, read new articles that are posted each week, sign up for a daily devotional email.

You can even download complete audio series and corresponding study guides without cost. You'll find all of this and more on the Truth for Life mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Do our struggles and complaints reveal a lack of faith in us? Tomorrow we'll learn more from Naomi's story. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-20 17:32:49 / 2024-02-20 17:41:04 / 8

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