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Archive for the ‘suffering’ Category

Psalm 76:10
Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt

The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes.

source: Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David Commentary on Psalm 76:10

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It was the enraptured Rutherford who could shout in the midst of serious and painful trials, "Praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace."

The hammer is a useful tool, but the nail, if it had feeling and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission, to beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place. That is the nail’s view of the hammer, and it is accurate except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear. The carpenter decides whose head shall be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future it will yield to the hammer without complaint.

The file is more painful still, for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master as the metal also does. It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away, what shape the metal shall take, and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.

As for the furnace, it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes. All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own. When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then and not till then the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.

With all this known to him, how could Rutherford find it in his heart to praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace? The answer is simply that he loved the Master of the hammer, he adored the Workman who wielded the file, he worshiped the Lord who heated the furnace for the everlasting blessing of His children. He had felt the hammer till its rough beatings no longer hurt; he had endured the file till he had come actually to enjoy its bitings; he had walked with God in the furnace so long that it had become as his natural habitat. That does not overstate the facts. His letters reveal as much.

Such doctrine as this does not find much sympathy among Christians in these soft and carnal days. …

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

* Samuel Rutherford (1600? – 1661) was a Puritan Scottish Presbyterian theologian and author, and was was one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his Letters. The quote above comes from a letter to Robert Gordon of Knockbrex dated 1st January 1637 and titled ‘Benefit of Affliction’ .

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Broken Bone Hymns

In his psalm of repentance after his sin against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah, David writes this provocative little prayer, “Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” … “Broken bones” is a physical word picture for the pain of redemption.

It’s time for each of us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the broken-bone theology

… if you’ve ever prayed that God would be near you and would do what he has promised in and for you, then resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your moment of stress. It’s time for you and me to stop thinking that we are going through difficulty because Satan is winning or God is punishing us. If you are God’s child and you humbly recognize and admit that the battle with sin still rages in your heart, then tell yourself that those difficulties are the sure sign of his rescuing and redemptive love.

God hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t turned his back on you. He isn’t punishing you in anger. He surely isn’t withholding the grace that he has promised from you. No, you’re receiving grace, but it’s grace that is willing to break bones in order to capture and transform your heart. This grace is unrelenting. … This is loving, patient, perseverant, powerful grace.

In those moments when you are tempted to wonder if God has forgotten you, may you preach to yourself of this relentless, transforming grace. May you remind yourself that you are being loved with real love and showered with real grace. And as you limp to his throne once more to thank him for his unyielding grace, may the bones that he has lovingly broken sing a hymn of praise to this One who alone blesses you with his amazing grace.

Source: Paul Tripp, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/broken-bone-hymns

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John Flavel provides an example of how God’s providence might ordain suffering as a means of preserving his people from sin and temptation.

Basil was sorely grieved with an inveterate headache; he earnestly prayed it might be removed; God removed it. No sooner was he freed of this clog, but he felt the inordinate motions of lust, which made him pray for his headache again.

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Just a collection of some of my favourite quotes about God’s sovereignty over suffering and sin.

 

God allows in his wisdom what he can easily prevent by his power.

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/god-allows-in-his-wisdom-what-he-can-easily-prevent-by-his-power/

 

The Shepherd breaks the lamb’s leg and this is grace

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/the-shepherd-breaks-the-lambs-leg-and-this-is-grace/

 

Suffering, eggs and potatoes

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/suffering-eggs-and-potatoes/

 

Sovereignty of God over rebellion

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2007/08/25/sovereignty-of-god-over-rebellion/

 

Luther on grace alone

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/luther-on-grace-alone/

 

Spectacular Sins

https://andrewgroves.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/spectacular-sins/

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John Piper has written a book called "Spectacular Sins and their global purpose in the glory of Christ". Chapters include the fall of Satan, Adam’s disobedience, the tower of Babel, the sale of Joseph as a slave in Egypt, Israel’s asking for a king and Judas Iscariot.

The three quotes below aren’t the most important in the book but relate specifically to some of the things I am thinking about at the moment.

Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ. If you trust him with your life, you are in Christ. Never doubt that all the evil that befalls you – even if it takes your life – is God’s loving, purifying, saving, fatherly discipline. It is not an expression of his punishment in wrath. That wrath fell on Jesus Christ our substitute (Gal 3:13; Rom 8:3). Only mercy comes to us from God, not wrath, if we are his children through faith in Jesus. "The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Heb 12:6). (page 51)

When Satan aims to destroy Job and prove that God is not his treasure, he must get permission from God before he attacks Job’s possessions and his family with destruction, and before he attacks his body with sickness. In Job 1:12, God says to Satan, “Behold, all that [Job] has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.­ That is, “You have my permission to attack, but you will not go beyond the bounds that I set.­

In Job 2:6 God gives Satan permission to go so far and no farther: “The LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.­ And when the story is complete and the inspired writer is summarizing all that happened, he does not even give Satan so much as a mention. He sees only God’s overarching supreme hand in all that Satan did: “[Job’s brothers and sisters] showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him­ (Job 42:11). Satan’s causality in all Job’s suffering was not ultimate. That is why the writer can simply leave him out of account and say that the Lord was the final and decisive wisdom that ordered these things. Satan was not ultimate. God was.

Satan is the great tempter. He wants us to sin. Luke tells us that Satan was behind Peter’s denials. He tempted him to deny Jesus. But could he do that without God’s permission? Listen to what Jesus says to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32. It is very similar to the way Satan and God interact in Job: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to. . . sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.­

Satan could not do what he wished with Peter without God’s permission. And when he had it, just as with Job, God had set him a boundary: “You will not destroy Peter. You will only make him stumble tonight.”­ Which is why Jesus says, “When [not if!] you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”­ Jesus, not Satan, has the upper hand here. And Satan is allowed to go so far and no farther. (pages 46-48)

[Joseph’s brothers] are utterly oblivious to God’s invisible hand in their action. They do not know that in the effort to destroy this dreamer, they are fulfilling Joseph’s dreams. Oh, how often God works in this way! He takes the very sins of the destroyers and makes them the means of the destroyers’ deliverance. (page 78)

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This morning we were watching a children’s TV show about the five senses. In the context of touch they mentioned how our skin feels pleasure and also pain. Pain was introduced as a good thing because the sensation of pain prevents serious injury or even loss of life. (They illustrated by discussing what would happen if you didn’t know the hot water pouring on your hands was hot).

‘Coincidently’ last night when reading the Jesus Storybook Bible to the children we read of Naaman "who had leprosy , which is a nasty thing that stops you from feeling anything. Bits of you fall off without you noticing, like bashed fingers and squished toes."

So between last night and this morning I was providentially reminded once again that pain is not to be seen solely as a bad thing but rather something God uses to save our lives or express his love (as the writer of Hebrews says pain may be discipline and evidence that God loves us as sons and daughters).

This afternoon we watched Little House on the Prairie. Mary and Adam are blind and lost in the wilderness. A fire starts very close to where Mary is injured. Mary screams and her life in endangered. Tragedy seems a certainty. But it is the smoke from the fire that enables her father Charles to find her and save the day. What appears bad is not necessarily so in God’s wise, gracious and good providence.

Yesterday I was thinking about how I expect God to act in a certain way. Tonight we were again reading the Jesus Storybook Bible. It was the story of Ezra and Nehemiah and how as Ezra read from the law the people wept over their sin.

"We’ve blown it," they cried. "Now God will punish us!"
They thought they knew what God was going to do.
But they didn’t.

Last night at church the Bible talk was on how theology ought to move us to doxology. I hope this is where I am headed.

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This analogy is set in an ancient Middle Eastern context of shepherding and does not reflect contemporary shepherding practices. I cannot provide any evidence of this being an actual historical shepherding practice. However as an illustration of how a loving sovereign God may choose to ordain suffering into the lives of his people I think it is helpful. Perhaps it offers one reason why one may rejoice in suffering.

A sheep who will not follow the shepherd’s voice is in grave danger. Wandering will lead to death whether from predators, stumbling over a cliff or exposure to the elements.

A shepherd who is gracious might break a sheep’s leg to save the sheep’s life.

The shepherd will then bind up the broken leg, carry the sheep upon his shoulders and hand feed the sheep. In this way the sheep learns dependence and trust in the shepherd and learns to respond to his voice.

Some might regard the shepherd’s actions in bringing suffering into the sheep’s life as cruel. But the shepherd’s action in facts saves the sheep.

The reality is that the shepherd is good. The shepherd brings suffering into the sheep’s life in order to preserve the sheep’s life.

This is the same shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.

A supporting verse for this concept would be Isaiah 19:22

And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

cross references: Psa 51:8;Deu 32:39; Job 5:18; Hos 6:1-2; Heb 12:11

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When by God’s providence suffering enters into someone’s life, the divine purpose of that suffering may be compared to the effect of boiling eggs and potatoes in water – one may be hardened while the other is softened.

(source: Thanks for the illustration Dulcie 🙂

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