April 8, 2021

Medicine that Makes us Whole

Lead Pastor

Lead Pastor

David Milroy


Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” — Matthew 16:24

What happens to your internal compass when the minor injury turns into an ongoing, chronically painful, no-end-in-sight ordeal? Or when you learn that your daughter has been lying and sneaking out every Friday night, doing Lord knows what? Or when you are called into your boss’s office out of the blue and there sits the HR manager, that messenger of doom wearing a tight-lipped false grin, and together they explain very carefully that you have to turn in your badge and collect your things and leave before noon? Or when you find out that the best friend you trusted completely has been gossiping about you behind your back?

Where do you turn when you suffer? Because we all suffer. In brief and annoying, or disorienting and soul-crushing ways, every one of us has and/or will suffer in a broken world where we are at different times both victim and perpetrator of sin. Here are two false views of understanding suffering, and one view that helps:

False view #1 – If we have enough faith we won’t suffer!

One strategy for dealing with the pains and struggles of life is to believe that God does not allow His children to be mired down in troubles and tribulations if they have enough belief in answered prayers and are if they are walking in His will. Given enough faith and effort in partnering with God, we can have the good life. We just need to believe it, receive it, put those negative thoughts behind us and live out our inheritance as heirs of Christ. As one woman put it: 

“Jesus became poor so that we might become rich. We are not meant to suffer. God has not destined us for anything but riches and health. Suffering, pain, and poverty are not the portion of a true believer because Jesus died to purchase those things for us.”

In other words, Jesus went through hell for us so that we don’t have to experience anything but heaven here and now if we trust him. Now, it is true that following Jesus is incredibly fulfilling and joyful. He tells us this (John 10:10). Yes, God blesses those who trust Him and obey His commands. If, for instance, we are wise with our money and we work hard and we save it (as Proverbs teaches), we will have more of it and we will not be enslaved to indebtedness. But it is very easy (and appealing!) to turn these truths into what our itching ears long to hear and what the serpent hisses to us: “you are a child of the King, and you are destined for a successful, healthy, prosperous life.” A half-truth becomes heresy. In the 4th century, a church leader named Iraneaus wrote a book called Against Heresies. He wrote:

“Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than the truth itself.”

Prosperity teaching, whether in its crass (“give $100 and you’ll get $1,000”) or its more acceptable (“be positive, keep those negative thoughts away, God intends for you to live the blessed life”) forms, is false. 

False view #2 – Meaningless Meaningless!

The polar opposite view of suffering in the Christian life is that we will not be able to make heads or tails of it, and we better just settle in and take our punishment. God is distant and unfeeling towards His creatures; otherwise wouldn’t He intervene and keep us from what we are going through? As with false view #1, this is perspective that can be discerned in Scripture if we take the parts and ignore the whole. You may recall the man who said “meaningless, meaningless” if you worshiped with us last summer. Solomon, the author of that gritty and honest book of Ecclesiastes, opens with the statement “Meaningless! Meaningless!” “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Also translated as “vanity,” the word points to the incongruities and bewilderments of life lived “under the sun.” The just and the unjust suffer, and eventually we all die anyway. This renders our brief time on earth frustrating and painful “meaningless.” 

The bewilderment of suffering under the sovereignty of our loving and omnipotent God, who could by definition put an end to our suffering if He willed to do so, is echoed throughout the Bible by people who were upright and who struggled with the reality and depths of their pain. 

Job rued the day he was born: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it.” — Job 3:3-4

Jeremiah flirted with accusing God of betrayal: “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” — Jeremiah 20:7

Jesus, echoing the the Psalmist’s words, laments the abandonment of God as he absorbs our sins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” — Psalm 22:1-2

Sometimes it is appropriate to feel the weight of suffering and cry out to God from the depths, and God’s most faithful people have felt something akin to despair, as the above examples highlight. But suffering is not the entire story, nor is it our end. We do well to fight the temptation to despair. Death and suffering are not the final answer.

There are other reasons for the trials and pains we endure in life, but if we are able to see His gracious hand in them, knowing that He is sovereign and that He allows these things for His good purposes, we will work through them in faith.

True view #3 – The way through and out of suffering 

Our staff is studying a book by John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life. It is a compact, readable introduction to his theology. One chapter deals with suffering the life of the Christian, and counter to either of the above false views, Calvin avers that suffering is a Swiss-Army-knife kind of tool in God’s hand that He wields for all kinds of purposes in our lives: 

  • To humble us when we would otherwise be far too confident in our own abilities and gifts (Psalm 30:6-7). This leads us to rely upon His grace and help instead of our own.
  • To grow in endurance (Romans 5:3-4). As we continue on in spite of suffering, we experience the truth that “He will be with us in times of suffering . . . and we rely upon His help and persevere unconquered to the end.” What an amazing gift we are given when we continue in the faith although we suffer! 
  • To confirm prevent our condemnation with the rest of the unbelieving world (1 Corinthians 11:32). Just as we know that discipline, rightly applied to our children, is done for their long-term good, to protect and instruct them, so God “reproves him whom he loves” (Proverbs 3:12). 

There are other reasons for the trials and pains we endure in life, but if we are able to see His gracious hand in them, knowing that He is sovereign and that He allows these things for His good purposes, we will work through them in faith.

That does not mean we won’t weep and mourn! To the contrary, Calvin writes: 

“When afflicted by illness, we will groan and toss and long for health. When pursued by poverty, we will feel the stings of sadness and anxiety. We will bear the weight of sorrow at dishonor, contempt and injustice. When loved ones die, we will naturally weep. But this will always be our conclusion: Nevertheless, the Lord has willed it. Therefore, let us follow His will.” 

If we trust that God purposes all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), we will know that “our kind Father comforts us [by] assuring us that He works for our salvation by that very cross with which He afflicts us.” 

A final thought for those who struggle with the weighty truth that God not only allows but actually “afflicts us” with the various crosses we must bear throughout our lives. If this seems cruel, consider the alternatives:

“If you find little comfort in the biblical truth that God is the final and decisive governor of the winds that destroy property and take life, be sure that you ponder whether more comfort comes from any alternative ideas. Is it more comforting to think that the powers of life and death are ultimately in the hands of one who hates us rather than loves us? Is it more comforting to think that there is no guide and ruler at all, neither for mercy nor misery, but that the events of nature are random—meaningless, without design or purpose . . . the biblical teaching is a rock of stability and hope—namely, that, in our worse calamities, “the purpose of the Lord” (James 5:11) is wise and good and merciful for all who trust him.” — John Piper, Providence

Be encouraged – your darkest, most difficult sufferings in life are being used by an immensely wise and loving Father to mold you into the child He wants you to be here, and to prepare you for eternal joy and victory there, in glory. Our Father gives us the medicine we need to make us whole.

Pastor David