Whether or not we are suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina this week, author D.A. Carson points out that “The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough and we will suffer.” It’s not a question of “if” but merely of “when” we will suffer. Similarly, John Piper notes that: “We all will suffer; we all must suffer; and most American Christians are not prepared in mind or heart to believe or experience this.”
Just as the time to shore up the levies protecting the city of New Orleans was before the hurricane hit, so the ideal time for each of us to prepare for suffering is before its howling winds swirl around us.
So how do we prepare our minds and hearts to experience suffering? We must dig deep into God’s Word to shore up our spiritual foundations. And as an expression of His tender mercy, God has provided us with numerous helpful resources that expound His Word as it relates to suffering and applies these truths to our hearts. Here is our short list of the most excellent resources on this oft-neglected but desperately needed topic:
How Long O Lord: Reflections of Suffering and Evil
Besides my dad’s opinion that this is the best book on suffering available today, I’ll let a quote from this book by D.A. Carson serve as it’s endorsement “In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hang onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Rom. 8:32).”
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty
From a life of intense personal suffering as a parapalegic, Joni Eareckson Tada along with co-author Steve Estes take us to the foot of the cross to view our own sufferings in light of the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior.
The Journal of Biblical Counseling
From our good friends at “The Journal” come two articles: “Exalting Pain? Ignoring Pain? What do we do with Suffering?” by Edward T. Welch (Vol. 12, No. 3, Spring 1994) which you can order by calling 800-318-2186, and “Counseling with Suffering People” by John Piper (Vol. 21, No. 2, Winter 2003), available on their website.
Finally, my personal favorite…
Beside Still Waters
When I was in the hospital following complications from giving birth to Jack, my dad came and read me passages from this amazing book. I still read it often and try to give it to as many suffering people as I know. It’s a challenge to have to pick just one quote to share with you, but I want to close with this one. For although trials and suffering are inevitable, Charles Spurgeon has helped me to see that from a biblical perspective they are also a blessing, because—
“Trials greatly enlarge the soul. Thus I do not want, in my better mind, to escape great trials, since they involve great graces. If my strength shall be as my days (Deut. 33:25), then let my days be long and dark, for my strength will be mighty, God will be glorified, and I will be blessed. I earnestly urge every tested Christian to dwell on this truth, for it may be a great comfort. There is love, immortal and unchanging love, in heaven toward you, which will never grow cold. You will be helped. God will sooner cease to be than cease to be faithful. Be of good courage, for today He will strengthen your heart.”
Whether you are in the midst of suffering from Hurricane Katrina, or preparing to meet your own personal hurricane someday, may you be of good courage, and may God strengthen your heart!
On our bedroom wall hangs a framed poem written by Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672) entitled “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” I gave it to CJ on our 25th wedding anniversary. The first four lines in this poem are my favorite:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
This past week a friend sent me another poem written by the same author. Anne Bradstreet penned this when she and her family lost everything in a house fire. In light of the massive loss that so many in our country are facing at present I thought it might be helpful for all of us to view our earthly homes and possessions through the lense of this godly woman’s biblical perspective.
VERSES UPON THE BURNING OF OUR HOUSE, JULY 18th, 1666
Here follows some verses upon the burning of our house, July. 18th. 1666. Copied out of a loose Paper.
1 In silent night when rest I took,
2 For sorrow near I did not look,
3 I waken’d was with thund’ring noise
4 And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
5 That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
6 Let no man know is my Desire.
7 I starting up, the light did spy,
8 And to my God my heart did cry
9 To straighten me in my Distress
10 And not to leave me succourless.
11 Then coming out, behold a space
12 The flame consume my dwelling place.
13 And when I could no longer look,
14 I blest his grace that gave and took,
15 That laid my goods now in the dust.
16 Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
17 It was his own; it was not mine.
18 Far be it that I should repine,
19 He might of all justly bereft
20 But yet sufficient for us left.
21 When by the Ruins oft I past
22 My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
23 And here and there the places spy
24 Where oft I sate and long did lie.
25 Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest,
26 There lay that store I counted best,
27 My pleasant things in ashes lie
28 And them behold no more shall I.
29 Under the roof no guest shall sit,
30 Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
31 No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
32 Nor things recounted done of old.
33 No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
34 Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall be.
35 In silence ever shalt thou lie.
36 Adieu, Adieu, All’s Vanity.
37 Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide:
38 And did thy wealth on earth abide,
39 Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
40 The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
41 Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
42 That dunghill mists away may fly.
43 Thou hast a house on high erect
44 Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
45 With glory richly furnished
46 Stands permanent, though this be fled.
47 It’s purchased and paid for too
48 By him who hath enough to do.
49 A price so vast as is unknown,
50 Yet by his gift is made thine own.
51 There’s wealth enough; I need no more.
52 Farewell, my self; farewell, my store.
53 The world no longer let me love;
54 My hope and Treasure lies above.
As we promised earlier, you can now make an online donation to support hurricane relief at the Sovereign Grace Ministries website.
This has been a tragic and sobering week in New Orleans and the entire Gulf-Coast region. However, many articles have been written to help us “make sense of it all” from a biblical perspective. Here are two of the most helpful.
Justin Taylor links to what he considers “the best commentary yet to appear on Katrina” by Samuel Storms.
Al Mohler links to a moving article by Dr. Russell Moore whose town was destroyed by the hurricane.
Sovereign Grace Ministries is in the process of setting up a disaster relief fund where you can contribute to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Once a link is set up (later this afternoon) we will post that information.
Most importantly, let’s continue to keep all those suffering the effects of Hurricane Katrina in our prayers.
On July 9, our dear friends Wayne and Margaret Grudem experienced a severe tragedy when their daughter-in-law Rachael—married to their son, Alexander—was killed instantly in a car crash.
A close friend of C.J.‘s, Wayne is the author of Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine and a co-founder and fellow-board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
C.J. attended the funeral, where he witnessed not only the deep grief and pain of the Grudem and Freeman families, but also their resolute trust in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness.
As our friend Justin Taylor posted yesterday, the funeral service was a deeply moving example of steadfast faith in God in the midst of extreme trial. Dr. Grudem has graciously permitted us to link to the audio of the funeral where you can hear both Dr. Grudem’s eulogy and the funeral sermon preached by Dr. John Piper.
We continue to grieve with and pray for Alexander, Wayne and Margaret, as well as all of Rachael’s family and friends, and we hope you will join us in praying for them as well.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” 1 Thess. 4:13
Whether we are grappling with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina this morning, or weighed down by a trial of any kind, we can be tempted to ask: “Why does a good God allow evil?” Having a biblical answer to this question will make all the difference in how we respond to trial and suffering. Once again, Dr. Al Mohler provides a biblical perspective on “The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil.” The following is an excerpt from this outstanding article. You can read it in it’s entirety here.
“We dare not speak on God’s behalf to explain why He allowed these particular acts of evil to happen at this time to these persons and in this manner. Yet, at the same time, we dare not be silent when we should testify to the God of righteousness and love and justice who rules over all in omnipotence. Humility requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches, and go no further. There is much we do not understand. As Charles Spurgeon explained, when we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.”
As I write, the Gulf Coast is suffering the brutal effects of Hurricane Katrina. Having weathered a hurricane as a child living in Central Florida, I can relate—in a small way—to what the people of these states are going through. Friends of ours from New Orleans have had to evacuate, taking with them only their photo albums and official documents. They don’t yet know what they will return to once the storm passes.
One month ago, when Hurricane Dennis made landfall, Dr. Al Mohler wrote a piece on his blog that helped me to pray biblically about this natural disaster. I am linking to it here so that we all can be freshly encouraged to pray for this situation in such a way that brings glory to God.
With each month that goes by, the question mark gets bigger: will Steve and I be able to have more children?
After the birth of our first son, Jack, in February of 2003, I experienced some serious, life-threatening complications that required two surgeries and a dump-truck load of antibiotics. Thanks to God’s common grace through modern medicine I am 100% healthy today, and able to fully enjoy my adorable little son.
Except…there is a chance I may not be able to conceive again. The antibiotics and surgeries, the doctor told me, may have damaged my reproductive system. That is not for certain. No tests have been run yet. But the more time passes, the more I wonder.
I wonder what will happen if I can’t have any more children: What will I feel? Will it be really hard? Will I always ache to carry another child? I desperately want to be a mother again, but most of all—what will it be like for Steve? He loves kids, and the only reason we may not be able to have more children is because of me. I know Steve has forbidden me to even think these thoughts, however—if he had married someone else, he could have had as many children as he liked. But he’s married to me. And because of me, he may never be a father again.
My sinful, self-pitying thoughts (which I excused as being on Steve’s behalf) were abruptly interrupted by two words: How arrogant! Who did I think I was? Was I God that I could create (or not create) life? God’s question to Job certainly applied to me: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge….shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it” (Job 38:2, 40:2).
God, and God alone, is the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15). My life is in His hands and He has graciously allowed me to live another day. The creation of a new life is in His hands as well. He has already determined the number of children Steve and I will have. And if we don’t conceive another child, it won’t be “because of me.” It will be because the sovereign, wise, loving Creator of the universe has decided that is best—for my good, for Steve’s good, and for God’s glory.
What comfort and freedom conviction brings! By repenting of my arrogant aspirations to be life-creator I now possess a peace that flows from simply resting in the Author of Life. And I can say with the psalmist—whether or not I have another child: “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).
Several years ago, in between the births of my sons Andrew and Liam I suffered two miscarriages in a row. When I was walking through the disappointment of my first miscarriage, my friend Nadia gave me the book Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss.
In this book, Elizabeth’s fictional character Katy begins as a selfish teenager, and Elizabeth brings us into her thoughts, struggles, and sin. Then she takes us on the journey of Katy’s life as she embraces her call as a wife and mother. We are able to see up close the Lord’s work in her life as she walks through much trial and suffering.
As I found my soul tempted towards discouragement and unbelief, Prentiss’ (loosely autobiographical) character’s suffering put mine in perspective. She lost one of her children and experienced significant physical challenges that confined her to her room for lengthy seasons. Yet as she passed through this shadow of death she took hold of Scripture and began to embrace a God-centered perspective on her trials.
As Katy recounts:
“During my long illness and confinement to my room, the Bible has been almost a new book to me, and I see that God has always dealt with His children as He deals with them now, and that no new thing has befallen me. All these weary days so full of feebleness, these nights so full of unrest, have had their appointed mission to my soul. And perhaps I have had no discipline so salutary as this forced inaction and uselessness, at a time when youth and natural energy continually cried our for room and work.”
Whatever my days and nights hold, my confidence is this: they always have their appointed mission to my soul. Whether it’s the significant trial of a miscarriage or the simple daily temptations faced in just patiently caring for my two-year-old, I can be sure that in every day the Lord has an appointed mission for my soul.
Ultimately my hope and joy rest not in my circumstances. Whether my days are happy or difficult, whether I experience loss or gain. God’s word points me to the joy that is unshakeable, the joy of knowing peace with Him, through Jesus Christ. Prentiss’ character, Katy, found in God the same unshakeable joy. And these are her words on a particularly happy day:
“This is the 10th anniversary of our wedding day and it has been a delightful one. If I were called upon to declare what has been the chief element of my happiness I would say it was not Ernest’s love to me or mine to him or that I am once more the mother of three children or that my own dear mother still lives, though I revel in each and all of these. But underneath them all, deeper, stronger than all, lies a peace with God that I can compare to no other joy, which I guard as I would guard hidden treasure, and which must abide even if all other things pass away.”
I want to be faithful to guard that hidden treasure of peace with God, whether in joy and prosperity, or in suffering.
Quotes taken from Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1995), 200 & 215.