Easter, Suffering

Christ- the Suffering Servant

Originally published April 14, 2017

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

What a beautiful passage describing Christ’s suffering for us. Usually, when we think about suffering, we think about suffering we’ve personally experienced, things loved ones have been through, newsworthy events from around the globe, and natural disasters. And, as normal human beings in a broken, sinful world, that’s what we tend to do- we think of people, topics, and circumstances in light of our experiences with them or how they affect us. But as Christians, it’s imperative that, when we think of suffering, we look first to Christ, the Suffering Servant, and see all other suffering in light of His suffering.

Certainly, Isaiah 53 doesn’t cover every aspect or incident of Christ’s suffering, but let’s take a look at a few of these verses that prophesy – over 700 years before He was ever born – about the suffering of Christ.

Christ suffered physically
Most have read the Bible’s account of the crucifixion. But in the same way a verbal description of abortion doesn’t really capture the horror of the act the way a video can, our English words used in Isaiah 53 can’t adequately express the extreme physical suffering Christ endured on the cross. The cross was such an agonizing experience we had to invent a new word for that kind of suffering: excruciating. Ex– out of, cruciare– the crucifixion. Suffering drawn out of the cross.

So, how did Christ suffer physically?

Verse 5 says He was pierced, crushed, chastised, and wounded. Let’s take a closer look at those words:

Pierced– The Hebrew word means: “to wound (fatally), bore through” We see this with the crown of thorns that “bore through” Jesus’ head and the nails that pierced His hands and feet.

Crushed– The Hebrew means: “to be broken, shattered, beat to pieces” Interestingly, it can also mean “contrite”- He was contrite for our iniquities.

Chastisement– The Hebrew means: “discipline” as you would discipline a naughty child

Wounds/stripes– The Hebrew means: “a welt, blueness, bruise, hurt”

The flogging. The thorns. The pummeling He took from the soldiers. And carrying the cross to Calvary after all of that. Nails through His wrists, nails through His feet, the agony of trying to breathe, and, finally, the spear through His side. Jesus’ physical body took some of the worst abuse that’s ever been doled out by professional torturers.

Christ suffered emotionally
Jesus was a human being, just like you and me. That means he had feelings and emotions just like you and I do, and people and circumstances hurt Him just like they hurt us.

He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus had loved ones die and friends betray Him and turn their backs on Him. He wasn’t immune to the hurts of life.

We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Stricken, smitten, afflicted- those aren’t words we use very often. What do they mean? Stricken is to reach out and touch someone. It’s the same idea as God striking someone down or striking someone with leprosy. Smitten by God– same idea, but with more of a judgment or punishment angle: “smite, chastise, send judgment upon, punish, destroy.” To be afflicted is to be “oppressed, humiliated, be bowed down.”

This phrase in verse 4 carries the idea that people thought Jesus had done something(s) that so displeased God that that God’s punitive hand of judgment was upon His life. Of course, that wasn’t true. Yet, there were people thought of Him that way and treated Him that way- at the cross, certainly, but also, to some extent, during His life.

And yes, that grieved Him as the God who loved and wanted to save these people, but, on the human side, well, we all know how it feels to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Christ felt those slings and arrows of the heart.

Christ suffered spiritually
When I say Christ “suffered spiritually” I want to be clear that I do not mean anything ever happened to Christ that marred His sinless perfection or in any way diminished His deity. What I mean is that He suffered due to fallen man’s sinfulness regarding theological or spiritual issues. For example:

He was despised and rejected by men…he was despised, and we esteemed him not. We see this constantly in the gospels. The Pharisees were always trying to trick Jesus and trap Him with difficult questions. They repeatedly accused Him of “working” on the Sabbath by healing people, picking grain and eating it, and so on. They plotted against Him. They tried to stone Him. Even at the end, when He was on the cross, Scripture says “they hurled insults at Him.”

And why? These aren’t just playground bullies picking on a random kid for no reason. They had a reason. And those insults the chief priests and scribes and elders hurled at Jesus in Matthew 27:42-43 sum up that reason pretty neatly:

He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Jesus was God. He was their Messiah. Yet these men didn’t want to humble themselves and admit it and bow the knee to Him. They looked Jesus in the eye – the God who loved them, created them, and breathed the breath of life into them – and said: We will not have this King reign over us! They despised and rejected the core of who Jesus was: Savior, King, Son of God.

But Jesus suffered in other spiritual ways, too…

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
[He was] stricken for the transgression of my people
His soul makes an offering for guilt
He shall bear their iniquities
He bore the sin of many

Christ carried our sin. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree… (1 Peter 2:24). There’s no way we could begin to fathom what it was like for Christ to carry every single sin of billions of people in His body. But He didn’t just have the weight of that sin on His shoulders, He also propitiated God’s wrath toward every single one of those sins. God poured out the cup of His wrath for our sin and Jesus drank every last drop of it.

Jesus suffered tremendously. How did He respond to all that suffering?

Christ’s Response to Suffering
Hebrews 2:17 tells us: Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.

One of the ways Jesus was made like us, His brothers, was that He suffered. He suffered physically, He suffered emotionally, and He suffered “spiritually,” just like we do. In fact, He suffered far more in each of these respects than any of us ever have or ever will.

But what’s even more amazing to me than the actual extent of Jesus’ suffering was the fact that He endured all of it, from the moment of His birth to the moment of His death without ever sinning. Not even once. Not even in His thoughts or the attitude of His heart.

That’s huge. Think of the suffering you’ve experienced in your life and how you responded to it. I’ve retaliated against people who have hurt me, or at least harbored bitterness against them. During times of calamity, I’ve yelled at God, I’ve questioned His love for me, I’ve not trusted Him, I’ve been angry at Him.

But Jesus never had a sinful response to suffering. How did He respond?

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23

In some cases, Jesus just didn’t respond at all to the person or situation causing the suffering. He communed with God instead. Jesus knew that He was in God’s hands and God would mete out judgment at the proper time.

But this is the same Jesus who instructed us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your cloak as well as your tunic. And Jesus certainly embodied these responses to those who caused Him suffering.

Let’s look at Jesus’ response to Pilate in John 18:33-38. But before we do, bear in mind that Jesus has the power to call down any number of angels to destroy Pilate, the courtyard where He’s about to be flogged, Calvary, Jerusalem, the whole world, if He wants to, in order to avoid the suffering He’s about to endure, and Jesus is fully aware of that. But watch how He responds to Pilate:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

Jesus took the time to, essentially, share the gospel with this horrid man, whose next move was to have Jesus taken out and beaten to a bloody pulp. Jesus not only refused to retaliate against Pilate, He blessed him with the gospel instead.

When Jesus was on the cross, how did He respond to those who had crucified Him and those who were mocking and insulting Him? Did He yell back? Tell them they were all going to burn in Hell? No, He prayed for them: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Every time Jesus suffered, He responded to it in exactly the right, godly way. He trusted Himself, the situation, and everyone involved to God, He loved His enemies, and He said or did whatever would best proclaim the gospel or glorify God in that situation.

It’s difficult to wrap our minds around all of the ways Jesus suffered, and more difficult still to comprehend that He never responded sinfully to His suffering. But perhaps the most baffling aspect of Jesus’ suffering is that He willingly chose to endure it all for rebellious, thankless, undeserving sinners like you and me. To serve us. To purchase the salvation we could never earn. To live the life we could not live. To die the death we could not die. And to conquer the grave that, for us, was unconquerable.

All hail King Jesus- the Suffering Servant.

Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Originally published June 16, 2017

In my previous article True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? we examined some unbiblical ideas and approaches Christians often have toward suffering. Why is it important to have a biblical view of suffering? Because suffering is painful enough without piling on things like, “God is punishing me,” or “This wouldn’t be happening if I just had more faith,” that aren’t even true. The biblical view of suffering frees you from from the additional agony of inappropriate guilt, the mindset that God is harsh or unloving, and the burden of striving to appease a God who’s not asking you to. A biblical view of suffering sets you free to rest in Christ and trust Him.

God’s purposes toward you, His child, are always good, even when He permits difficult things into your life. Let’s think about Romans 8:28 for just a second:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say all things are good. It says that God uses all circumstances for good for His people – even the difficult ones – because He is good and His plans and goals are good.

Even Joseph saw this, way back in Genesis. After everything his brothers put him through, he said,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

As parents, sometimes we give our child ice cream to eat and sometimes we give him Brussels sprouts. Do we give ice cream because we love him and Brussels sprouts because we hate him? No. Both are done out of love, the ice cream because it brings him joy, and the Brussels sprouts because it has the nutrients he needs to be strong and healthy. It would not be loving for a parent to give only ice cream or only Brussels sprouts. In the same way, it would not be loving for God to give us only blessings or only difficult times. Everything God does in our lives, He does for His glory and our good.

So what are some of God’s good purposes in our suffering?

1. To bring glory to God
We touched on Job’s story in the previous article and saw how his suffering glorified God. Another great passage that talks about God being glorified through suffering is John 9:1-3:

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

If you thought suffering was God’s punishment for sin, you’re in good company- the disciples thought so, too! But Jesus was about to do something amazing in this guy’s life that would showcase God’s glory, and it would not have happened had he not suffered.

2. Suffering can be a witness to the lost
When we suffer without forsaking Christ and trust Him to carry us through it, it’s a testimony to others – especially lost people – that God is faithful and worthy of
their faith and trust. Your suffering might open the door to sharing the gospel with someone.

3. The logical consequences of sin
In the previous article, we dealt with the topic of suffering we “deserve,” and how, even though it’s painful, it’s easier to come to grips with that kind of suffering. That’s because we’re made in the image of God, and one of God’s attributes that is reflected in us is justice. We have this innate sense of wanting to see justice done. And when we, or anyone else, suffer the natural consequences of our sin, that points to God being a just God.
We tend to lump all suffering into the one basket of “that’s unfair!” but this is the kind of suffering that is just.

4. Discipline

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:19

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:5-11

When we stray off into a pattern of sin, God can use suffering (often the natural consequences of our sin) to correct us and point us back to the Christlike direction we ought to be heading. He does that because He loves us.

5. Suffering can teach us humility and dependence on God
“Independence” is pretty much a motto for us here in the United States. Independence from England, rugged individualism, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps…Guess what? God doesn’t want you to be independent. He wants you to be
dependent- on Him. And nothing can grow that dependence and humility like suffering. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

6. Suffering can grow us in spiritual strength and maturity
Romans 3:3-4 says:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Endurance, character, hope. These are all aspects of Christian character that God wants to build in each of us, and even though we wish He would just hit us on the head with a magic wand and instantly give us these things, that’s not the way He does it. He often produces these things in us by way of suffering.

7. Experiencing suffering gives us compassion for others, and equips us to help them

[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:4

God doesn’t do anything, including putting you through suffering, for no good reason. It could be to glorify Him. It could be to do something in you. Or, it could be to help someone else (or all three). God never wastes an experience in your life. If you’ve been through something, God can use that “been there, done that” experience to equip you to minister to someone else who’s going through the same thing.

8. Suffering can cause the lost to cry out to God for salvation
Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Sadly it’s a common tale. Some people basically have to hit rock bottom in their lives before they finally give it up and surrender to Christ, just like the prodigal son.

And how about the story of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood? Sometimes life is great. You don’t need Jesus, you’re doing life just fine on your own…until something devastating happens that you can’t handle, and you get desperate. Mark 5:26-28 tells us she

had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

She was desperate. And God can use desperation and suffering to turn the heart of a lost person to Himself for salvation.

 

God is a good God, and His purposes in our suffering are always good. So the next time you’re suffering, think of those 8‘s in Romans 8:28, and remember these 8 good purposes God has for your pain, purposes that bring Him glory, work out His good plans, grow us in good ways, and enable us to do good to others.

Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical?

Originally published June 9, 2017

Suffering can be a pretty heavy topic, so as Christian women, it’s important that we have some good tools in our theological toolboxes for understanding and handling suffering in a biblical way the next time it happens to us or someone we love. One thing that can help us to have a good theology of suffering is to understand some of the ways we, and others, might approach suffering in an unbiblical way.

A Proper Perspective of Suffering

Have you ever heard someone ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It seems like, when you’re sharing the gospel with somebody who’s a tough nut to crack, this is something they always bring up. “If your God is so good and so loving, why does He allow innocent children and nice people to suffer?” It’s actually such a common question that there’s an official name for it. This concept is called “The Problem of Evil,” or theodicy. And I’m sure lots of us have wondered about that, too.

The thing is, that question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is flawed. R.C. Sproul Jr.¹ answers it this way: “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.” The point is, bad things don’t happen to good people, because there are no good people except Jesus. None is righteous, no not one.

Maybe we should be asking why good things happen to bad people. God would be completely justified in sending every one of us to Hell, right here, right now, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. He does not owe us a blooming thing, and certainly not all the blessings He has been gracious enough to shower upon us- blessings we have been thankless enough to take for granted. We are beggars at the table of the King. To say, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” shows us just how entitled, arrogant, and oblivious to our sin we are.

I say all of that because we’re about to look at two different categories of suffering, and I want us to be mindful of our position before God so we don’t start off on the wrong foot thinking that we don’t deserve suffering. Instead we should be grateful to Him for blessing us and sparing us so much suffering- especially, as Christians, for sparing us an eternity of suffering.

Two Types of Suffering

When somebody says the word “suffering,” do any of the following types of negative scenarios come to mind?

Spending time in jail for committing a crime.

Your husband leaving you because you had an affair.

Grieving the loss of your child because you drove drunk with her in the car and got into an accident.

Losing your job because you were late to work every day.

My guess is that’s probably not the kind of thing that initially pops into your mind when you hear the word “suffering.” Why? What do all those scenarios have in common? They’re all a result of personal sin. You deserve” for those things to happen to you, whereas you don’t deserve” to spend time in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, or for your husband to leave you because he had an affair, or to lose your child to cancer, or to get laid off work because the company is struggling financially.

So there are two types of suffering: the type we “deserve”- something that’s a natural or logical consequence of our own sin, and the type we “don’t deserve”- something that’s due to someone else’s sin, or an “act of God,” or “just one of those things.” (And, please understand, when I say “deserve” or “don’t deserve”- that’s just shorthand for the way we perceive these two different kinds of suffering. We think we deserve or don’t deserve whatever is happening to us, but those words have very little to do with whether or not we actually deserve or don’t deserve what happens to us.)

We tend to understand suffering we feel is deserved. It may be just as painful as “undeserved” suffering, but it intuitively makes sense to us when we suffer the consequences of our own sin.

It’s that so-called undeserved suffering that we’re going to focus more on today that’s a lot harder, because in addition to the pain you’re going through, there’s always this sense of “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”

Because we have a lousy theology of suffering.

How? Let’s take a little quiz. 

Pop Quiz: True or False Theology of Suffering?

Answer each of these questions “true” or “false,” then scroll down for the answers.

1. Scripture promises that if Christians walk obediently with the Lord, life will go well for us.

2. I’m suffering because God is punishing my parents for their sin, or God is punishing me for my parents’ sin.

3. I’m suffering because God is punishing me for my own sin.

4. I’m suffering because Satan is attacking me.

1. Scripture promises that if Christians walk obediently with the Lord,
life will go well for us.

False. That’s pretty much what the prosperity gospel (or Word of Faith heresy) teaches- if you just obey well enough, pray hard enough, have enough faith, believe hard enough, whatever enough, everything will go your way. You’ll always be healthy, God will prosper you financially, your wayward child will come back to the Lord, etc.

And it’s partially based on Scripture, but it’s based on out of context Mosaic covenant Scripture. The Mosaic covenant was kind of an if/then thing. God said: If you obey Me, I’ll bless you, your families, your fields, your flocks, your finances, your fighting men. If you disobey me, I’ll curse you in all of those areas. As New Testament Christians today, that’s not the covenant you and I have with God. Through Christ, we are under the covenant of grace. And Christ says,

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Tim. 3:12-13

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:45

In the world you will have tribulation.
John 16:33

Anybody who tells you “Come to Jesus and He’ll give you a problem-free life,” is lying to you. You’re going to suffer in this life. Everyone suffers. It’s just a question of whether you’re going to suffer with Jesus or without Jesus.

2. I’m suffering because God is punishing my parents for their sin,
or God is punishing me for my parents’ sin.

False. Years ago, I knew a precious lady who was conceived via incest. She had a number of pretty serious chromosomal medical problems, she had been physically and sexually abused as a child, and, as if that weren’t enough, she’d had relatives tell her in some pretty cruel ways that she was God’s punishment to her parents for their sin.

Ladies, I know there are at least a few of you who have had some really sad and scary things happen to you at the hands of another person- maybe your parents or a boyfriend or your husband or possibly even an adult child. And I want you to hear me- God is not using you to punish or get back at someone else, and He’s not punishing you for their sin. God deals with each person individually about her own sin.

Ezekiel 18 is a fantastic passage that explains this very clearly. Verse 20 says:

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Now we do sometimes suffer as a result or consequence of someone’s sin. If a drunk driver hits your car and kills your child, you and your child have suffered as a result of that person’s sin, but that suffering isn’t God being punitive against anyone.

And, really, if you think about it, all suffering is the result of someone’s sin, whether it’s someone directly responsible for the suffering, like the drunk driver, or whether it goes all the way back to the sin of Adam and Eve with something like disease or a natural disaster that entered the world due to their sin. We suffer things like that simply because their sin causes us to live in a broken and fallen world.

3. I’m suffering because God is punishing me for my own sin.

False. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1

If you are a genuinely regenerated believer, Christ was punished for your sin, past, present, and future. He took the punishment for your sin so you wouldn’t have to. 

But even if you’re not a believer, what is the penalty for sin? Romans 6:23 says,

For the wages of sin is death…

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

If you are not a believer, the fact that you are still alive and walking around on this planet, no matter what kind of circumstances you may be going through at the moment, is God’s grace to you. Because the moment you draw your last breath is when the punishment for your sin begins.

Now, certainly, both saved and lost people can suffer as a direct consequence of their own sin, but the purpose of that suffering is not retributive. It’s not to punish. 

4. I’m suffering because Satan is attacking me.

OK, that was kind of a trick question because the answer is: it doesn’t matter whether or not your suffering is caused by Satan because God is sovereign. Nothing happens outside His control. Let’s take a look at part of Job 1. (If you’re not familiar with Job, the quick back story here is that Job was very godly and very rich.)

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job 1:6-12

Who was attacking Job here? Satan. Who allowed Satan to attack Job? God. Could Satan have attacked Job if God had told him he couldn’t? No. Does anything in this universe happen that God doesn’t have control over? No. Your heart won’t beat one more time, you won’t draw one more breath, you won’t think one more thought unless God permits it.

And the same is true with your suffering. Even if Satan is the one behind it, he can’t do a thing to you unless God allows him to. Martin Luther once put it this way: “Even the devil is God’s devil.”

And what’s more, you’ll never know for sure in this lifetime whether your suffering was caused by Satan or it was a gracious gift of God. Look back over that passage in Job. How do we know it was Satan causing Job’s suffering? Because God revealed it to us through Scripture. But where was Job when this conversation was taking place between God and Satan? He was down there working his farm and enjoying his family. He had no idea where this terrible suffering came from all of a sudden.

A lot of people these days seem to have the idea that if you’re suffering, it’s caused by Satan and if your life is going great, that’s God. But that’s not always true. Remember, it was the will of God to crush Jesus, and Jesus learned obedience by suffering. Sometimes that kind of thing is God’s will for us, too, and for good reasons. Even Job saw that: 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job 1:21

Job knew that whatever came his way was because God allowed it, and that God had good reasons for it.

 

So if those are not reasons for suffering, why does God cause or allow suffering to come into our lives? Check out God’s Good Purposes in Suffering.


¹I’m aware that R.C. Sproul, Jr., in the last couple of years, has committed sins which led to his stepping down from ministry. I have included his name here for quote attribution purposes only.
Abuse, Suffering

From Victimhood to Victory: Biblically Helping Abused Women Heal

Ever since the Me Too movement exploded on social media a couple of years ago, we’ve been hearing more and more heartbreaking stories of women who have experienced physical and sexual abuse. If anyone can help and should be helping victims of abuse, it ought to be the church. But, unfortunately, it seems that the people in the evangelical spotlight who are stepping up to advocate for victims are often popular false teachers.

In 2019, we saw Beth Moore take the lead at the Caring Well conference, which centered around helping abuse victims. Christine Caine is the founder and leader of A 21, an anti-human trafficking ministry. In 2018, Lisa Harper was the keynote speaker at the Pastors’ Wives Conference at the annual Southern Baptist Convention where she addressed the issue of abuse. And in addition to stepping out into the spotlight as champions for abuse victims, Beth Moore, Christine Caine, and Lisa Harper, as well as Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Lysa TerKeurst, Jackie Hill Perry – and many more, I’m sure – share their own personal stories of abuse at their conferences, in their books, and so on.

These are the people being showcased to the average Jane in the pew as those who care about abuse victims. These are the people who are actually (supposedly) doing something about abuse. By and large, we’re not seeing doctrinally sound men and women being put forth on the stage of the visible church as caring about abuse victims or doing anything about abuse.

And so, when an Evangelical woman is coming to terms with her abuse, these are the women she’s seeing, so these are the women and their resources that she reaches out for. And by the same token, because these false teachers are in the spotlight and have name recognition and resources available, and there aren’t very many well known doctrinally sound resources available, churches who want to help abuse victims are also reaching out and grabbing hold of false teaching to try to help the women in their churches.

So what we’re finding is that women who are victims of abuse are especially vulnerable to false teaching because they see these teachers as someone who has gone through the same thing they’ve gone through: “This teacher knows how I feel. She has experienced the same thing.” And that’s the primary reason victims seek out these false teachers, rather than seeking out someone who – regardless of whether or not he or she has experienced abuse – can help them to heal with rightly handled Scripture.

This is one reason I am purposely not disclosing in this article whether or not I have ever been abused. Because biblical healing from abuse isn’t about me or my personal experiences. It’s about what the Bible says. My experiences don’t change what God’s Word says. The Bible remains the same whether I’ve been abused or not. Scripture is our standard, not our personal experiences.

But, unfortunately in the church, and particularly in the realm of women’s Bible study, we have indoctrinated women with the idea that personal experience reigns, not Scripture. So what abused women get when they seek out these false teachers for help dealing with their abuse is exactly what I’ve said before is the problem with women’s Bible study in general: narcissism.

These victims of abuse don’t get taught how to biblically come to terms with what happened to them and how to biblically heal from it. They get a cheap, shallow compassion that teaches them to focus on their own pain and feelings, and to harbor bitterness against their abuser and everyone and everything else they can assign blame to for the abuse (some of those things supposedly being biblical complementarianism, sexism in the church, misogyny in the church, not enough women in positions of leadership in the church, as Beth Moore said at the Caring Well conference, etc.)

These women are being victimized twice.

And so these women are being victimized twice – once by the abuser, and once by false teachers who are not only not helping them to heal biblically, but are actually eroding biblical teaching and sound doctrine – for that woman personally and in the church in general – by saying that biblical precepts, such as leadership of the church being restricted to men, are at fault for their abuse. It’s really insidious, because what’s implied by this whole paradigm is that this mixture of focusing on your feelings and believing unbiblical teaching is the quick fix that will make them feel better right away. This is what will finally bring them healing and wholeness. They’re being sold a lie.

Praise be to God, there are lots of doctrinally sound Christians out there who are quietly, out of the spotlight, helping victims of abuse in a biblical way, one on one, in their own local churches. So, how are they doing it, and how should we be doing it? What are some biblical ways we can help abuse victims?

Genuine Compassion

Abuse is a horrible, despicable thing that no one should ever have to suffer. The pain that it causes doesn’t just magically disappear because it happened years ago. It is not something about which any woman should ever be told, “You just need to get over it and forget about it.”

And certainly no woman should ever be made to feel that it was her fault, or that if she had just done something differently it wouldn’t have happened. The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

So when we disciple a woman who is just beginning the journey of healing from her abuse, it should be handled with biblical compassion every step of the way. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to do what Romans 12:15 says, and “weep with those who weep”.

Let her pour out her feelings of pain and anger, and sit there in that with her.

Yes, that was awful.

No, you didn’t do anything to cause it. It wasn’t your fault.

That man was evil and took advantage of you. It was his sin, not yours.

We need to have that same heart for her that God has in Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

A Biblical Perspective of Suffering

It’s imperative that we have a biblical perspective of suffering so we can teach it to abuse victims. Because one of the things you’ll notice about the way false teachers approach the issue of abuse is that this component is completely missing. Why? Because walking through suffering in a biblical way can be hard and scary and painful and messy. It’s much easier to just smile and exude sympathy and say, “Just listen to me and I’ll tell you how to feel better right now.”

And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Our flesh doesn’t want to suffer, we just want to feel better now. And that’s what makes this a hard sell that false teachers don’t want to deal with. It doesn’t fit in with their ear-tickling paradigm. But if we want to offer victims true help and true healing in Christ, we have to address the issue of suffering, and address it biblically and correctly.

A biblical theology of suffering applied to the issue of abuse understands that…

Everyone suffers. You’re not the first person to suffer, and you won’t be the last. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” When it comes to suffering, you’re not special, and neither am I. We don’t all suffer in the same way, but everybody suffers. It’s just the human condition resulting from the Fall.

Even Jesus suffered. Isaiah 53 tells us: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,”

Abuse is not a special class of suffering that exempts you from dealing with it in obedience to Scripture. We’re kind of seeing this line of thinking with homosexuality- that it’s a special class of sin that people don’t have to repent of. That homosexuals can hold onto their sin, cherish it in their hearts, and maybe even live it out, and still supposedly be biblical Christians.

And that’s the same sort of mindset a lot of the false teachers espouse: Abuse is a special class of suffering that you don’t have to walk through in a biblical way. You get to wallow in your victimhood for the rest of your life and think and act and feel and express yourself however you want to because you’ve been hurt so deeply. That’s not right. Perpetual victimhood is not biblical, it doesn’t help you heal, and it doesn’t bring your abuser to justice. It makes God look impotent and uncaring. If He can’t or won’t transform someone from victimhood to victory, how could He have the power to raise Christ from the dead? If He doesn’t care about a victim of abuse, why would He care about anybody else’s problems?

I would never minimize the pain and suffering of abuse victims, but all Believers are required by Scripture to act in a godly way regardless of their particular kind of suffering. Believers who have terminal diseases have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who have lost a child have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers whose spouses have cheated on them have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who are being tortured and persecuted just for being Christians have to deal with that in a godly way. We all have to bear up and respond to suffering in a godly way, regardless of what kind of suffering we’re dealing with.

1 Peter 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Jesus understands your pain and serves as your perfect example for responding to suffering. Go back and read Isaiah 53. Go back and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials, flogging, and crucifixion. He knows what it feels like to be abused. And look at the way he handled it. He didn’t give up. He didn’t feel sorry for himself or lash out at his abusers or become bitter. He didn’t blame God or the church or anyone else or His circumstances.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be abused.

Jesus kept his eyes on the Father. He continued to walk out God’s plan for Him and didn’t let the abusers distract him from that plan. He continued to behave in a godly way. He forgave his abusers, even though it must have been extraordinarily difficult. Remember what He said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

You don’t have to suffer alone. If you are a Believer, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. He will enable you and empower you to suffer well. You are never alone.

“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Ask God to carry you through the difficult times. Ask God to heal you, to help you forgive, to give you strength. Whatever you need, ask Him for it.

God has a purpose for your pain. The abuse you suffered was horrific, but in God’s economy, it wasn’t random and senseless. God can take what that abuser meant for evil and turn it around and use it for your good– to grow you and strengthen you. There are so many passages of Scripture that talk about this. One of my favorites is Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Jesus didn’t save you for you to live in self-pity, bitterness, unforgiveness, and victimhood. That is not the abundant life He promised you in John 10:10. It’s no life at all. Christians are not weak, helpless victims. Jesus makes us victors. Yes, what happened to you was unspeakably evil and hurtful. But in Christ, that’s not where your story ends!

Jesus makes us victors.

As you walk with Christ – trusting Him, obeying Him, loving Him – day by day, He will bring you that peace that passes understanding. He will reveal Himself to you as hope of the hopeless. He will heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re missing out on all of the good things God wants to use that pain for – the godly character He wants to build in you, the healing He wants to give you. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re choosing to give that abuser the power to continue to stand in the way of all those good gifts God wants to give you.

Your pain and suffering won’t last forever. Once Christ begins healing you, your pain will fade over time, and eventually He will wipe it out all together in Heaven. Consider these two wonderfully comforting and hope-giving passages:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Revelation 21:1,3-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Your suffering has a time limit.

Your suffering has a time limit, and one day God is going to take it away forever. Rest in that hope.

 

How can we biblically help abuse victims move from victimhood to victory? We continually take them back to the truth of God’s Word and remind them of His goodness and grace, and the hope and healing He wants to bring them through Christ.


Additional Resources:

This article is excerpted from the A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast episode It’s Time for Sound Leaders to Talk About Abuse

Band-Aids vs. Chemotherapy: Why Suffering Women are Drawn to False Doctrine and 7 Things We Can do to Help 

Weeping with Those Who Weep 

Christ- the Suffering Servant 

Six Reasons to Rejoice that Christ is Enough in Our Suffering 

True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? 

God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Ministering to the Bereaved

 

How can I properly console a friend who has experienced the loss of a loved one? My friend’s baby recently passed away. I really want to know how to console her. What are some helpful things I can say to her and do for her (and hurtful things I can avoid saying to her) during this time?

I’m so glad you want to reach out to your friend with the love of Christ and minister to her during this difficult time. The Bible is very clear that because God is a God of love and comfort, we are to offer love and comfort to those who are grieving:

…weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15b

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Comforting and grieving with those who grieve is a ministry for which God has (generally) gifted, shaped, and equipped women in a way that’s unique and discrete from the ways He has (generally) gifted, shaped, and equipped men. Certainly pastors (and others) can, do, and should minister much needed compassion toward those under their care, and most Christians can attest to how helpful good pastoral care has been during a time of grief. But there’s something special in the way a godly woman can minister to the heart of a hurting woman and her family that should be nurtured and encouraged in the body of Christ.

Your question is a very wise one. As Believers, we have the desire to minister to those who are hurting, but we’ve all heard stories about well-meaning people who have said some really insensitive things that have caused further pain to the bereaved.

So what I’d like to do today is to offer a few thoughts on ministering to those who have lost someone dear and then open things up to all of my readers – especially those who have lost a child or another very close loved one – to offer some input.

Pray– Pray fervently for your heartbroken friend, asking God to comfort and heal her heart, provide for any material needs, and any other specifics you know of. Also, ask God to give you wisdom to know the right things to say (and not say) and do.

Remember: Your words can’t fix things.– It’s hard to watch someone suffer. As godly, tender-hearted , nurturing women, there’s often nothing we want more than to take all that pain away and make the sufferer happy again. Sometimes we ladies have it in the back of our minds that if we can just find the exact right combination of words to say in the exact right comforting tone, we can take away the pain of the person we’re comforting. We can’t. It’s something I have to remind myself of again and again. But it’s especially important to remember this when we’re comforting someone, because the more we talk, searching for those “magic words,” the greater risk we run of sticking our foot in our mouths and saying something hurtful instead of helpful. Additionally, when a grieving person’s emotions are raw, it can be extremely grating to listen to someone talk on and on and on. We would do well to take a lesson from Job’s friends…

[Job’s three friends] made an appointment together to come to show [Job] sympathy and comfort him…And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11b,12b,13

…Remember, it was only after these guys opened their mouths that the trouble began, because…

Make sure whatever you choose to say is doctrinally sound.– This is where Job’s friends got into trouble. They tried to “minister” to Job with unbiblical theology.

Heaven did not “gain another angel” with the death of your friend’s loved one. People, even Christians, do not turn into angels when they die. The deceased has not “gone to a better place” or “gone to be with Jesus,” nor will he “rest in peace,” nor is it true that “at least he’s not suffering any more,” if he was unsaved. Don’t say something like this unless you’re relatively certain the person was saved as evidenced by the fruit of his life. If you’re thinking about saying something theological-ish to your friend and you’re not sure whether or not it’s biblically accurate, either take the time to find out first, or err on the side of caution and don’t say it.

Say: “I’m praying for you.”– I’ve heard many grieving families say this is one of the most comforting things they can hear, especially if they know you to be someone who is faithful in prayer. Do not say you will be praying for your friend if you don’t really mean it. If you’re afraid you’ll forget to pray for her, set a reminder on your phone, stick a note on your bathroom mirror, tie a string around your finger – whatever you have to do to remember. From time to time, remember to let your friend know you’re still praying for her.

Say: “Can I pray with/for you?”– There might be a moment at the wake or during a visit when it’s appropriate to offer to pray with your friend, or pray for her out loud, just between the two of you. Ask God for wisdom to know if it’s the right time, if this would be encouraging to your friend (ex: if your friend is unsaved and/or enraged at God over her loved one’s death, this might not be helpful at the moment), and what would be the appropriate words to pray. Ask God to comfort your friend, provide for her needs, help her to know that He is there for her, and to strengthen her trust in Him.

Say: “I love you,”– Just a simple “I love you,” lets your friend know you care and are grieving with her. If appropriate, you might wish to also share a special memory of the deceased or recount how much he meant to you.

Share a Scripture: Was there a particular verse or passage focusing on God’s goodness or comfort that brought you peace and strength when a loved one died? Make sure you’re rightly handling it (i.e. it applies to someone who has lost a loved one, doesn’t appear to promise your friend something that was only promised to Israel, a particular Bible character, etc.), and recite it or jot it down (maybe in a nice sympathy card) for your friend.

Follow up- There are some people in this world who are what I call “calendar gifted.” They remember every birthday, every anniversary, every significant date, and they send a card or note, or commemorate the day in a way that makes the recipient feel like the most special person in the world. I do not have that gift. I am in awe of people who do have that gift. If that’s one of your giftings, put it to work in ministry by reaching out to your friend on her loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of his death, their wedding anniversary, etc. What a blessing you will be to your friend.

Hugs and tears– Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all, just “weep with those who weep”.

Don’t say something you wouldn’t want to hear if you had just lost a loved one.Matthew 7:12 reminds us to treat others the way we would want to be treated. This is a very helpful filter when it comes to what to say or not to say to your grieving friend. Think about your own children. If one of them died, would you want to hear, “Well, at least you have your other children,” or “You’re still young- you can have more children.”? Probably not. (Also, in a way, this falls under the “don’t say unbiblical things” category. While these statements may be factually true, Christians recognize that every individual is uniquely created in the image of God. Other children can never replace the one who was lost.)

Don’t try to give a theological treatise on why the person died.– “God wanted your loved one to be with Him,” “He had finished the work God gave him to do,” “God decided it was his time to go,” “God wanted to spare him further suffering,” etc.

The bereaved person almost certainly doesn’t want to hear it, you don’t have the chapter and verse goods to back up any kind of statement like this, and it smacks of trying to “let God off the hook” for allowing the person to die. Your friend is probably already wondering why God ended the person’s life at this time. You don’t have the answer, and it’s prideful to think that you do. Nobody needs you to wax theologically eloquent on why the person died. So don’t.

Just do it./DON’T just do it.– “Don’t tell the person, ‘If there’s any way I can help, let me know.’ Grieving people are overwhelmed. They can’t think of what they need at the moment, and later, they may feel uncomfortable asking for your help. Just find something helpful to do and do it.” I’ve read this advice about how to help the bereaved more than once. Don’t ask, just go over and clean her house, or go buy her groceries, or take her a meal, or whatever.

If you’re extraordinarily close to the bereaved person and know all of the ins and outs of her household, this might be helpful. But if you’re simply a friend from church, a next door neighbor, etc., I would not recommend “just doing something” without checking with your friend first to find out if what you think would be helpful would actually be helpful. You don’t want to just show up with a meal on the night three other ladies have just shown up with a meal and a fourth has already taken your friend out to dinner. You don’t want to just show up with perishable groceries when other people have already packed her fridge. You don’t want to just show up to clean her house when somebody already cleaned it yesterday. Instead, think of two or three things to suggest to your friend and ask if that would help her. “Could I bring dinner for your family one night this week?” “I know you have a house full of people and you probably haven’t had time to do laundry. How about I take it to my house and take care of that for you?” “Could I drop your kids off at school tomorrow morning?” “Is there something else I could do that would be more helpful than what I just suggested?”

Offer to be an intermediary.– I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as helpful as someone who steps up to “handle” things between the family of the deceased and others who want to help. An intermediary can be the “bad guy” who explains to surprise visitors that the bereaved person is resting and isn’t up to a visit right now. She can organize a meal or grocery schedule, fill people in on funeral arrangements, field “What can I do to help?” questions, and assign tasks the bereaved person needs done. If you’re someone who’s good at understanding and carrying out someone else’s wishes or instructions, offer to step into this gap for your friend. (And be sure to reassure her that your feelings won’t be hurt if she doesn’t want/need this or if she’d rather someone else do it.)

OK readers, it’s your turn. What are some things you’ve found helpful or encouraging (or unhelpful/hurtful) that people have said or done when you have lost a loved one, especially if you’ve lost a child?


Additional Resources:

On Funerals, Grieving, and Suffering (links to resources on suffering and ministering to the bereaved)


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.