Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Suffering, Pain, & God’s Sovereignty

by Bruce Mills
As I write these words, I am sitting in a recliner with my left leg locked in a brace, unable to move it.  I suffered a serious fracture of my patella (knee cap) and had to undergo surgery to repair it.  Now I am living with pain almost every moment of every day, and I am faced with many months of rehabilitation before I will ever be able to walk on it again without a brace and either a wheelchair, crutches, or a walker.  I am dependent upon my family members to help me bathe, go to the bathroom, and get dressed.  It will be about eight weeks before I am able to return to work in a limited capacity.  There is much about my situation that is humbling and humiliating. 
I have already experienced the depression that comes periodically in such situations, as Satan tempts me to despair that my circumstances will never get better, that my pain will never go away, that my rehab will be too much for me to bear.  I admit that it is a daily struggle.  So when those dark times of depression and anxiety come, I have decided to follow my own counsel; the advice that I have given many other believers through the years who were going through some difficult time of suffering in their lives, and that is to rest in the sovereignty and trustworthiness of God.
I really don’t think there is a more comforting doctrine in times of suffering, pain, and physical limitation than God’s sovereign control over such matters.  When I contemplate the fact that He has absolute control over everything in the universe, and foreordained from before the world began that I would go through this experience in order that His glory might be magnified, it brings a sense of purpose and comfort to my soul. 
Ephesians 1:11 declares that God in Christ “works all things after the counsel of His will.”  The Greek word for “works” is energeō, which indicates that God does not merely carry all of the universe’s objects and events to their appointed ends, but that He actually brings about all things in accordance with His will.  In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil, harmful, and hurtful aspects and events of our world to good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28); rather, it is that He Himself ordains and orchestrates these terrible, painful, difficult events for His glory and His people’s good.
Consider that He proclaimed to the Pharaoh of Egypt that the only reason God had brought him to the place he was and allowed him to remain in power was so that as God rained down plague after plague upon the Egyptian people, God’s name and power and glory would be proclaimed throughout all the earth (Exodus 9:13-16).
Consider the man in John 9 who was born blind—who lived perhaps 20-25-30 years in darkness—forced to beg in order to survive.  Yet Jesus said that the reason those awful events took place in that man’s life were “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
So when I consider that Scripture teaches that God goes to such lengths to bring pain and misery upon His creation in order to display His glory, the fact that He will cause me to suffer a serious injury to my knee and leave me dependent on others for the most basic functions of daily life means that He is working to accomplish His glory through me and my situation.  That is a marvelously encouraging thought, especially when I am hurting and weak and incapable.  Because when I recognize that He is accomplishing His purposes in me and magnifying His glory through me, it is staggering to my feeble mind.  Ultimately, my injury is not about me; it is about God’s glory.
But since God has called me to this purpose, what might He be doing in my life?  Well, as I said at the beginning of this post, there is much about my circumstances that are both humbling and humiliating, and since God knows my sinfully prideful heart, He knows that I need to be broken of that pride.  One way is to forcibly rid me of my own self-sufficiency by making me completely dependent upon others.  In the wonderful book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, a collection of essays on the subject of suffering in the life of the believer, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, Joni Eareckson Tada writes:
Do you know who the truly handicapped people are?  They are the ones—and many of them are Christians—who hear the alarm clock go off at 7:30 in the morning, throw back the covers, jump out of bed, take a quick shower, choke down breakfast, and zoom out the front door.  They do all this on automatic pilot without stopping once to acknowledge their Creator, their great God who gives them life and strength each day.  Christian, if you live that way, do you know that James 4:6 says God opposes you?  “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
And who are the humble?  They are people who are humiliated by their weaknesses.  Catheterized people whose leg bags spring leaks on somebody else’s brand-new carpet.  Immobilized people who must be fed, cleansed, and taken care of like infants.  Once-active people crippled by chronic aches and pains.  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, so then submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, who loves nothing more than to discourage you and corrode your joy.  Resist him and he will flee you.  Draw near to God in your affliction, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).
It’s too early to know what all the lessons are that God wants me to learn over the next several months, but one obvious one is to rip away some of my pride and teach me humility.  And as I learn that lesson, God is glorified.  So it looks like the next several months will be an adventure, albeit a painful one, as God works through my disabling circumstances to bring about His glory and my good.  I pray that I will “consider it all joy…knowing that the testing of [my] faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

1 comment:

brian sloan said...

Thankyou for your insight on Sovereignty. God is an ever present help in trouble. He has used my particular circumstances to war against the pride in my own soul. I'm praying for you, Bruce. You and your wife and kids have been a huge blessing to me and mine. Thanks and hang in there.