Wednesday, January 6, 2016
For the last several months I have been reading Timothy Keller's new book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. It has been phenomenal. I mean so, so good; such an encouragement to me.
Though I do not have a tremendous amount of pain and suffering in my personal life, I have difficulties like everyone does and real hurts from my past; we all have our own temptations and struggles. Or I like to think we do, despite the image of perfection we project and encourage each other to maintain. Also, and more deeply, I had been discouraged by the world I live in. Evil. Evil was really bothering me. ISIS chopping off innocent people's heads; government greed, over reach, and corruption; North Koreans being tortured for only speaking to their neighbors about believing in God; Christians being hunted, jailed, and tortured by governments around the world. It all just got very depressing for me and I wanted to understand how to deal with the problem of evil.
I did a little research, reached out to someone, but then finally stumbled upon this book through a Google search. I had read Keller's The Prodigal God when Terry had his Nebraska Mexico mission team read it. I and loved it (I need to read it again). This book is even better than The Prodigal God. It's so deep, meaningful, thoughtful, eloquent. Every single time I sit down to read it, I end up crying. It just comes out of nowhere and hits me, wham bam, in the heart, piercing deep. That's what I've come to know as God's Spirit pointing things out to me. It's like an extra nudge or exclamation, like my eyes get opened up bigger to see with more depth.
I am not a poet. I'm trying too hard here and I think when I do that I just end up sounding lame. People on amazon have left way superior reviews than me, but nonetheless, this book has been very meaningful to me. So much so that I've been sharing little tidbits on facebook; my favorites quotes from each chapter. Today's chapter was just so good that I couldn't justify such a long facebook post and decided to put it here.
Chapter 13 was about trusting God. That is exactly what I have been learning to do the last couple years. The Lord has brought to my attention through my reaction to less than ideal circumstances that I really struggle with trusting Him. I say I do, but I totally do not. Where the rubber meets the road in real living when difficult life circumstances happen, I don't trust Him. I don't think I can, that He won't be there for me, that He's out to get me, that He'll let me down. All these lies and more. So naturally, this chapter hit home. It was about Joseph.
Joseph started out as a punk bragging to his brothers about how much better he was than them. His dad favored him, his brothers hated him. All of them were selfish. So his brothers threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery, was falsely accused of sleeping with his with master's wife and then put in prison. All of this took place over 20 years and it's undoubtable that he cried out to God for help in his trouble but received no answer. For 20 years God was silent. Was he inactive though?
"Standing where we do, we can look back and ask whether God was really 'missing in action' all of those years when he seemed to be absent from Joseph's life. When Joseph prayed for his life in that cistern, did God really not hear him? And all those years when absolutely everything seemed to go wrong for Joseph, was God not there? No, he was there, and he was working. He was hidden, but he was also in complete control."
Keller then goes through all the "coincidences" that led up to Joseph rescuing his family and the entire nation of Egypt and the surrounding countries. God was at work from the very beginning, from when Jacob sent Joseph out to seek his brothers, that Joseph just happened upon a random man that told him where his brothers went, that this place was desolate enough for his brothers to get away with selling him, that Pharaoh's cupbearer was in jail with Joseph, etc., etc., etc. The entire story was orchestrated by God all the while people were making sinful choices. "Unless every one of these little events had happened just as they did - and so many of them were bad, terrible things - Joseph would have never been sent to Egypt... Now, we have looked at the theology of this before. According to the Bible, God is sovereign and in control, and at the same time, human beings have free will and are responsible for their choices. There it is as a theological proposition, but how much more vivid and powerful it is when seen in an actual story. If the brothers had not betrayed Joseph and sold him into slavery, the family (and Joseph) would not have been saved from disaster and death. It was obviously part of God's plan. God was present at every point, and was working even the smallest details of the daily lives and schedules and choices of everyone. So this shows that 'all things work according to the counsel of his will' (Eph 1;10-11; Rom 8:28)."
"How did all this come? It came through suffering. Suffering for the brothers and Jacob, terrible suffering for Joseph too. The terrible years of crushing slavery for Joseph, the terrible years of debilitating guilt for the brothers, and the terrible years of grief and depression for Jacob, were all brought about by God's plan. Yet how else could they have been saved physically and spiritually? He 'disciplines us for our good.' After the pain, comes a 'harvest of righteousness and peace' (Heb 12:10-11)."
"It is perhaps most striking of all to realize that if God had given Joseph the things he was likely asking for in prayer, it would have been terrible for him. And we must realize that it was likely that God essentially said no relentlessly, over and over, to nearly all Joseph's specific requests for a period of about twenty years. Most people I know would have given up and said, 'If God is going to shut the door in my face every time I pray, year in and year out, then I give up.' But if Joseph had given up, everything would have been lost. In the dungeon, Joseph turns to God for help in interpreting the dream. Despite all the years of unanswered prayer, Joseph was still trusting God."
"The point is this - God was hearing and responding to Joseph's prayers for deliverance, rescue, and salvation, but not in the ways or forms or times Joseph asked for it. During all this time in which God seemed hidden, Joseph trusted God nonetheless. As we saw, in the dungeon, Joseph immediately turned to God for help to interpret the dream. He had an intact relationship with the Lord - he had not turned away from him. We must do the same thing..."
"Very seldom do we glimpse even a millionth of the ways that God is working all things together for good for those who love God..." Unlike a person I know who always "knows" all the ways God is working in their life.
A letter from John Newton to a grieving sister:
"Your sister is much upon my mind. Her illness grieves me: were it in my power I would quickly remove it: the Lord can, and I hope will, when it has answered the end for which he sent it....I wish you may be enabled to leave her, and yourself, and all your concerns, in his hands. He has a sovereign right to do with us as he pleases; and if we consider what we are, surely we shall confess we have no reason to complain: and to those who seek him, his sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace. All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds...
"You have need of patience, and if you ask, the Lord will give it. But there can be no settled peace till our will is in a measure subdued. Hide yourself under the shadow of his wings; rely upon his care and power; look upon him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul of the worst of sicknesses, sin. Yield to his prescriptions, and fight against every thought hat would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself.
"When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that he is your leader. When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, he knows your path: he will not leave you to sink. He has appointed seasons for refreshment, and you shall find that he does not forget you. Above all, keep close to the throne of grace. If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from him.
"Newton's statement - 'everything is needful [necessary] that he sends, nothing can be needful [necessary] that he withholds' - puts an ocean of biblical theology into a thimble. If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way. And anything you pray for that does not come from him, even if you are sure you cannot live without it, you do not really need."
"The Joseph story tells us that very often God does not give us exactly what we ask for. Instead he gives us what we would have asked for if we had known everything he knows."
"We must never assume that we know enough to mistrust God's way or be bitter against what he has allowed. We must also never think we have really ruined our lives, or have ruined God's good purposes for us. The brothers surely must have felt, at one point, that they had permanently ruined their standing with God and their father's life and their family. But God worked through it. This is no inducement to sin. The pain and misery that resulted in their lives from this action were very great. yet God used it redemptively. You cannot destroy his good purposes for us. He is too great, and will weave even great sins into a fabric that makes us into something useful and valuable."
Summarizing Romans 8:31-38, "All the powers of evil inside of you and all the powers of evil outside of you cannot separate you from the love of God. Once you give yourself to God through Christ, he is yours and you are his. Nothing can ever change that."
And finally he turns to Jesus. It seems to me that Joseph and his story is almost like a type or shadow of what Jesus went through.
"Centuries after Joseph, another came who was rejected by his own (John 1:11) and was sold for silver coins (Matt 26:14-16). He was denied and betrayed by his brethren, and was unjustly put into chains and sentenced to death. He too prayed fervently, asking the Father if the cup of suffering and death he was about to experience could pass from him. But when we look at Jesus' prayer, we see that he, like Joseph, says that this is 'the Father's cup' (John 18:11). The suffering is part of God's good plan. As he says to Pilate, 'you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above' (John 19:11). Jesus finally says to the Father, 'Thy will be done' (Matt 27:42). He dies for his enemies, forgiving them as he does, because he knows that the Father's redemptive loving purposes are behind it all. His enemies meant it for evil, but God overruled it and used it for the saving of many lives. Now raised to the right hand of God, he rules history for our sake, watching over us and protecting us."
"Do what Jesus did - trust God. Do what Joseph did - trust God even in the dungeon. It takes the entire Bible to help us understand all the reasons that Jesus' death on the cross was not just a failure and a tragedy but was consummate wisdom. It takes a major part of Genesis to help us understand God's purposes in Joseph's tribulations. Sometimes we may wish that God would send us our book - a full explanation [I did/do. I remember exclaiming in high school that I just wanted to the blue print for my life so I could make correct decisions. What I didn't realize at the time was that desire was so I wouldn't have to trust God.]! But even though we cannot know all the particular reasons for our crosses, we can look at the cross and know God is working things out."