Category Archives: Trials
Octavius Winslow writes the following to comfort all who carry the weight of “home-burdens.” After I read it I stopped to pray for the wives I know who carry a heavy load of family duties and burdens on a daily basis. This is from his book The Ministry of Home (London: 1847), pages 351–352:
Perhaps, your home-duties, trials, and needs, form your burden. Every home is an embryo kingdom, an epitomized world, of which the parent constitutes the sovereign. There are laws to be obeyed, rules to be observed, subjects to be governed, cares to be sustained, demands to be met, and “who is sufficient for all this?” is often your anxious inquiry. Who can tell what crushing burdens, what bitter sorrows, what corroding cares, what pressing demands, may exist within a single family circle, deeply veiled from every eye but God’s? . . . Your children are an anxiety. Your domestic duties a trial. Your necessities are pressing. Your whole position one of embarrassment and depression [financially].
What shall you do? Do even as the Lord who loves you enjoins — “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” Your Heavenly Father knows all your home-trials, for He has sent them! Jesus, though he had no home on earth, yet sympathized with the home-cares and sorrows of others, and is not a stranger, nor indifferent to yours. Bring all to Him, tell Him all, confide to Him all, trust Him in all. You have no family trial too great, and no domestic need too little, and no home-sorrow too delicate, to take to Christ. Obey the precept, “Cast your burden upon the Lord;” and He will make good the promise, ”and He shall sustain you.” O costly and blessed home-burden that brings Jesus beneath our roof! . . .
Jesus is the great Burden-Bearer of His people. No other arm, and no other heart, in heaven or upon earth, were strong enough, or loving enough, to bear these burdens but His! He who bore the weight of our sin and curse and shame in His obedience and death — bore it along all the avenues of His weary pilgrimage, from Bethlehem to Calvary — is He who now stretches forth His Divine arm, and makes bare a Brother’s heart to take your burden of care and of grief, dear saint of God, upon Himself.
The son of Yale theology professor Nicholas Wolterstorff died at the age of 24 in a mountain climbing accident. After the accident Dr. Wolterstorff wrote meditations about the hole left in his life due to the passing of his son. They were originally intended to be private, a place for him to voice his grief, but they were eventually published as a short book, Lament for a Son (Eerdmans, 1987). His meditations provide a penetrating glimpse into the grieving heart of a Christian enduring deep personal suffering. The following excerpt comes from that little book [pp. 34–35]:
What do you say to someone who is suffering?
Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.” Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.
But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected—gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.
Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings—never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt. And later, when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with a quick, thoughtless “Fine” or “OK,” stop me sometime and ask, “No, I mean really.”
In a recent blog comment Tom posted a gem from C. S. Lewis’ twisted little satire Screwtape Letters. It forms a nice complement to the previous Lewis quote. Here we see how Lewis articulates the Christian’s growth in godliness when the desire to obey has vanished but the intention to obey has not. Multiple themes converge here in this rich, little paragraph. I commend it to you for your slow contemplation.
“He [God] leaves the creature [believer] to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” (p. 40)
What word comes to mind when you think of the life of Job? Trial. Affliction. Suffering. Endurance. Patience. But what about prosperity? The beginning and the conclusion of the book highlight Job’s prosperity. Note the chiastic structure that develops from the book’s introduction and conclusion:
A – Job’s prosperous life (1:1)
B – Job’s prosperous family (1:2)
C – Job’s prosperous wealth (1:3)
D – Job’s priestly mediation for his family (1:4–5)
D’ – Job’s priestly mediation for his friends (42:7–9)
C’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous wealth (42:10–12)
B’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous family (42:13–15)
A’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous life (42:16–17)
And notice the final verse of the book, this sort of epitaph etched on Job’s grave: “Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life” (42:17 NLT). Or as James says, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV). Trials, affliction, suffering, endurance, and patience are all key themes in the book of Job. But we miss something when we fail to see “what the Lord finally brought about.” Which is the OT’s way of saying that God uses trials for our good. To those who love God, affliction is the pathway to blessing (but of course this is no promise of financial wealth).
The other day I discovered a brief introduction to C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. In this video, author Robert Banks provides a brief description of the book’s origin and introduces Lewis’ view that pain is “God’s megaphone to awaken a sleeping world.” If you can stomach the Star Trek-like background and the quick cutaways where that background doesn’t move, you can watch the 8-minute interview here:
“I used to think it was a ‘cruel’ doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were ‘punishments.’ But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a ‘punishment’, it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”
—C.S. Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity.
Yesterday may family spent the day at the new Civil War museum and driving through various battlefields in Gettysburg. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the war and especially the role these rocky battlefields (like Little Round Top) played in the outcome. It was a sobering reminder of the 620,000 young men and boys that died in the war and of haunting sounds that once filled this little town as thousands of men groaned from the pain of battle.
Leaving the battlefields left a sorrow in the heart and a residual question in the mind—what is the eternal purpose of wars like this one?
As we drove from battlefield to battlefield viewing thousands of memorials littered all over what is, in my mind, the worlds largest cemetery, the words of John Piper in his second and final message at the Resolved conference in Palm Springs were ever-present.
In his message on Monday evening—The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth—Dr. Piper said the following:
Every human has died. Animals suffer. Rivers overflow an inundate hundreds of city bocks in Cedar Rapids. Avalanches bury skiers. Tornados suck the life out of little Boy Scouts. Tsunamis kill 250,000 in a night. Philippine ferries capsize killing 800 people in a moment. AIDs, malaria, cancer, and heart disease kill millions. A monster tornado rip through cities. Droughts and famines bring people to the brink, and over the brink, of starvation. Freak accidents happen in ways you would not want to describe. Little babies are born with no eyes, six legs, horrible deformities. That is because of ONE SIN! The universe was subjected to futility and corruption in hope (Romans 8:20).
This is very important for you to answer: Why did God subject the natural order to such horrific realities when nature did nothing wrong? Souls did something wrong. Adam and Eve’s volition did something wrong. The earth didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the earth bursting with volcanoes and earthquakes? Animals didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the deal with this universal subjection to corruption, when one man and one woman sinned one time, and the whole natural order goes wrong? Disorder everywhere in the most horrible ways, a kaleidoscope of suffering in this world, century after century.
Here is my answer—and I don’t know any other possible answer biblically—God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.
Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car accidents happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts. Why did he do it that way? Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you over your belittling of God compared to the engagement of your emotion when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job, or some physical thing happens? Everything in you rises to say, “No!”
How often does your heart say “No!” with the same emotional engagement at your own sin? Not very often. Therefore, what God says, “Alright, I know that about fallen man, therefore I will display the horror of his sin in a way that he can feel.” That’s why Jesus, when the tower fell on the 18, said simply “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The point of the falling of the tower and killing of 18 people was your moral evil (Luke 13:4). That was the point.
All physical evil has one point—sin is like that morally, we don’t have the wherewithal to feel it appropriately, therefore were going to get some help from the physical order. That’s the point of the world we live in, it’s pointing to the horror of moral evil. O, that we would see and feel how repugnant and offensive and abominable it is to prefer anything to God—and we do it everyday.
Adam and Eve brought the universe into this present horrific condition by preferring their own way and fruit to God. All the physical evil the universe is not as bad as that one act of treason. …
The ultimate reason that there is a new heavens and a new earth is not that there might be new bodies for saints. That’s true. That’s just one of the reasons. The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labor patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the center and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose—that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.
Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.
-John Piper, sermon transcript, “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth” taken from the 11:20-19:20 and 44:09-47:00 markers. You can listen to the entire message delivered at the Resolved conference here ( June 16, 2008 ) and you can listen to an earlier version of this message delivered at the Gospel Coalition here ( May 24, 2007 ).
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar
In his exposition of Psalm 80, Augustine defines idolatry as the inability to break from “earthbound thoughts.” His understanding of idolatry stretches to encompass a communion of idolaters—of “pagans” and “heretics,” of both the polytheistic man clutching an armful of gods, and the man who identifies himself as a Christian yet whose so-called faith does not extend beyond what is seen. For Augustine, the link here between the “pagan” and the “heretic” is a paralleled inability to interpret this world by the eternal hope and promise in Christ. The antithesis of idolatry, for Augustine, is not to gain more “spirituality,” but to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Augustine’s understanding of idolatry must surely have been shocking, especially to the professing Christians who were forced to stop and ask themselves a simple question: Is my religion based upon anything more than “earthbound thoughts”?
The echo of Augustine’s exhortation—delivered almost 1600 years ago—continues to be an important in light of various influences (like theological liberalism) where it’s not uncommon to hear Christianity described in words that carry little more significance than “earthbound thoughts.” Talk of heaven and talk of hell—both used by Christ as motivating factors for decisions in this life—can too easily become unpopular themes in contemporary books and sermons. And too frequently they are not part of our thinking as individual Christians.
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy
I was reminded of Augustine’s challenge to the “communion of idolaters” when I saw Reformation Heritage Book’s new title, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Here Bonar models for us how to interpret the difficult circumstances of our life on earth in light of the eternal promises and purposes of God.
Let me briefly outline the content of the book, and provide an “above-minded” excerpt at the end.
Night of Weeping
In the first half of the book, Bonar explains the nature of God’s discipline towards his children. God disciplines his children out of his eternal character—his love, wisdom, faithfulness, and power. This discipline is a training of the mind, will, heart, and conscience. God uses bodily sickness, bereavement, and adversity as he sets to work refining, sifting, pruning, and polishing. During this discipline our comforts come in several forms—Jesus weeps with us as we partake of his suffering, he reassures us in his word that all things work together for our good, he pours out special grace in every trial, he uses our afflictions as an opportunity to glorify God, he makes us useful here on earth, he supplies the means of mortifying sin, and he provides the Holy Spirit to comfort us.
In our age, which sometimes teeters on an overdose of “temporal spirituality,” the eternal spirituality and glory we are being prepared for can be easily forgotten. Life in Christ is preparation for something greater—”the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Bonar calls us to pay attention to the suffering and trials of this life because God is at work in all of the trials and struggles of this life, to prepare us for something greater, more gracious, and more glorious.
Simply stated, our trials are God’s means of purifying our desires and preparing us for the “pleasures forevermore” awaiting those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
Morning of Joy
The second half of the book details these eternally glorious promises of God. God disciplines us now, to prepare us eternally. This connection is important as we fend of the encroaching idolatry in our own hearts. Throughout the book, Bonar encourages us to look beyond the circumstances in life and to the eternal weight of glory. Here is a lengthy excerpt from chapter 12, “The Glory.”
In those vast blocks of unquarried rock what various forms are lying concealed! What shapes of statuary or architecture are there! Yet they have no history. They can have none. They are but parts of a hideous block, in which not one line or curve of beauty is visible. But the noise of hammers is heard. Man lifts up his tool. A single block is severed. Again he lifts up his tool, and it begins to assume a form; till, as stroke after stroke falls on it, and touch after touch smooths and shapes it, the perfect image of the human form is seen, and it seems as if the hand of the artist had only been employed in unwrapping the stony folds from that fair form, and awakening it from the slumber of its marble tomb. From the moment that the chisel touched that piece of rock its history began.
Such is the case of a saint. From the moment that the hand of the Spirit is laid on him to begin the process of separation, from that moment his history begins. He then receives a conscious, outstanding personality, that fits him for having a history—a history entirely marvelous; a history whose pages are both written and read in heaven; a history which in its divine brightness spreads over eternity. His true dignity now commences. He is fit to take a place in history. Each event in his life becomes worthy of a record. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” …
“The wise shall inherit glory” (Prov. 3:35). “The saints shall be joyful in glory” (Ps. 149:5). They are “vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). That to which we are called is “eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10). That which we obtain is “salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is to glory that God is “bringing many sons” (Heb. 2:10); so that as He, through whom we are brought to it, is “crowned with glory and honour,” so shall we be (Heb. 2:9). We are “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We are not only “witnesses of the sufferings of Christ, but partakers of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). So that the word of exhortation runs thus: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13). And the promise is not only, “if we suffer we shall also reign with him;” but, “if we suffer with him, we shall be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). …
Glory, then, is our inheritance. The best, the richest, the brightest, the most beautiful of all that is in God, of good, and rich, and bright, and beautiful, shall be ours. The glory that fills heaven above, the glory that spreads over the earth beneath, shall be ours. But while “the glory of the terrestrial” shall be ours, yet in a truer sense “the glory of the celestial shall be ours.” Already by faith we have taken our place amid things celestial, “being quickened together with Christ, and raised up with him, and made to sit with him in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). Thus we have already claimed the celestial as, our own; and having risen with Christ, we “set our affection upon things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Far-ranging dominion shall be ours; with all varying shades and kinds of glory shall we be encompassed, circle beyond circle stretching over the universe; but it is the celestial glory that is so truly ours, as the redeemed and the risen; and in the midst of that celestial glory shall be the family mansion, the church’s dwelling-place and palace—our true home for eternity. …
All that awaits us is glorious. There is an inheritance in reversion; and it is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4). There is a rest, a sabbath-keeping in store for us (Heb. 4:9); and this “rest shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). The kingdom which we claim is a glorious kingdom. The crown which we are to wear is a glorious crown. The city of our habitation is a glorious city. The garments which shall clothe us are garments “for glory and for beauty.” Our bodies shall be glorious bodies, fashioned after the likeness of Christ’s “glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Our society shall be that of the glorified. Our songs shall be songs of glory. And of the region which we are to inhabit it is said, that “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).
The hope of this glory cheers us. From under a canopy of night we look out upon these promised scenes of blessedness, and we are comforted. Our dark thoughts are softened down, even when they are not wholly brightened. For day is near, and joy is near, and the warfare is ending, and the tear shall be dried up, and the shame be lost in the glory, and “we shall be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”
-Horatius Bonar, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy (Reformation Heritage, 2008), pp. 227-232.
“The death of Jesus was qualitatively different from any other death. The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual experiences of cosmic abandonment. Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power excels ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us. … If we again ask the question: ‘Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?’ and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself. … So, if we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the Cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth.”
-Timothy Keller, The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York City: Dutton, 2008) p. 30.
Only a few men have the joy and privilege of being part of Jon Bloom’s care group. I am one of them. The wisdom of this one man has made a deep impact in my life and I am grateful for his humility, wisdom, and counsel.
After months of darkness, light pierced the clouds. My storm didn’t stop suddenly, but it gradually lost power and dissipated and I flew into clear skies. God’s promises again proved reliable instruments. I didn’t crash. In fact, the storm served me very well. I learned more than ever before how to “walk (or fly) by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). I thank God for every minute of that frightening storm.
I would encourage you to read the entire post.