A pastor is cutting his front lawn. He looks up from mowing to see a dump truck back out of his neighbor’s driveway. Yet, the large truck backed over his neighbor’s eighteen month old son. The little boy had been squatting behind the truck’s huge tire. The pastor joined the boy’s hysterical mother and ashen father on their trip to the hospital. Only, the boy had been crushed beyond recognition. People ask, “Where is God?”
Or taken from our local newspaper’s headlines just this past Wednesday. Van Buren’s Press Argus-Courier reported that a two-year-old Madison Gregory died in an electrical fire at 1:15 am on Monday. In an apartment between Van Buren and Alma, a woman, her boyfriend, along with three other children escaped. The boyfriend attempted to save the young girl, only to be overcome with smoke. Where is God?
We’re coming out of the twentieth century where we saw suffering on the biggest scale of any civilization – two world wars, the holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the devastating famines that took place in Africa, the emergence of AIDS, genocide in Uwanda, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. We’ve seen all this stuff and the world wants to know why.
During today’s message, you may text any questions related today’s topic to 99503 and enter the keyword “doubt” followed by your question. For example, text the following to 99503: “doubt Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” I’ll be answer your questions at the end of today’s message.
1 Peter is a book about suffering. It’s about how to live in a hostile culture for faith.
“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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:12-29)
1. Pain is Scheduled by God
When we ask “Where is God when I hurt?” Peter’s reply is that God schedules pain for us. Repeat these words with me: Pain is scheduled by God. That is a shock for many of you. Most believers want to place pain and God as far away from one another as possible. Yet, look at the text: “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” (1 Peter 4:12). Pain isn’t meaningless. Pain isn’t absurd. Pain isn’t absurd. Instead, pain is purposeful. This is one of the things I love so much about Christianity. It is coherent and it helps me make sense of my world. Pain is here to test you.
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Suffering isn’t outside of God’s will. Instead, it is in God’s will. If you were to ask me to explain the origin of evil in five minutes or less, here is my response. The Bible begins with God creating the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2. When you read the account located in Genesis 1-2, repeatedly the text says that all that God made was “very good.” There was no sin and no suffering. Then humans rebelled against God and according to the Bible, this marks the onset of suffering, toil, pain, and death. Some two chapters later after the Bible’s describes Adam and Eve’s rebellion, we read the hauntingly pitiful refrain: “then he died… then he died… then he died… then he died.” If you were to turn to the end of time or if you were to turn to the end of your Bibles, you see the ultimate reversal of this pain and sufferings as the Bible’ describes “a new heaven and a new earth.”
“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. 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’” (Revelation 21:3-4). Not only does this mark the end of suffering and pain, but it also marks the end of sin: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:7). There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. Yet, between the beginning and the end of the Bible, there is evil and there is suffering. The Bible’s large-scale story line, pain and sin are profoundly related. Evil is the cause of suffering. Rebellion is the root of pain. Sin is the source of death. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). The “whole creation” is groaning. In other words, don’t think that when you suffer it has to do only with you and your personal situation. You are one part of a groaning that the whole creation experiences. But you can also see from Romans 8:21 that there is an end point to suffering. In other words, there is a day coming when pain and suffering will end.
How did all of this begin? God’s subjects all of creation to futility and groaning and corruption. How do we know it was God that Paul is referring to? How do we know it was not Adam by his sin, or Satan by his temptation of Adam and Eve? We know this because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope.” Adam did not subject the world to futility in hope. Adam had no plan for the world. Satan did not subject the world to futility in hope. The person referred to in verse twenty is God: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope .” When Adam sinned, death and suffering and futility and groaning came into the world. Why? Because God said it would. Eat of this tree and you will die: “And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
The second law of thermal dynamics, sometimes called “entropy” – that the universe is running down, that it has a built-in tendency now to disorder – is not a natural quirk or accident. This is part of God’s decree. Since the fall, futility is built into the universe. God permits what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves. The meaning of all the misery in the world is that sin is horrific. All natural evil is a statement about the horror of moral evil. If you see a suffering in the world that is unspeakably horrible, let it make you shudder at how unspeakably horrible sin is against an infinitely holy God. The meaning of futility and the meaning of corruption and the meaning of our groaning is that sin – falling short of the glory of God – is ghastly, hideous, and repulsive beyond imagination.
So suffering is not surprising. It is planned. It’s on God’s schedule.
2. Is Joy the Ultimate Point of Your Pain?
The question we’re asking is “Where is God when I hurt?” “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13) Or to put it negatively with verse sixteen, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:16). And, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3).
When you suffer according to God's will, don’t be ashamed, instead you are to rejoice. This is amazing! The mark of a Christian is that he experiences deeper and greater joy in being dishonored with Christ than he does in being honored by men. Peter knew what he was talking about. He had experienced this pain before. According to Acts 5:41, after being beaten with the other apostles he “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). If you admire and love someone tremendously, and you get lumped together with them and treated the same way, it is a great honor. I have never heard anyone say, “The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort.” Nobody says that. It isn’t true. What’s true is what Samuel Rutherford said when he was put in the cellars of affliction: “The Great King keeps his wine there” — not in the courtyard where the sun shines. Charles Spurgeon said: “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.”
3. Judgment Will Be Your Yardstick
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17)?
Peter’s point is that God’s judgment is moving through the earth. The church does not escape. When the fire of judgment burns the church, it is a testing, proving, purifying fire. When it burns the remainder of the world, it either awakens or destroys. And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner” (1 Peter 4:18)?
You ask, “How can I love and care for someone who schedules pain for my life?” The pain in your life is an expression of God’s love for you. “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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8). You’ll go through specific trials if you follow Christ: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mathew 5:11-12). Believers pass through the testing fire of God’s judgment. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3) This is not because God hates us, but because He loves us and wills our purity.
God hates sin so much and loves His children so much that He will spare us no pain to rid us of what He hates. God permits what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves.
4. Deposit Your Life with God.
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
The word entrust is also translated deposit in Greek writings other than the New Testament. The word deposit points a mental picture of taking me life down to the local bank and depositing there. Now God has my life. How does this work?
On January 19, 1981, a group of terrorists called “M-19” broke into the S.I.L. residence in Bogotá, Columbia, and kidnapped Wycliffe translator Chet Bitterman. The communiqué from the terrorists read, “Chet Bitterman will be executed unless the Summer Institute of Linguistics and all its members leave Columbia by 6:00 PM February 19.” Wycliffe did not budge. Brenda Bitterman and her two little children waited 48 days. On March 7, the terrorists shot Chet Bitterman through the heart and left his body on a bus in Bogota. More than one hundred Wycliffe members in Columbia were given the choice of a new field. None left. And two hundred candidates volunteered to take Chet Bitterman’s place.
Remember the last words of Jesus at His death: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).
A French steamer on her return from America to France in the later 1800’s. On board the steamer was a Mrs. Spafford, with her four children. In mid-ocean a collision took place with a large sailing vessel, causing the steamer to sink in half an hour. Mrs. Spafford got her children out of their berths and up on deck. On being told that the vessel would soon sink, she knelt down in prayer, asking God that they might be saved if possible; or be made willing to die, if that was God’s will. In a few minutes the vessel sank to the bottom of the sea, and the children were lost. Mrs. Spafford was later discovered floating on the water. Ten days later she landed in Wales. From there she sent a cable to her husband, a lawyer in Chicago, where the message simply said, “Saved alone.” He started immediately for England to bring his wife to Chicago. Mr. Moody left his meetings in Edinburgh and went to Liverpool to try to comfort the bereaved parents, and was greatly pleased to find that they were able to say: “It is well; the will of God be done.” Mr. Spafford wrote the hymn, “It is well with my soul,” in commemoration of the death of his children. A short time prior to their sailing for Europe, the children had been converted.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul, It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—?My sin—not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!