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Where is the Goodness of God in Suffering?

By the time you hear this podcast, it will be dropping on August 8th, the second week of August. And that will be just a few days after what is scheduled to be my third brain surgery that is taking place on August 4th. I am recording this podcast and the rest of the podcasts in August,  near the end of July, before my surgery. As you’re listening to me say these words, I don’t know what kind of shape I will physically be in. I might still be in the hospital. I might have been released from the hospital. Having done two of these surgeries before, I have some sense of what to expect. Neither of my recoveries was exactly the same. After the first surgery, after about three and a half weeks, I started to feel like a human being again. And then I got a nasty case of COVID. And it was a little over five weeks before I was up and around fully again. After the second surgery, I didn’t get COVID, and I was up and around and ready to be back in the game after about four weeks. I don’t know what kind of complications await or what kind of easy graces await as I recover from this third surgery. The plan is that I am recovering right now with this kind of surgery. The idea is that after surgery, I am moved immediately into intensive care. This is what they do when they open up your brain, and they need to monitor you. The plan is to be in ICU for a couple of days. And then in a regular hospital room for a couple of days after that. And then, hopefully, to be released sometime around there for some pretty intense recovery at home. I know that the first week of these recoveries after the surgeries is miserable. It is hard on me. And so, without going into all the gory details of all that’s entailed in it, it is tough. If this is gone like the other surgeries have gone. I am laying in pain right now. But the Lord knows what’ll happen in a few weeks. And the Lord knows what’s going on as you’re listening to this.

Reflections on Suffering

As I think about this and prepare for that, I can’t help but think about suffering. I want to have some reflections on suffering this week on the podcast. And I want to think about the goodness of God in suffering. And I want to think about the goodness of God in suffering as I tell you a story about playing with matches. When I was a little boy, I loved to play with fire. That is not an endorsement. If you’re listening with kids. Kids, I’m not telling you to go play with fire. I’m confessing here. I’m not boasting. I loved to play with fire. I was hypnotized by it. I’ve got a Mawmaw. I don’t know if you have a Mawmaw. You probably call your Mawmaw granny or nana or grandma or something like that. But I have a Mawmaw. And I knew where Mawmaw kept the matches in her house when I was a little boy, and Mawmaw would tell me and my brother and our cousins don’t play with the matches. We would listen to her say that, and then we would go as disobedient kids, and we would go and we would play with the matches because we weren’t allowed to play with the matches. We had to find a secret place to do it. And so we found a place out in the backyard behind the woodpile, and before the woods started, we found a place to play with matches back there. One day as we played with the matches, we lost control of it, and the matches wound up in the woods, and the woods caught fire, and there was a pretty big blaze out there. We ran screaming into the house, “Fire, fire, fire,” and Mawmaw and some others came out of the house. They were able to connect some water hoses and stretch them all the way out to the end of the yard, and they were able to extinguish the fire with the water hose. But boy, did we get in trouble for that, and we got in trouble for that because we created pain and suffering. For a lot of people, a lot of fear, a lot of panic. What we did was bad. Enduring the suffering and the trial of that fire is what I think is a great illustration of the way suffering works and the way we respond to it.

Before I explain what I mean by that, I just want to make clear that we have to understand that the reason we suffer is not because of God. God is good. In Psalm 119:68, the Psalmist says, “You are good and do good. Teach me your statutes.” Think about that says it’s a statement about the character of God. You are good. And then it’s a statement about the actions of God; you do good because you’re good. You do good. And then it’s a statement about what we need. Teach me your statutes. That statement praising the goodness of God and who he is. And what he does, is an indictment of us. It says that God is good, and we’re not. It says God is the one who knows how we are to live. And we are the ones who mess it up. God is good. He has told us his rules. He’s given us His statutes. One of the main reasons he’s done that is so that we might avoid suffering. When we disobey when we sin, that is what leads to our suffering. Suffering is our fault. It’s not God’s fault. God is good and has told us how we should live. And if only we would listen, we would be spared suffering. But we don’t listen. We’re hard-headed and hard-hearted, and we persist in our sin, and we make our lives difficult.

God Redeems Our Suffering

Another demonstration of the goodness of God and suffering is that even though God is good, and he does not wish for this suffering, but the suffering happens because of our sin. God enters into our suffering to redeem us from it. God, the perfect, all-sufficient, all-knowing God, sends his son to live in the flesh and experience suffering. He is reviled and mistreated, and ultimately executed. He does that to pay for our sin. He receives the suffering that we deserve so that we might receive the blessing that he deserves whenever we come to Him. In faith, God is good. He’s the one who’s tried to tell us how to avoid the suffering. We persist in our sin, create suffering, and the good, glorious, wonderful God enters into that suffering to redeem us from that suffering. One day that, good God will respond to the suffering that we created by eradicating it. I love it. In Revelation 21:4, it says Jesus, “Will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away.” We are the ones who cause suffering with our sin. God is the one who has sought to prevent it with his righteous rules. He’s the one who has decisively ended it with the entrance of Jesus into our suffering to redeem us. He is the one who will one day eradicate suffering with the full disclosure of His grace at the end of time.

This is where playing with matches comes into play. When I was getting in trouble for lighting that fire in the backyard, if I had blamed the fire on my Mawmaw and said, well, you’re the one with the matches. You’re the one who did this. The response to that would be insane. Because yes, my, my Mawmaw had matches for all sorts of good reasons. I don’t know what they were. But she was a great lady, and I assume she had good reasons for the matches. She’s the one who told us don’t play with the matches. You need to know what you’re doing to use the matches. And when I disobeyed her, when I crossed her and did what I wanted, I entered myself into a world of suffering that was not her fault. But that was mine. We do suffer in this painful and fallen world. I’m sure, as you listen to this, I’m suffering right now. But that suffering isn’t the Lord’s fault. God is good. He loves us. He cares for us. He sought to keep us from suffering. He saves us from our suffering, and one day he will fully redeem us from our suffering and so we can trust in His goodness, even when we suffer and are in pain.