Christ and Culture Revisited: Suffering and Loss

I often read more than one book at the same time, switching back and forth between them. "Christ and Culture Revisited" (D.A. Carson) is not an easy read. It's challenging. But there's a lot of valuable insight in it if you can maintain focus.

A friend and I were recently discussing why God allows certain tragedies in life; specifically, the suffering of children. I, for some strange reason, have never had a major struggle when it comes to searching for answers from God as to why He allows bad things to happen. I have always just accepted that God does not intend for me to understand everything about life here on earth. The main thing is for me to trust Him in all circumstances, knowing He is just, merciful and loving and that He will use every situation for my good and His glory -- whether I can see it in the present moment or not. If I had all the answers, where would faith and trust come into the picture?

I have confidence that one day (not in this life necessarily) everything about this life will make perfect sense. And that is enough for me. I remember feeling that way when I lost my mom very prematurely. I didn't want to lose her and I didn't think she "deserved" to die so young. She was a good person. It made no sense why God would take her so young when she could have continued to be a blessing in so many people's lives. But I didn't question God. I believed that He could have lengthened her life if He had chosen to, and for some reason, He did not. But I knew there was a reason. It was not His will for her to live beyond the age of 49. I knew He wanted me to simply trust Him and not search for answers as to why the outcome could not have been different.

I have not lost a child or suffered through health issues with my child. But my husband lost his 18 year old daughter just after we became engaged. And she had health challenges (severe asthma) her entire childhood. During many of those years, he was a single parent trying to do it all by himself. I've walked through the experience of losing Brittany with him. I know there's nothing harder to accept. But I have watched him accept God's will, from the moment he lost her, and rest in his faith that if God had intended her to be here one more day, she would be here. Brittany's days were ordained by God before even one of them came to be. John believes this. And there is comfort in knowing that, for any child of God, there is a divine purpose in everything -- including our suffering. God intends everything for our good and for His glory. When I'm struggling with future uncertainty, I always remind myself of that. Some way, somehow, God will be glorified in everything -- including all our present suffering.

I have been reading in "Respectable Sins" about anxiety, frustration and discontentment with our circumstances. I'll save some of those comments for another post. But what all of these share in common is that they are each a result of our lack of trust in God and God's plan for our lives. In the chapter from "Christ and Culture Revisited," I have been reading about sin and the fall. And there are just so many parallels! As I read a passage from "Christ and Culture..." I thought about the recent conversation regarding why God allows little children to have cancer or other life-threatening conditions. Carson was addressing the pervasiveness of sin and its effects on all of life in this passage, not just suffering. But these words spoke to my heart and I hope they will encourage yours. First, the bad news. Then, the good news that "the fall does not have the last word."

...Christians cannot long think about Christ and culture without reflecting on the fact that this is GOD'S world, but that this side of the fall this world is simultaneously resplendent with glory and awash in shame, and that every expression of human culture simultaneously discloses that we were made in God's image and shows itself to be mis-shaped and corroded by human rebellion against God.

...Sin is so warping that it corrodes every facet of our being, our wills and affections, our view of others and thus our relationships, our bodies and our minds. Sinners incur guilt, yet they need more than forgiveness and reconciliation to God (though never less), since the results of sin are so pervasive: they also need regeneration and transformation.

Yet the fall does not have the last word. Already in Genesis 3, there are signs of hope. God himself pursues the rebels; God himself promises them offspring that will one day crush the serpent's head; God himself clothes them to hide their nakedness. It comes as enormous relief to discover that this God is not only the jealous God who punishes "the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation" of those who hate him (for sin, as we have seen, has massive social ramifications), but he is also the God who shows "love to a thousand generations of those who love [him] and keep [his] commandments" (Exodus 20:6). Similarly, it comes as an enormous relief to recognize that, however odious and sweeping sin is, whether in personal idolatry or in its outworking in the barbarities of a Pol Pot or an Auschwitz, God intervenes to restrain evil, to display his "common grace" to and through all, so that glimpses of glory and goodness disclose themselves even in the midst of the wretchedness of rebellion. God still sends his sun and rain on the just and the unjust; he still guides the surgeon's hand and gives strength to the person who picks up the garbage; the sunset still takes our breath away, while a baby's smile steals our hearts. Acts of kindness and self-sacrifice surface among every race and class of human beings, not because we are simple mixtures of good and evil, but because even in the midst of our deep rebellion God restrains us and displays his glory and goodness.

In "Respectable Sins," Bridges shares part of a poem by Amy Carmichael entitled "In Acceptance Lieth Peace." The speaker in the poem is suffering and seeking peace through forgetting, restless endeavor, aloofness, and even through submission to the inevitable. Finally, the suffering speaker finds relief in these words:

He said, "I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God to-morrow
Will to His son explain."
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease,
Not vain the word; not vain:
For in Acceptance lieth peace.

My constant prayer is, "Father, I trust You. Help me to trust You more. Help me to trust You FULLY." I know God will answer this prayer, even if He does not choose every outcome for me that I would choose. Through every trial, I am learning how to trust Him in deeper ways.

Jerry Bridges, the author of "Respectable Sins," shares about challenges in his life and learning to accept God's will. He writes, "Acceptance means that you accept your circumstances from God, trusting that He unerringly knows what is best for you and that in His love, He purposes only that which is best. Having then reached a state of acceptance, you can ask God to let you use your difficult circumstances to glorify Him. In this way you have moved from the attitude of a victim to an attitude of stewardship. You begin to ask, "God, how can I use my...(whatever the difficult circumstance may be) to serve You and glorify You?"

After the death of his first wife, he writes that a friend sent him a card with the following anonymous quote:

Lord, I am willing to --
Receive what you give,
Lack what you withhold,
Relinquish what you take.


Anonymous said…
Beautiful post!!!!