Comfort & Security in Times of Suffering

“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”

Amos 3:6

This isn’t a very popular sentiment. I know a lot of you will disagree with it; many of you will find it offensive. But it’s a great comfort to me. Not only is it a great comfort, but I believe it’s the only solid ground to stand on during these anxious times. If you’re looking for those things — comfort and a firm place to plant your feet — then I recommend resting in the providence of God.

When Becca was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2017, our world was rocked. In many, many ways we’re still struggling to get our feet back under us. I’m a reader, so the first thing I did was turn to books about suffering in an attempt to wrap my head around what was happening to us and why; I never expected my bookshelf to have a whole section devoted to suffering. The books that gave me the most comfort were ironically, unexpectedly, the ones that insisted that suffering is part of God’s good purposes, that he wills it for his own glory and for our ultimate good — even though we may not understand it or like it.

I’m not saying it’s easy to believe these things. At first, the idea that God might be responsible for suffering (for Becca’s epilepsy or the coronavirus or anything else) was repulsive to me. But as I kept pressing in, I became convinced that this is the plain testimony of the Bible. (Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post summarizing this.) Once I saw in the Bible that God exercises his sovereignty for the good of his people, even in painful ways, I couldn’t un-see it. But I still didn’t find it comforting.

The comfort comes when I consider the alternatives. I would rather rest in the arms of a God who loves me and who has promised to work all things for my good, even if I can’t understand how this particular thing is truly for my good, than turn myself loose into a world where God is either too impotent or uncaring to do anything about the suffering he didn’t intend. If this is only of the devil, or merely random and meaningless, or simply the way of the world — none of these can give me more comfort than the truth that there’s a Father in heaven who loves me, is watching over for me, intends all things for my good, has promised to be near to me in my suffering, and has reconciled me to himself through Christ so I will one day enjoy him forever.

And the thing is, I can see it. I don’t need to imagine ways that God might eventually use Becca’s epilepsy for her good — I can see many of the ways he’s already using it even now. Her faith and character are stronger. Her testimony is beautiful. Our family is being refined and improved. Our children will be better men and husbands and fathers than they would be without this. And while I may not be able to identify ways, yet, that he’s using coronavirus for good, I absolutely trust that he’s doing something in and through it that couldn’t be done any other way; and if it could be done in a better way, I trust that he’d do it that way instead.

None of this is to say that I can wrap my head around all the ins and outs of the dilemma. How can God be providentially sovereign over suffering without himself being responsible for sin? I don’t know, exactly. How do we balance God’s providence with free will? I’m not sure I can adequately answer that question. I honestly don’t like all the implications of this; if it were up to me, I’d often choose differently — but if it were up to me, I’d’ve made a wreck of the whole thing a long time ago; I can hardly manage a family of four, much less a whole universe; and I certainly wouldn’t have given my wife a disability, which means we would’ve missed out on the blessings and growth that have come from our suffering together.

So, yes, there is comfort and security here. If you do not yet know the love and care of the one true God, consider this your invitation: Repent of your sins and turn to Christ. He died to save sinners like you and like me. And, having done so, he blesses us with the assurance that he is caring for us and that all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Why My Boys Believe in Santa Claus

My favorite thing about Christmas is the waiting. It wasn’t always that way: When I was a kid, my favorite thing was opening my presents. (We didn’t do Santa, so the presents came from mom and dad.) As I grow older, though, I could sit with the waiting for what feels like forever—because I know for a certainty that the waiting will pay off. The seasonal anticipation builds to a climax that happened in history more than 2,000 years ago. Continue reading “Why My Boys Believe in Santa Claus”

I need Christmas more than ever before

We’re about three weeks from Christmas, and we haven’t put up any decorations. No garland, no lights (inside or out), no tree, no angels, no stockings. Our house looks about as festive as it did around Labor Day, which is to say that it looks exactly how it has looked on any given day since we took down last year’s decorations. Continue reading “I need Christmas more than ever before”

Spurgeon: Rejoice in creation (old and new)

This is a guest post by the Prince of Preachers, C.H. Spurgeon. I would say it’s my favorite excerpt from his sermons, but that’s not entirely accurate, as it’s the only Spurgeon excerpt I’ve ever read. Still, I can’t imagine finding one I like more than this.

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I must confess that I think it a most right and excellent thing that you and I should rejoice in the natural creation of God. I do not think that any man is altogether beyond hope who can take delight in the nightly heavens as he watches the stars, and feel joy as he treads the meadows all bedecked with kingcups and daisies. He is not lost to better things who, on the waves, rejoices in the creeping things innumerable drawn up from the vasty deep, or who, in the woods, is charmed with the sweet carols of the feathered minstrels.

Continue reading “Spurgeon: Rejoice in creation (old and new)”

The truth incarnate

artofthehobbit1Jack often asks me why I like The Lord of the Rings so much, and I usually tell him it’s because I think it’s one of the best stories ever told. What I really want to say is that I think it’s one of the truest stories ever told, but I don’t think he’s quite old enough to get the difference between ‘true’ and ‘real.’

Earlier today I read an essay called “In Praise of Stories” (one of the many excellent essays in The Christian Imagination) that touches on the same topic:

But what do we mean by a true story?… In what helpful sense is a fictional story about a boy and a slave on a raft, or, worse yet, a story about hobbits and wizards, true? Here is the answer: Any story is true, fictional or otherwise, that testifies accurately to the human condition.

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But for the grace of God

The other day, while discussing some not unsubstantial family problems, someone asked me, “How is it, Josh, that you turned out the way you did?”

I assumed this was meant to reflect positively on me, and replied, “Only by the grace of God.”

In retrospect, my response sounds a little trite; it’s the sort of insincere response that people often give without thinking much about what exactly they’re saying. But I meant it. I mean it. I’m not sure of much in this life, but I am sure of this: I could very easily have walked a different path to end up in a much darker place and as a far worse person. And I’m not on my current path—a path of faith and hope and grace and life—because of anything I did. No, I’m walking this path in spite of anything I did. Left to myself, left to my pain, my past, my family, my circumstances and the natural consequences of my too often foolish decisions, I would not be here. But for the grace of God.

Continue reading “But for the grace of God”

When life hands you Lemonade

When I pulled up to the parking lot of Engedi Church last night, I was surprised to see how many cars were there. Certainly more than I had expected for a Monday night — nearly as many as I find for a proper Sunday morning service. We had shown up at the abandoned strip mall-turned church building-turned temporary movie theater for a screening of Reparando, a documentary film about Guatemalans who are “embracing the pain of their past to repair the next generation.”

After watching the trailer, I had planned on seeing a powerful film. What I hadn’t planned on was seeing such a moving testimony about the power of the gospel to transform lives. The documentary follows the stories of Tita and Shorty, two Christian leaders who work passionately to improve their community, La Limonada (‘lemonade’). La Limonada is an asentamiento, an urban slum community that, if I remember correctly, is home to some 60,000 people. It’s the largest slum in Central America. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Continue reading “When life hands you Lemonade”

Out with the Old, in with the New

Yesterday, after nine months of determined devotion, I finally finished my first entire read-through of the Old Testament. Genesis through Malachi. “In the beginning” all the way to “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

I won’t be stopping here, of course. The New Testament is on the other side of the page, and I’m eager to get started — but it’s worth reflecting on what I’ve noticed while reading through the L. and the P.

Continue reading “Out with the Old, in with the New”