My Dear Friends,
It is the easiest thing in the world to say, ‘The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord’, when all is well with you and yours. When life is sweet, when your children are trusting in Christ, when your church is united and loving, when your spouse loves and cherishes you, when your health is fine, when your job is secure, when all your hopes are being realised, it is not hard to sing, ‘Whate’er my God ordains is right.’ But when life is hard, when you lose your job, when you are disappointed in love, when cherished hopes lie in the dust, when your church is beset with acrimony, backbiting and unbelief, when your health is suffering, when your children are suffering, when people you love are going through sore trials, when the way of the wicked appears to prosper and the way of the righteous suffers, it is not so easy to ‘humble yourself under God’s almighty hand’ (1 Peter 5:6).
In Romans 8:19, Paul writes about ‘the sufferings of this present time.’ He is reminding the Christians in Rome that the way of the believer in this present fallen world is a way of suffering. It is at the same time a way of glory, but a glory shot through with suffering. Why? Because the Christian way is the way of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Jesus‘ way was a way of unrelieved suffering. He describes the whole course of his life as ’the time of my testings/temptations' (Luke 22:28). He was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3) - and the servant is not greater than his Master!
Because we live in a fallen world in yet fallen and sinful bodies, we cannot escape the marks of our fallenness. Those marks are many. There is the hostility of a fallen world to the children of God, the ‘blood brothers and sisters’ of God’s own Son. There is the ever present pull and seduction of remaining or indwelling sin. There is the reality of a disintegrating body, disintegrating not because of the inexorableness of the law of entropy, but because ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).
Added to all this, or better, undergirding all this, is the sovereign, wise, inscrutable will and purpose of our loving heavenly Father. It is the same good Shepherd who leads his chosen and precious flock by green pastures and still waters, who is also pleased to lead them ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4). God’s ways are not our ways; thanks be to God. He does as he pleases, but never arbitrarily, coldly, clinically or callously. Whom the Lord loves he chastens (Hebrews 12:6). And his chastening is so that we might the more bear the fruit of righteousness to his praise and glory and our good (Hebrews 12:7, 11).
Now we see through a glass darkly, as Paul so vividly puts it (1 Cor.13:12). At this present time your loving Father’s ways with you might seem obscure, even hard and unfeeling. Satan will do all he can to have you think that your Lord and Saviour is ‘a hard man’. Nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot tell you how often I have read and quoted Calvin’s comments on Romans 4:20 (easily over one hundred). But they are so rich in biblical wisdom and sanity that I must share them with you once again.
“Let us remember that we are all in the same condition as Abraham. Our circumstances are all in opposition to the promises of God. He promises us immortality: yet we are surrounded by mortality and corruption. He declares that He accounts us just: yet we are covered with sins. He testifies that He is propitious and benevolent towards us: yet outward signs threaten His wrath. What then are we to do? We must close our eyes, disregard ourselves and all things connected with us, so that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.”
Faith submits itself under God’s almighty, but ever gracious and kind hand. It may do so with tears, copious tears, but it will still do so. Here we have no continuing city. Here the outward man perishes. One coming day, ordained by God from times eternal, all will be revealed. No longer will we see through a glass darkly; we will see HIM face to face and all will be made clear. Here we live by faith, trusting, at times wholly in the dark. One day faith will give way to wondering sight. Hold on. Look up. Have faith in God.
With my love in Christ,