Monday, September 23, 2013

what I'm reading: the difference between cause and purpose in the "why?" of suffering

I finished Nancy Guthrie's Holding on to hope a few weeks ago; a book written  after the loss of a daughter while facing the loss of a son.

Now I'm reading Hearing Jesus speak into your sorrow. Written 10 years later, it's perhaps a little less raw and a little more mature, but equally helpful.

Once again, I'd highly recommend this book as suitable to give to someone who's suffering. It's wise, biblical and comforting, a collection of reflections that can be read during your devotions.

So far, chapter 6 - "I have a purpose in your pain" - has been the most helpful chapter, for 4 reasons:
  • it has a clear, biblical explanation of God's sovereignty in suffering (one of the best I've read)
  • it explains why suffering is never punishment for a Christian's sin (I was surprised to find how common and painful the thoughts "I deserve this" and "I did something to cause this" are when you suffer)
  • it lists three truths about God that got Nancy through her suffering (very familiar ones to me)
  • it reframes the question "Why?" (in terms of purpose rather than cause).
It's the last one that stood out for me. Nancy Guthrie says,
Why? is the questions that seems to haunt most people who suffer deeply. In fact, many of us get stuck there. Until we get an acceptable answer to this question, we can't move forward.

In asking why, I think we really have two questions. We want to know what caused the suffering, as well as what purpose there is in it. We want to know what or who is responsible and then figure out if there was any good reason for it. ...

Honestly, I've come to think that looking for a specific answer to the question Why? is mostly an unsatisfying quest.

What we really are in search of is not an explanation but a sense of meaning. We want to know that there is some meaning and purpose in our losses - that they are not random or worthless.

God wants us to stop being stuck on figuring out the cause of our suffering so we can fulfill the purpose he has in our suffering.

What allows us as God's children to endure it is that while it's painful, we're confident it's purposeful. Never punitive. Never random. Never too harsh. Always out of love.
And then she outlines some of God's purpose in our suffering:
What's the purpose? God's desire is that "afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way" (Hebrews 12:11).

God is at work cutting away the dead places and destructive patterns in our lives so we can flourish and grow.

His purpose for your suffering and my suffering is that in the midst of it, we would put the work of God in our lives on display for the world to see.
Of course, there is still much that we won't understand in this life:
Sometimes God, in his goodness, draws back the curtain and shows us; we can see how he is using our loss in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

Other times we have to wait. Certainly we can never expect to see the complete purposes of God in this life.

That is where faith is required -

faith that God is working out all things for the good of those who love him,

faith that the day will come when what we can't see now will become clear,

faith that he will give us the grace we need to put his glory on display for the world to see.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

Pop! That is the sound of another book going on the reading list. Thanks for passing this one on.

It is such a great subject to be on top of, as you well know. Praying that you are ministered to in this path of study and thankful that you have shared the theoretical with the practical. And praying, as always, for on-going strength.