Saturday, January 11, 2014

P2 God's Will, the Believer and Suffering

James 5:10-11 "As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful."

Introduction and review In yesterday's post we began considering the relationship between God's will, the believer and suffering.  Thus far we have considered Job as an example of what it means to endure suffering and evil, as instructed by James in James 5:10-11.  In today's post we continue our study by noting how the various aspects of God's will enable us to grasp better how to face the suffering and evil in this world as Christians. The point of this study is not to gain total comprehension of how God is Sovereign and Good while there is yet evil and suffering in the world. Rather the purpose is to have better understanding in how to handle such issues and to give the reader a way in which to cope and comfort those who are suffering by pointing them to God in Christ as revealed in the scriptures.

God's will as spelled out in scripture and in the life of the believer
Before getting to the subject of suffering and evil, we need to briefly look at God's will as outlined in the scriptures.  God's will first and foremost has to do with what God desires and/or purposes. (for instance, Isaiah 45:1-7; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15) Thus God being all-powerful and all-good has an ultimate will by which He governs and sustains all of life, places and people. (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15; Ephesians 1:11-12; Romans 8:28, 11:36) Such an understanding of God ruling and reigning over all people's and places according to His purposes and/or pleasure is what we call His Sovereignty. God's Sovereignty includes the fact He governs with all power (1 Corinthians 8:6-7), righteousness and truth (Psalm 89:14) and justice and goodness (Genesis 18:25). Thus whatever is right and good is so because God is the Ultimate standard of right and good. (Exodus 33:16-17; 34:6-7; Luke 18:1-5)

If we can picture God's Ultimate will as an umbrella, scripture unfolds His ultimate will, representing His purposes and/or desires, as being composed of at least three aspects or "wills" that He uses in exercising His ultimate will. We will name them and then use each one to walk our way through what took place in the opening chapters of the Book of Job.

1. God has a permissive or inclusive will.
God's permissive or what we could also term His "inclusive will", refers to whatever means God uses or "permits" in bring about His ultimate will.  For example, we understand that God often will use and permit evil persons such as pagan kings (Isaiah 45:1-7), nations (Habakkuk 1) or in the instance of Job's situation, Satan himself to accomplish His purposes. (Job 1:6-19; 2:7-10)  Scripture itself refers to God's permissive will.  At times God willed to permit or include suffering and hardship in the lives of the Israelites to show them that "man shall live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God's mouth". (Deuteronomy 8:4) James records in James 4:14 the phrase "If the Lord wills" regarding plans that people may have for the future. God clearly "permitted" or "willed to include" the evil actions of the Jews and Romans in the execution of Christ, the event He had in His ultimate will ordained to come to pass. (Acts 2:23-24).  Scripture tells us the principle that God permits what He hates in order to accomplish the good He intends. (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). 17th century Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller, in his foundational work "Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation" writes: God has ever maintained these two principles: all that is evil is of the creature, and to him, belongs the blame of it; and all that is good is of Himself, and to Him belongs the praise of it."1

God has an unrevealed will
Scripture spells out the fact that there are aspects of God's ultimate will that men nor angel will never know nor can know.  Deuteronomy 29:29 states that "the unrevealed things belong to God". Matthew 24:36 states that the time of Christ's coming is only known to the Father. It is this facet of God's will that makes the problem of evil and suffering truly and personally painful. With even as much information that Job 1-2 reveals to the reader (the conversation between Satan and God and the direct cause of Job's suffering being done by Satan and evil men), still the fact remains that there are things we do not know.  For instance: Why did God will to permit Satan to come into His presence in heaven? Why did God include Satan in such a dialogue about Job? Why does God let Satan afflict a man who was as righteous as Noah, had the integrity of Joseph and faith like Abraham? The text does not say specifically. In Job's case we know the overall outcome and thus the purpose of God's ultimate will for Job, which we will look at in just a moment.  However some of the specific things God included in His plan we are not told, nor can we know. 

Scripture uniformly points us to find comfort in God's character as being All-Good and All-powerful, rather than answers to all our questions. The same God who chose to create a world where His Son would be crucified is the same God behind working forth His redemptive purposes in such an act. As the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742 notes: "that His determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; (and that not by a bare permission) which also He most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth, and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to His most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin."2

God has a revealed will - The Word of God
We have seen God's ultimate will to be about what He desires and/or purposes, and that His Ultimate will includes what He permits/includes as well as some areas He only knows.  However there is one last aspect of God's Ultimate will, what passages such as Deuteronomy 29:29 and 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to as His revealed will.  Twice we see Job finding comfort in His sufferings in the revealed aspect of God's will.  Job notes God's Sovereignty in Job 1:21 and God's character in 2:10.  Though such truths had not yet been put in writing at this point in redemptive history (this writer assumes the events of Job occurred in the days of the Genesis patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Joseph), nonetheless Job may had learned of them from being a distant relative of Esau, and thus through indirect contact with Abraham's relatives.  What we do know is that Job clung tightly to God's revealed Word in the face of financial loss, family loss, loss of health, a shattered and bitter wife and of course his so-called "friends" and their helpless words comprising the bulk of the book.

God has a purpose in suffering - always
We have looked at the believer Job and the will of God.  But now the big question comes: what purpose is their in his suffering? We must note two fundamental assumptions about suffering, the believer and the will of God: there is always a purpose, however we may often not know nor understand what that purpose is.  Whenever we read through the whole book of Job, the question comes up again and again: Why? Again we may not know the answer comprehensively, however Job 42:10-11 reveals the outcome: "The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. 11 Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold." The purpose of God was to ultimately bless Job.  So in the end, not one of the things Job underwent occurred without a purpose.  That is Job's life.

But now what about you.  Unlike the Book of Job, you and I often don't have the purposes of God spelled out as to why we experience particular evils or sufferings.  In fact I am thinking of a couple people in my own life: a dear friend and a family member, who are experiencing suffering in their lives.  They are believers who love the Lord, and yet their circumstances are close to what Job's was like.  I don't even begin to know all the reasons why. However I do know the Who Who is Sovereign.  They too know Him Who makes known Himself though the scriptures.  

Job himself had done nothing wrong.  Nonetheless God's statements at the beginning of the book were based upon how God saw Job not in Job 1-2, but how God knew Job was going to be in Job 42.  Yes, God's purpose and desire was to bless Job.  You and I most certainly may not see what purposes God has.  However the same Sovereign and Good God in the book of Job is still operating and working in the world and so desires to work in your life.  As Dr. Swindoll has noted: "Though God's Sovereignty may not answer all my questions, nonetheless His Sovereignty does calm me in all my fears". 

As we close out today's post, we have considered Job as an example of a believer who went through suffering within the will of God.  We looked at various aspects of God's Ultimate will (permissive, unrevealed and revealed wills) to grasp in a better way how there is no conflict between God being Sovereign and there being suffering. Then we saw that in regards to suffering, God has a purpose, however we often will not full comprehend that purpose - thus driving us to trust in what He has revealed Himself to be in Christ and in His word. (John 16:33) The aim of today's post was not to provide comprehensive understanding, rather to aid in better grasping of this difficult issue.  My hope is that this post has given the reader some encouragement in whatever difficult time they are facing or are currently experiencing.  


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