“Gam zu le-tobah (this, too, will be for the best).” Nahum, the man of Gimzu
Nahum was a minor prophet of the Old Testament and he was known to his contemporaries for this motto. And on every occasion, no matter how unpleasant the circumstances, he would make the above statement indicating a guiding principle he had insight into. His motto may very well be the precursor to our New Testament scripture, Romans 8:28 KJV, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” It is of great comfort in times of suffering to have the hope that something good, not only can, but will, come of it. Many times, having that hope is the only thing that keeps us from being overcome by despair. It’s probably no coincidence that the name Naham means ‘comforter’. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.
This study will examine the universal question, “Why does God allow suffering?” This is the question that is utilized by unbelievers to place a bulwark against belief in God. Additionally, it is a weapon of suggestion, wielded against a believer, by Satan, during overwhelming grief of any kind. The first clarification needs to be in the question itself. The true question is, “Why does God allow sin?” Because the truth is, if there were no sin, there would be no suffering, not even death. Studying why God allows suffering (sin) will not lessen the pain during it, but it will strengthen hope, which shores up the soul as it passes through suffering. God is not the author of sin, therefore, He overrules it to His wise and gracious purposes, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,…” (Gen 50:20 ESV)
How do all things work together for our good?
There are two perspectives of sin. One of the self as sinner, and the other is of others as sinner. God uses each of these perspectives of sins to benefit our souls in different ways. Our experience and awareness of our own sin nature is used to help us suppress or abate our tendency toward the sin of pride. Feeling the burden of our own sin helps lead us into dependency on Christ and teaches us to be less censorious, less critical and fault-finding of others. We become convinced of our dependence on the power and grace of God to keep us from sinning. Desiring not to sin aides in weaning us from the world and all its incitements to it, and draws us into the kingdom of God, which is available to us here and now. Feeling the humiliation of sin actually weakens it in us. Any continued commitment of sin shows us our greatest areas of weakness, giving us opportunity to experience our need of Christ more fully. Aware of our propensity to sin excites us to prayer and watchfulness. All of these benefits and more are gained from our experience of a sin nature. The accompanying suffering caused by our sin compels us to flee from it and pursue Christ to conform us to His image.
Absolutely nothing goes to waste in God plans and purposes, and they are all good, “ to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Is 61:3 ESV) So what are the benefits we receive from witnessing the sins of others? Our concern to bring God glory, and to represent Christ well, is built up by witnessing sin. Recognizing sin in others raises our indignation toward it as we determine not to be vulnerable to sinning ourselves. Observing the harm sin wreaks, causes personal soul-searching to root out any tendencies to it in our own hearts and ways. Watching the shame born from sin, in the lives of others, is prescriptive and directs us away from it. Witnessing the destruction brought on by habitual sinning brings humble gratitude for the grace we have received through salvation to no longer be dominated by it.
If all things work for good to them that love God, then how do we know we love Him?
We do not love God naturally. Which is very good news because if the love of God is wrought in our soul by regeneration, meaning by God Himself, then it is a sure thing and not of our own efforts. The whole dispensation of our activity toward God is left to cultivating our faith. The very faith we were imbued with in order to answer the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation. It’s evident that nothing is left to chance except our ability to choose to accept these free gifts. One way to assess whether we are actually engaged in, and experiencing genuine saving faith, is to examine the evidences of the existence of love for God. Some of those evidences are displayed in attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, such as a desire to be like Christ and not to offend Him. Delighting in God’s presence, the company of fellow believers, the study of His word, obedience to His commands and spiritual worship. Valuing God’s love as a means to experiencing authentic love. Devaluing the standard’s of the world. Seeking God in a steady, sincere and hearty pursuit through prayer, study, worship and service. Using the goal of glorifying God to govern decisions and actions. Notice most of these measurements of love are based on behaviors, and attitudes that guide behaviors. That’s because love is a virtue, a spiritual gift, a state of being, not a feeling.
How do we know we are called according to His purpose?
There are sure and certain understandings we experience when we have been called according to His purpose. The first one is that we become certain that He did the ‘calling’. We did not initiate the relationship. We are certain in the knowledge that we have been taken from darkness into His glorious light, from bondage to sin, to freedom in Christ. We shun the company of sinfulness for the fellowship of Christ. There is a deep awareness of dependence on God’s righteousness and gratitude for His gift of grace. We are naturally distrustful and wary of our own sin nature. We become fixed on God, we have been called according to His purpose, His will. And the best I can understand God’s will is that He desires to have fellowship with believers for eternity, sharing all that He has and is.
One last note concerning the soul’s suffering.
There is one time our soul’s suffer that is not caused by sin, and that is when God seems to ‘hide His face’ from us. What some believers refer to as the time ‘when heaven falls silent’. The advantaged gained from this experience is that, once the time has passed and God presence is again realized, the relationship is even more highly valued than before. Our relationship with Christ is enhanced with greater enjoyment and with an increased desire for it, becoming progressively more cherished and jealously guarded, which promotes our spiritual maturity and a deeper devotion to the work of Christ. Keep in mind that God always has a good purpose for temporarily turning His face away. Remember Calvary? We can praise Him forever for turning His face away that day! And we can be comforted in knowing He did not forsake Him, just like He will never forsake us.
This study is dedicated to all fellow sufferers, in the hope of comforting them with the comfort I have received.
Peace that passes understanding to you,