Rejoicing in God in the Arena of Pain
God hasn’t promised that His children won’t go into the valley of the shadow of death. He promised that we will never go alone. In this brief clip from his series Dealing with Difficult Problems, R.C. Sproul considers suffering in the life of a Christian.
We don’t rejoice that we have a headache. We don’t rejoice that we have cancer eating away at us. What we do rejoice in is the presence of God in the midst of our pain. But again, we have to understand, lest we fall into being absolutely undone and astonished whenever affliction hits us, that we are to expect it. It’s part of our call as Christians that God has called us into a fallen world to minister into a world that is a vale of tears. And it’s a place of pain. And there’s no way that we can ever expect to escape it.
Now, suppose I’m afflicted with suffering. Why? Why am I afflicted? There could be several reasons. It may be that God needs to correct me and that it is part of His corrective wrath to make me sick or to bring me low. He does that. There are manifold examples of that in Scripture. How did Miriam get leprosy? God gave her leprosy to bring her to repentance. What is Jesus saying here? “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Sometimes the suffering that we have in this world is because God is correcting us or disciplining us, but we can’t jump to the conclusion that every time we get sick or every time we suffer that there’s a direct correlation between our disobedience and the pain that we’re experiencing.
Again, Job is exhibit A to refute that argument. Job was more righteous than anybody else, and yet he suffered more than anybody else. And it would have been a terrible mistake to assume that there was a direct, proportionate relationship between the degree of his guilt and the degree of his pain. We mustn’t do that, and so we don’t always know. And we don’t have to know. What we have to know is Him. Because when Job demanded an answer for his pain, and asked God to speak to him, and explain it to him, and God finally appeared to Job and interrogated Job for several chapters, what answer does Job get from God? He didn’t get one. God didn’t say to Job, “You’re suffering this pain for this, this, this, and this.” The only answer that Job got to his affliction, in the final analysis, was God Himself, the presence of God. And, in effect, what God was saying is, “Job, here I am. I am with you. Trust Me.”
Now when people say, “Trust me,” it’s time to run. But when God says, “Trust Me,” it’s time to trust. Let me finish by reminding you that our God never promised any of us that we would never go into the valley of the shadow of death. What He did promise us was that He would go with us. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” We have the Good Shepherd. We have His presence. We have His consolation. That doesn’t mean we’re removed from the arena of pain, but that we are upheld in the arena of pain.