Trusting in God’s Unfailing Love
Many thanks to those who have been praying for our daughter Angela Stump and her health, and peace and encouragement for her and her family. (See my original post about Angie, and the update.) Her surgery has been scheduled for Thursday June 14, at 9 a.m. (Her pre-operation appointment is Tuesday the 12th, which is also her 31st birthday.) It’s not easy to wait for the surgery, partly because it means more waiting to hear whether the tumor at the base of her skull is cancerous (it will probably still be a few days after the surgery before we know).
But we know now that God is good, that He is in control, and nothing is or will be a surprise to Him. Of course, we are praying for our daughter’s complete healing. If that healing doesn’t occur before June 14, we pray for a completely successful surgery. And no matter what, we pray that God will accomplish his sovereign and loving purpose in our daughter’s life. We know what she and her husband Dan know, that God is on the throne, and nothing we are facing, including the much that is still unknown, is outside of His loving hands.
I am asking that Angela and all of us who love her will experience the sense of peace and trust reflected in Psalm 52:8: “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever.”
We live in a world under the curse of sin and suffering, but it still remains in God’s hands and the promise of a redeemed world resonates in our hearts all the more as we deal with the adversities of this one. Thanks again for your prayers.
Let me share with you the beginning of chapter 37 of my book If God Is Good. This is a very small portion of a chapter in a very large book, so it is not complete, but I believe it is pertinent.
How God Uses Suffering for His Glory
Since God is the source of all goodness, his glory is the wellspring of all joy. What God does for his own sake benefits us. Therefore whatever glorifies him is good for us.
And that includes the suffering he allows or brings (biblically, either or both terms can apply) into our lives.
God refines us in our suffering and graciously explains why: “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this” (Isaiah 48:10). For emphasis, God repeats the reason.
If you don’t understand that the universe is about God and his glory—and that whatever exalts God’s glory also works for your ultimate good—then you will misunderstand this passage and countless others. Some consider God egotistical or cruel to test us for his sake. But the testing he does for his sake accrues to our eternal benefit.
How often have you heard people say, “I grew closest to God when my life was free from pain and suffering”?
THE REFINING PROCESS
Suffering can help us grow and mature.
John Hick writes,
We have to recognize that the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain cannot be the supreme and overriding end for which the world exists. Rather, this world must be a place of soul-making. And its value is to be judged not, primarily, by the quantity of pleasure and pain occurring in it at any particular moment, but by its fitness for its primary purpose, the purpose of soul-making.
I prefer the term character-building to soul-making. And although Hick sometimes draws what I think are unbiblical conclusions, he correctly emphasizes human character above comfort.
Josef Tson, who faced much evil in communist Romania, told me, “This world, with all its evil, is God’s deliberately chosen environment for people to grow in their characters. The character and trustworthiness we form here, we take with us there, to Heaven. Romans and 1 Peter 3:19 make clear that suffering is a grace from God. It is a grace given us now to prepare us for living forever.”
Mountain climbers could save time and energy if they reached the summit in a helicopter, but their ultimate purpose is conquest, not efficiency. Sure, they want to reach a goal, but they want to do so the hard way by testing their character and resolve.
God could create scientists, mathematicians, athletes, and musicians. He doesn’t. He creates children who take on those roles over a long process. We learn to excel by handling failure. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward.
As dentists, physicians, parents, and pet owners regularly demonstrate, suffering may be lovingly inflicted for a higher good.
We think to “love” means to “do no harm,” when it really means “to be willing to do short-term harm for a redemptive purpose.” A physician who re-breaks an arm in order for it to heal properly harms his patient in order to heal him. C. S. Lewis wrote,
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.... What do people mean when they say “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good”? Have they never even been to a dentist?
 John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 259.