Suffering and One Foot In Front of the Other

 For those of you who know what it means to go through a very hard trial, you probably understand sayings like this: “One day at a time,” and “I’m just putting one foot in front of the other.”  Trials and suffering are the mud and muck of life that slow you down, trip you up, and clog up your daily activities.  Everything slows down and you just have to focus on taking one more step ahead.

Maybe you could set a state record for hospital visits in one month; maybe you have a pounding headache from trying to sort out medical bills, or maybe you’re praying that God would keep your husband’s suffering down (if it’s His will).  Perhaps you’re dreading the next IV or worrying that your recent blood test will have bad results.  Sometimes you’re simply praying for a few hours of sleep and relief.  It’s just one day at a time!  I like how Tim Keller speaks of walking with God through trials:

“Walking with God through suffering means treating God as God and as there, as present.  Walking is something non-dramatic, rhythmic – it consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time.  God did not tell Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to ‘somersault before me’ or even ‘run before me’ because no one can keep such behavior up day in and day out.  There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving.  They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits, and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months, and I am going to be a new man or new woman.’ That is not what a walk is.  A walk is day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of the church.  It is rhythmic, on and on and on.  To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.

…Walking with God through suffering means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, your sorrow, your fears.  There can be, as we shall see, times in which you receive a surprising, in explicable ‘peace that passes understanding.’  There will be days in which some new insight comes to you like a ray of light in a dark room.  There will certainly be progress – that is part of the metaphor of walking – but in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself.  ‘The path of the righteous is like the [earliest] morning sun, shining ever brighter till the light of full day’ (Prov. 4:18).

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 236-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


To Christians Who Suffer

Some Christians suffer more than others.  God, in his mysterious sovereignty, has given some of his children a more difficult lot and heavier load than others.  Depression, chronic illness, handicaps, intense family conflict, mental illness, and other trials are the hard lot of some Christians.

Abraham Kuyper reminds us that St. Paul had a very difficult lot as well.  The apostle called it a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  Kuyper says it was a trial that felt “as though a demon assaulted [Paul] and beat him with fists.” The thorn was given to Paul so that he might stay humble and also experience the sweetness of God’s grace.  Kuyper notes that Christians who suffer should remember from Paul’s experience that God’s fatherly plan for us in suffering is a gracious one.  This way we won’t despair when our prayers for relief are not answered in the affirmative.

Kuyper also writes that sometimes suffering is long, intense, and doesn’t let up.  It seems like suffering is our permanent state of existence.  To the sufferer,

“Every morning the affliction is new, and every evening he pours out again his complaint before his God.  Ineradicably the sense that we were not created to suffer continues to struggle against the pain that restlessly accompanies him upon his pathway through life.”

Often what happens at this point is that the sufferer looks around at others who are happy and healthy.  Then who can stop this “sad complaint” from arising: “O, My God, why am I not as they?”  On top of this Satan comes and tempts the sufferer to grumble: “If you are a child of God, where is your heavenly Father to help you?”  Satan mocks: “Where is your God?”  The suffering continues, and some believers at this point seriously backslide in the faith.

But Kuyper said it can be otherwise.  Sometimes the suffering child of God realizes that the Lord can use the suffering to “reveal in him the majesty of His grace.”  Prayers for deliverance continue, but the soul becomes convinced “that in such suffering God intends something different with us.”

“That such suffering does not come upon us by chance, but comes to us from Him, and that He chose us to bear this suffering, that in this our suffering it might become evident, even with suffering most prolonged and bitter, what sacred medicine of soul grace is.”

“And if the eye might but open to this, O, then each day brings experience of new grace; till finally the spirit made willing in us begins to cooperate with grace, to triumph over this suffering and to show Satan and the world, that the happiness God’s child enjoys, is too rich and too abounding to be shadowed even by severest suffering.”

“And so at times sufferers have been seen, who were so gloriously disciplined by grace and in grace, that at the last it seemed, as though they had become insensible to their trouble, yea, that they took pleasure in it, with a heavenly smile upon their face to mock their suffering.”

If you are suffering, I pray God gives you the eyes of faith to see that his grace is sufficient for you in your weakness even right now.  As Paul said in his trial, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Suffering is so hard; it is a heavy, heavy burden.  But God’s grace lightens the load, shines light on the path, and makes it possibly for us to joyfully make it through suffering.  And remember, your trial will not last.  When Jesus returns, he’ll renew your body and you will no longer have any pain, sorrow, trials, or tears (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).

The above quotes and thoughts are found in Abraham Kuyper’s 23rd meditation of In the Shadow of Death (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1929).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015




Wasted Pain? Pointless Suffering?

Is God Really in Control?: Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy Suffering and pain are realities in life.  Despite what Buddhists or New Age cults say about suffering, it is real, it hurts, and it can even shake the Christian’s faith.  Thankfully Scripture gives us a helpful angle on suffering in light of God’s sovereignty.   We see it on the cross and we see it in God’s fatherly love.  In God’s sovereignty, suffering is productive: Christ’s suffering resulted in salvation for sinners, and the Christian’s suffering produces endurance, character, and so on (see Rom. 5:4-5).

Lamentations 3:32-33 says this of God: Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone (NIV).  Jerry Bridges wrote some helpful reflections on this truth.

“God does not willing bring affliction or grief to us.  He does not delight in causing us to experience pain or heartache.  He always has a purpose for the grief He brings or allows to come into our lives.  Most often we do not know what that purpose is, but it is enough to know that His infinite wisdom and perfect love have determined that the particular sorrow is best for us.”

“God never wastes pain.  He always uses it to accomplish His purpose.  And His purpose is for His glory and our good.  Therefore, we can trust Him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain.”

“Trusting God in the midst of our pain and heartache means that we accept it from  Him.  There is a vast difference between acceptance and either resignation or submission.  We can resign ourselves to a difficult situation, simply because we see no other alternative.  Many people do that all the time.  Or we can submit to the sovereignty of God in our circumstances with a certain amount of reluctance.  But to truly accept our pain and heartache has the connotation of willingness.  An aptitude of acceptance says that we trust God, that He loves us and knows what is best for us.”

Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control? p. 63-4.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015


When Darkness Hides His Face

calvincommentaries Sometimes life for the Christian is just plain hard.  We’re not exempt from the effects of Adam’s sin, so we face debilitating illnesses, allergies that nearly cripple us, mental anguish that makes for dark days, and other people often are like thorns in our flesh.  Sometimes we still wander and stumble into sin.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be painless and easy!  I know a contemporary version of the hymn My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less says “When darkness seems to hide His face;” however, I think the original is more accurate: “When darkness veils His lovely face.”  It reminds me of Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which says,

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

This also makes me think of the criminal on the cross, who truly repented and made the good confession.  He was loved by Christ, promised heaven, but his pain and torture didn’t immediately end.  He still suffered terribly as a convicted criminal.  Calvin comments well on this:

What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. So then, if we are dreadfully tormented in body, we ought to be on our guard lest the severity of pain hinder us from tasting the goodness of God; but, on the contrary, all our afflictions ought to be mitigated and soothed by this single consolation, that as soon as God has received us into his favor, all the afflictions which we endure are aids to our salvation. This will cause our faith not only to rise victorious over all our distresses, but to enjoy calm repose amidst the endurance of sufferings. (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 314.)

Dear Christian, if you’re suffering, facing affliction, or if your cross has recently been very hard to bear, don’t take it as a sign that God is angry with you, has stopped loving you, or has forgotten about you.  By God’s grace, our suffering is productive (Rom 5:3-4).  Our feelings are not a reliable guide in the Christian life; God’s gracious promises are.  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace!”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015


Not Eliminating Grief

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering How did the early Christian church differ from Greek philosophers when it came to dealing with suffering and grief?

“For Christians, suffering was not to be dealt with primarily through the control and suppression of negative emotions with the use of reason or willpower.  Ultimate reality was known not primarily through reason and contemplation but through relationship.  Salvation was through humility, faith, and love rather than reason and control of emotions.  And therefore, Christians don’t face adversity by stoically decreasing our love for the people and things of this world so much as by increasing our love and joy in God.  [Luc] Ferry says, ‘Augustine, having conducted a radical critique of love-as-attachment in general, does not banish it when its object is divine.’”

“What he means is that, while Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else.  Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace.  Grief was not to be eliminated but seasoned and buoyed up with love and hope.”

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 44.

shane lems


The Sweet Bitterness of Grief

Product DetailsI mentioned this excellent book awhile back: A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser.  He wrote it after he lost his mother, wife, and daughter in a car accident.  On the topic of grief this book is one of the best.  Here’s a quote that got my attention in a big way:

“The accident itself bewilders me as much today as it did three years ago.  Much good has come from it, but all the good in the world will never make the accident itself good.  It remains a horrible, tragic, and evil event to me.  A million people could be helped as a result of the tragedy, but that would not be enough to explain and justify it.  The badness of the event and the goodness of the results are related, to be sure, but they are not the same.  The latter is a consequence of the former, but the latter does not make the former legitimate or right or good.  I do not believe that I lost three members of my family in order that I might change for the better, raise three healthy children, or write a book.  I still want them back, and I always will, no matter what happens as a result of their deaths.”

“Yet the grief I feel is sweet as well as bitter.  I still have a sorrowful soul; yet I wake up every morning joyful, eager for what the new day will bring.  Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life.  Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I been so whole.  Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I been so content and felt so strong.  Never has my soul been more dead; yet never has my soul been more alive.  What I once considered mutually exclusive – sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life – have become parts of a greater whole.  My soul has been stretched.”

“Above all, I have become aware of the power of God’s grace and my need for it.  My soul has grown because it has been awakened to the goodness and love of God.  God has been present in my life these past three years, even mysteriously in the accident.  God will continue to be present to the end of my life and through all eternity.  God is growing my soul, making it bigger, and filling it with himself.  My life is being transformed.  Though I have endured pain, I believe that the outcome is going to be wonderful” (198-199).

Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised.

rev shane lems


Suffering, Affliction, Trials

  A few months back, I found the revised and expanded version of R. C. Sproul’s excellent book on suffering, Surprised by Suffering (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009).  It’s a handsome hardcover complete with a topical index, a Scripture index, and a short Q/A at the end.  The book itself covers topics like suffering, pain, death, and heaven – all in a gospel centered manner.  I’m pretty sure this book would be helpful for mature high school students all the way to older saints contemplating death.  I highly recommend it – and it’s only around $10 new.  I’ll end the post with a few of my favorite quotes – so you can see for yourself why I appreciate Surprised by Suffering.

“This passage [1 Peter 1.6-9] shows how it is possible to be perplexed but not in despair.  Our suffering has a purpose – it helps us toward the end of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls.  Suffering is a crucible.  As gold is refined in the fire, purged of its dross and impurities, so our faith is tested by fire.  Gold perishes.  Our souls do not.  We experience pain and grief for a season.  It is while we are in the fire that perplexity assails us.  But there is another side to the fire.  As the dross burns away, the genuineness of faith is purified unto the salvation of our souls” (p. 7).

“If I hope in anything or anyone less than One who has power over suffering, and, ultimately death, I am doomed to final disappointment.  Suffering will drive me to hopelessness.  What character I have will disintegrate.  It is the hope of Christ that makes it possible for us to persevere in times of tribulation and distress.  We have an anchor for our souls that rests in the One who has gone before us and conquered” (p. 35).

“Sometimes it seems that earlier generations of Christians had a higher view of God than we do.  The reason for that may very well lie in the fact that they were much more familiar with pain, with suffering, with persecution, and with death than we are.  Because of all they endured, they were forced to consider the hand of God in the midst of their difficulties” (p. 44).

“The bottom line is that God’s hand is in affliction.  His sovereignty is manifest in the dark side of life.  This is said so frequently in Scripture that it is amazing that it is so hard for us to get it.  I believe that the reason for this is that we shut our minds from thinking about these things.  Why do we go to the house of mirth in the first place?  For many of us, a party is not simply an opportunity to have a good time but a chance to get away from thinking, to get away from considering our ‘life situation.’  We look for an escape, an avenue of pleasure that will somehow dull the fears and the aches that we carry about.  But the wise person looks for the finger of God in the house of mirth as well as in the house of mourning, in all things that take place” (ibid.).”

shane lems