Almost every Tuesday morning (including yesterday), one of the men in our early prayer meeting will pray for those in our congregation who face lingering physical weaknesses — generally, by name. Several in our congregation live with pain that hardly ever relents. Can you imagine?
Mercifully, it is infrequent that I get sick. Every couple of years, though, I’ll have a short bout with the flu and when that happens, I’m insufferable. To watch me, you’d think this is the worst thing a human has ever endured. I moan and whine and shuffle around the house like an aged man. If I were not me, I would mock me for being such a baby! For the past few years, I try to remember, when sickness hits, that what is to me a brief parenthesis in an otherwise healthy life is the every day reality for a few of my dear friends. For some of the people we love, pain is a constant companion. They wake up hurting, hurt all day and go to bed hurting. Stop and think about that. I wonder: what effect would you expect that kind of experience to have on your view of God?
As we were driving away from church on Sunday, Bridget and I recounted different conversations we had had with people in our church who were facing hardship and sorrow. There’s just no getting around it — this side of Eden, suffering is a cruel reality. You probably know that the prevailing “folk theology” leaves little room at all for real suffering, including chronic illness, death or deep sadness Naturally, this error leaves us ill-equipped to reconcile faith and experience. If a season of providentially-decreed hardship can deconstruct my understanding of who God is, then it is a matter of time before I quit worshiping. The implications of neglect in this area are great. While we make no effort to answer the unanswerable, we simply must think Biblically on this topic.
As a means of serving that end, can I encourage you to watch the 9-minute discussion on this topic between Matt Chandler, John Piper and David Platt that was recently posted by the Gospel Coalition? The tone and content is warm, pastoral and wise. While we couldn’t expect this short exchange to fully address such a difficult subject, it will provide a starting point for your considerations of hardship, pain and the providence of God. You can find it here.