A Facebook friend (whom I’ve never actually met in person) wrote this on her wall the other day:
I would never write this story or choose this path of suffering.
But I’m falling in love with a truer Gospel and a more loving Father than I’ve known.
Yes, yes, yes. This completely.
I’ve been listening to Keller a lot lately (big surprise). I have about 150 sermons loaded on my iPod and when I’m driving, cleaning the kitchen, or ironing, I’ll often just hit “shuffle” and let a random sermon play. After you’ve listened to a few Keller sermons, you notice that there are some major themes he hits over and over again. Which is good, because I definitely need to hear them over and over. Two themes have been especially helpful for me to soak in and think about deeply– one is suffering and the other is anxiety.
We just can’t get away from suffering. Whether it’s the loss of a job, a friendship, a loved one, our health, or even a dream, we all encounter suffering. And if you aren’t currently in a season of suffering, it won’t be long until you are. I appreciate how clearly Keller shows that believing rightly about how Jesus suffered helps us as we suffer.
Many pastors preach that we should look to Jesus as our example– be good and, even though you aren’t perfect like Jesus, you can still try to be. But, if you look to Jesus as just an example of how to live, it’s going crush you. Either you realize you can’t live up to the example Jesus set and so you are crushed because you’ve failed; or, (more dangerously, I think) you do pretty well and trust in your obedience to save you. But what about when something terrible happens? If we’ve been striving to earn our own righteousness, we will be tempted to get angry at God– What did I do to deserve this? I’ve always obeyed you! You OWE me! Or, if we haven’t been living “rightly” then we will assume we are being punished.
But the cross shows us that Jesus, though perfectly obedient, still suffered. Our obedience doesn’t earn us our salvation, nor does it keep us safe and protected from suffering. Jesus doesn’t use the carrot or the stick method to elicit obedience from his children… he uses love. We obey because we’ve been utterly captured by the Gospel. Period.
So why do we suffer? I don’t know (and neither does Keller!) but I do know that it isn’t tied to how much I’ve sinned lately. Of course, there are sometimes consequences of my sin and foolishness that I might want to count as suffering, but those are really just the natural outworkings of my selfishness and desire to have my own way. When I say “suffering” I’m talking about the things that are devastating– the loss of a job, sickness, the death of a child. The things that just seem to be outside anyone’s control. But, what I’m realizing is that nothing happens outside God’s control. God is in control. If you call yourself a Christian, then you probably agree with that statement in theory, but it’s not how we live our lives. We don’t live as if God is totally in control.
This brings me to anxiety, a topic that I am intimately acquainted with. While suffering is something that happens to us and we have to endure, anxiety is a reaction that we have control over. We’re told (commanded, actually) not to worry. Keller says something about anxiety that I think about all the time– he says that worrying can actually be traced back to pride. We worry because we think we know how things have to go. We have our plan about how our lives should turn out and when things don’t seem to be going that way, we worry.
Ouch. That one cuts me to the heart everyday.
Something interesting has been happening in my life over the last six months or so. I’ve started to really believe in God’s sovereignty in a way that I haven’t before. It’s hard to explain and I’m sure that I can’t fully express how it happened, but something clicked for me. As my husband and I talk about situations that seem hopeless and we are tempted to despair, something wells up inside me and whispers, “This isn’t outside of God’s will. This, too, will work out for your good.” In a very real way, I know that even the really hard things are for my good. God has me. He made me, he saved me, and he sustains me everyday. Surely he cares about this relatively small thing. Of course he cares about this HUGE thing.
So when my stomach is tied in knots and I feel like I’m walking through a fog because I can’t see how things will ever be good again, I need to remember this. I need to remember that God is for me. Whether I’m suffering because of things outside my control, or I’m tempted to worry because I can’t see how things are going to work out, I know that the answer is to trust. Trust the One that endured infinite suffering to win me. Trust the Plan– the perfect, complete, beautiful plan that is for my good. Trust that one day all the pain and sadness will come untrue and we will no longer see dimly, but we’ll see Him face to face.