Our Only Hope in Suffering

Relevant Text: Job 16:19-20
Full Text: Job 16-17, 1 Cor. 4

Tension | Several years ago, when I went through a period of prolonged suffering and confusion, I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my experience with the loving will of God. On the one hand, I wanted to believe that God didn’t condone the sin that led to my pain and that He empathized with my sadness. On the other hand, I knew that He was sovereign and could’ve prevented what had happened. How was I supposed to hold both of these truths together?

Distinct | Thankfully, the Bible has two clear and distinct understandings of “the will of God.” First, there is “the will of God” that refers to His sovereign control over all things [1] – even things that He hates [2]. For example, although the murder of Jesus was the greatest sin ever committed, it was also the will of God [3]. In this sense, “the will of God” can never be thwarted; it always happens [4]. Second, there is “the will of God” that describes what He commands us to do. For example, He wills that we practice holiness and thankfulness and sexual purity [5] – yet we know that many of us don’t do these things. In this sense, “the will of God” can be broken; in fact, it’s broken every day.

Hope | Having these two understandings of “the will of God” meets our deep need in suffering. We need to know that God is in control and, therefore, able to work all things for good [6]. We also need to know, however, that He empathizes with us and doesn’t delight in pain. We see this tension in Job. On the one hand, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his pain: “I was at ease, and he broke me apart” [7]. On the other hand, he knows that God is his only hope: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God … If I make my bed in darkness … where then is my hope?” [8].

Prayer | Lord, Although we don’t understand everything about our suffering, we know that you are our only hope in it. In some ways, that seems frustrating because we know that you could’ve prevented our pain. But how can we hope in anyone else? You’re the only wise God and Jesus is our advocate. In you, our beds are in light, not darkness. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See e.g., Matt. 26:39 (noting Jesus deferring to the will of God over his own). The will of God is sovereign even over the smallest things, see e.g., Matt. 10:29 (not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from Him); Prov. 16:33 (every decision is from the Lord); Prov. 16:1 (plans belong to men, but answers are from the Lord); Prov. 21:1 (the inclination of the heart of the king is directed by the Lord); Eph. 1:11 (the Lord works all things according to the counsel of His will); Job 42:2  (He can do all things, no purposes of His can be thwarted). A wonderful sermon on the tension between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is Tim Keller’s Your Plans; God’s Plans (free download from Redeemer).  |  [2] See Is. 53:10 (it was the will of the Lord to crush Jesus). See also 1 Peter 3:17 (it may be the will of God for Christians to suffer sinful persecution for their good works).  |  [3] See Acts 4:27-28 (noting the control of the hand of God over Herod and Pontius Pilate in the plan to murder Jesus).  |  [4] See Dan. 4:35 (He does according to His will, none can stay His hand)  |  [5] See e.g., Matt. 7:211 Thess. 4:3 (our sanctification and sexual purity are according to the will of God); 1 Thess. 5:18 (our thankfulness is His will); 1 John 2:17 (“whoever does the will of God” suggests that it is possible not to do the will of God)  |  [6] See Rom. 8:28  |  [7] Job 16:12 ESV  |  [8] Job 16:19-20; 17:13, 15 ESV.

The Daftness of Seeking a Fool’s Profit

Relevant Text: 1 Cor. 3:18
Full Text: Job 15, 1 Cor. 3

Attack | In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul launches an attack on wisdom. He writes that Christ did not send him to preach the gospel with “words of eloquent wisdom” [1]. He reminds them that, in preaching to them, he didn’t use “lofty speech or wisdom” [2]. He also asks rhetorically, “Where is the one who is wise?” [3], and then says that “the world did not know God through wisdom” [4]. Not only does he criticize the Greeks for seeking wisdom [5], he also tells his own readers that not many of them are wise [6]. Does Paul see no place for wisdom in the Christian faith? Not at all!

Distinction | Rather, he’s attacking one kind of wisdom and exalting another. He’s attacking the human wisdom of this age, which says things like, “If you’re a CEO, then act and dress like one.” It secures victory by being successful and selects leaders based on eloquence, pedigree and charm. Its opposite, which Paul extols, is the wisdom of God, which says things like, “I am King and Lord, but I choose to serve others.” It secured victory by laying down the life of the Son of God to be mocked and killed.

Obstacles | We have at least two impediments, however, to gaining the wisdom of God. First, it is “secret and hidden” [7]. Second, we are constantly bombarded with the wisdom of this age, which is “folly with God” [8]. How do we overcome these barriers? We must ask the Lord to make us fools: “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” [9].

Prayer | Lord, You are the only wise God and, by your wisdom, we are saved. Thus, since your wisdom seems foolish to the world, we know that we cannot depend on our intellect to discern what is true. Therefore, let us not deceive ourselves [10]. Teach us to number our days that we may gain hearts of wisdom [11] – for we know that the wisdom of this age is foolish in light of eternity. Let us not seek a fool’s profit – this world’s riches, comforts, fame, entertainment and accolades – and, thereby, forfeit our own souls [12]. Instead, make us foolish in this age and wise in you. Then, all things will be ours – whether the world or life or death or the present or the future – for we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See 1 Cor. 1:17  |  [2] See 1 Cor. 2:1  |  [3] See 1 Cor. 1:20  |  [4] See 1 Cor. 1:21  |  [5] See 1 Cor. 1:21  |  [6] See 1 Cor. 1:26  |  [7] See 1 Cor. 2:7  |  [8] 1 Cor. 3:19  |  [9] 1 Cor. 3:18  |  [10] 1 Cor. 3:18  |  [11] See Ps. 90:12  |  [12] See Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:36.

Why We Have Tree-Like Hope

Relevant Text: Job 14:14
Full Text: Job 14, 1 Cor. 2

Hope | “If you could have light and heal,” wrote Richard Baxter, “why are you not more in the sunshine?” [1] Baxter was an English pastor in the 1600s. He battled sickness after sickness his entire life, once saying that he was “seldom an hour free from pain.” At 35, when he nearly died, he found comfort in meditating on heaven, where his pain would be no more.

Resurrection | When Job’s friends were done with their first round of “comforting” him, Job wanted to talk to God, not them: “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you … I desire to argue my case with God” [2]. He lamented that even a tree could have more hope than he could: “For there is hope for a tree, it will be cut down, that it will sprout again” [3]. Yet, he wondered, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” [4]

Eternity | God has set eternity on every man’s heart [5] and, in Christ, we have seen the first fruits of our resurrection [6]. Therefore, our suffering is not the end of the story; our resurrection is. Baxter wrote how this hope of glory was thrilling to him in his suffering: “What a day that will be, when we, who have been kept prisoners by sin, by sinners, by the grave, shall be brought out by the Lord himself! It will not be such a coming as his first was, in poverty and contempt, to be spit upon, and buffeted … If a star must lead men from remote parts to come to worship the child in a manger; how will the glory of his next appearing constrain all the world to acknowledge his sovereignty! If, riding on [a donkey], he entered Jerusalem with hosannas; with what peace and glory will he come toward the New Jerusalem! If, when he was in the form of a servant, they cried out, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the seas obey him?’; what will they say when they shall see him coming in his glory, and the heavens and earth obey him?” [7]

Prayer | Lord, Yesterday, we reflected on your delight in turning the weak into the strong. Today, we rejoice that, when you come again, you will come in glory and honor. You will redeem our suffering. Therefore, let our hearts meditate on heaven and long for your return. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Richard Baxter. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.  |  [2] Job 13:2-3  |  [3] Job 14:7-9  |  [4] Job. 14:14  |  [5] See Ecc. 3:11  |  [6] See 1 Cor. 15:20-23. See also John 11:25-26.  |  [7] Id. at FN1.

Why We Are #Linsane

Relevant Text: 1 Cor. 1:26-29
Full Text: Job 13, 1 Cor. 1

Linsanity | New Yorkers have a new Valentine – Jeremy Lin. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Lin starred on his high school basketball team, but no college offered him an athletic scholarship. Nonetheless, he ended up at Harvard, where he was twice named to the All-Ivy Team. When he graduated, he was passed over yet again – no NBA team picked him up. In December, the Knicks signed him to a non-guaranteed contract (after he was waived by Houston), but they sent him to the D-League three times. Last Thursday, when Kobe Bryant was asked about the Lin story, he replied, “I have no idea what you guys are talking about … Who is this kid?”. Today, of course, he knows who Lin is … and so does the rest of the world. [1]He’s turned the Knicks around and brought new Lin-spiration to thousands.

Weakness | Why do we love Lin so much? It goes way beyond basketball and sports and ethnicity. It goes to our being made in the image of God. God absolutely loves to exalt the seemingly weak over the seemingly strong and, since we were made in His image, so do we. Throughout the Bible, God repeatedly chooses younger brothers, barren women and tax collectors. Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth … God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” [2].

Surprise | Jesus chose not to cloak himself in nobility or fame. He came to a poor family in an unknown town and worked as a carpenter. In his life, he was ridiculed, insulted and mocked. Although God Himself was in their midst, the people benched him and gave all the playtime to the scholars and orators of the day. Yet, God made the cross the center of our faith – “the bloody, criminal, shame-covered, torturing, scandalous cross of Jesus” [3]. Today, of course, the entire world knows about Jesus. He rose again and led His people to victory.

Prayer | Lord, You designed our hearts to love gospel stories. Jesus had nothing to attract us to him, but you raised him up as Lord. Let us, therefore, not be swayed by external appearances or successes. Instead, let us boast about our weaknesses so that your strength is put on glorious display in our lives. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] If you only read one article on Jeremy Lin, this should be it: Michael Luo. “Lin’s Appeal: Faith, Pride and Points.” The New York Times. 11 February 2012. See also (generally) D.R. “We have a Linner: basketball’s surprising new star.” The Economist: Game Theory. 8 February 2012.; Al Iannazzone. “Lin (25 points) leads Knicks past Nets.” Newsday. 4/5 February 2012.; Michael Klopman. “Jeremy Lin vs. Kobe Bryant: Lakers Star Unaware of Linsanity (Video).” Huffington Post. 11 February 2012. See also WSJ Speakeasy. “Jeremy Lin on His Fast Break to Fame, God, and Kobe Bryant.” 11 February 2012.  |  [2] 1 Cor. 1:26-29 ESV  |  [3] John Piper. Let the One Who Boasts Boast in the Lord. Sermon. 12 February 2006.

What Is the Greatest Mystery in Creation?

Relevant Text: Rom. 16:25-27
Full Text: Job 12, Rom. 16

Knowledge | There is still a lot that we don’t know about the world. How does life arise from nonlife? Why do we need sleep? What causes gravity? [1] It makes sense, of course, that we don’t know these things. After all, doctors didn’t create the body and scientists didn’t create the world. They merely interpret what they see. God, on the other hand, has perfect knowledge about all facts and all events at the macro and micro levels and at all states of existence (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological). He doesn’t just interpret what He sees; He creates and rules it [2].

Mystery | The greatest mystery of His creation, however, is not the world; it’s our salvation. Paul ended Romans with a doxology: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” [3].

Wisdom | I At the beginning of time, when the only wise God planned our salvation, He rejected the possibility that our knowledge would save us. Instead, He chose to save us through the most foolish moment in history – death on a cross. Salvation through a weak and dead prophet seemed senseless. Yet, that was the point. His way of salvation silenced everyone – those seeking signs and those seeking wisdom [4]. It turned the most foolish moment in history into the most powerful one. Why did He do it this way? As Paul wrote in Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” [5].

Prayer | Lord, When we stand in the mystery of your creation and look up at the skies or out to the waters, we sense that our knowledge is but a grain of sand in the beach of your wisdom. Thus, in your presence, we fall on our knees because we know that it is by your grace that our eyes are open to the greatest mystery of all – your salvation. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John Hodgman. What We Don’t Know. WIRED. (highlighting some of the great questions that remain unanswered – also, it’s also pretty funny)  |  [2] See Heb. 2:10; Col. 1:16  |  [3] Rom. 16:25-27 ESV  |  [4] 1 Cor. 1:22  |  [5] 1 Cor. 1:27, 29. See 1 Cor. 1:18-31 (which also happens to be the passage for tomorrow’s devotional).

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