A few posts ago I wrote about how God loves cliff-hangers. In the comments to that post, one person asked about long term unanswered prayer, and I wanted to briefly respond to that concern here.
There is the emotional side of this question, and there is a logical side. If the emotions are just answered with unvarnished logic, that can be done in a way that just makes the emotional problem worse. But there is a way of banishing all logic altogether which also makes things worse. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: But when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12).
What I want to do here, therefore, in brief compass, is justify God, and to insist that we have no clean alternative to doing so — and that this is the case by definition. This is a double-edged argument. It can be used both in apologetics and in providing pastoral comfort.
“Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job” (Job 32:2–3).
Finding fault with the man is apparently not the same thing as justifying God. Blaming the sinner is not what Elihu meant by justifying God. Neither is exonerating the sinner the same thing as justifying God.
When we are under affliction, when we are suffering, there are only two possibilities. Either the suffering is meaningless or it is not meaningless. Either there is long-term value in it, or there is no long-term value in it. If there is no God, then it is meaningless. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But if there is meaning in it, then I must be patient and wait to find out what that meaning is. If there is no God, then my suffering just means that I was unlucky enough to get caught in the machinery of the cosmos. I have no complaint, because there is no complaint department. There is no management. There is no one to complain to.
But if there is meaning in my suffering, then I also have no complaint. As the old gospel song puts it, “farther along we’ll know all about it. Farther along, we’ll understand why.” Not knowing the meaning now is not the same thing as having no meaning.
God is good by definition. The only way He could not be good would be if He did not exist, which would mean that we would not exist either, and our observations on the subject would be hampered by that impediment. God lives, the triune God lives, and He is essentially good. He is good by definition.
My emotional distress is not a very good logician. If I am under affliction, that suffering does not give me the right to say, “In a world in which such suffering goes on, I refuse to believe that triangles have three sides.” Well, sorry, that links two things together and it provides us with a poster child of the non sequitur. My suffering cannot undo something that must be.
Now there are only two alternatives, and in neither one do I have a right to rail against the way things are. If there is no God, nobody is listening. Of course, if there is no God, and no one is listening, and it makes you feel better to blaspheme, then knock yourself out. But you are just playing mental tricks on yourself. There is no true complaint.
But if God exists, and He does, then all things work together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Trust Him.
The one really incoherent option is to assume that God exists, and that He is doing a very bad job at being God. A bad job according to what standard?
Now this can be emotionally hard for us, but it is not logically difficult. At the same time, we are told to weep with those who weep, not to comfort them with syllogisms. There are times when we should just sit with the suffering. But when the suffering goes on and on, and the one afflicted is desperately hungry for answers, it is often the case that he needs the kind of Calvinistic comfort that comes straight down from the Scottish Highlands, playing the bagpipes of hard sovereignty. God is God, and works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).
He is good and can be trusted. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). The one who comes to God must believe two things. First, he must believe that God is there, and second, he must believe that God is good.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
And all manner of things shall be well.
What about joy? By what process does joy connect with or flow from this knowledge of God’s goodness? What happens if you have the knowledge but something else essential seems to be missing?
I know and am comforted with the truth that God makes “all things work together for the good of those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). But, I return to the same struggle from time to time: what about the suffering of those who do not know God, and will not know him? Is there meaning to the suffering of those whom he does not call?
Thank you, Pastor. Like countless others I am a person often providentially prevented from attending church, and someone who struggles with long term physical disability. I pray you know how comforting your ministry has been. Your sermons and this blog have brought both comfort and edification to my life, and I am deeply grateful.
What if listening to bagpipes would itself be a hard sovereignty? ;) I do have a serious question though. I was listening to a lecture by Greg Bahnsen about the problem of evil and he was explaining that the problem of evil (God is good; God is omnipotent); God can destroy evil) can be resolved by adding the premise that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists”. One thing that he points out though, is that even if there is a reason for it, that doesn’t mean we will ever know it, even in glory. Even… Read more »
^^Job never found out why he suffered.
Dear Pastor Wilson, Thank you so much for this. The post was very helpful in exposing my unbelief and pointing to God’s trustworthiness, yet doing so in a gracious manner. I’m blown away that you devoted a whole post to my question. I’ve studied you for the last 4 months as my apologist for an apologetics class, so this is especially meaningful to me. Thank you so much. And thanks to the rest of you who graciously responded to my struggles in the last post. I’m certainly not out of this cloud yet, but you’ve helped me get back on… Read more »
That pesky non existence certainly does get in the way of observation.
God is good.
I think that your post helped more than you. We are, all of us, born to trouble as sparks fly upward. Your honesty in identifying the issue is commendable. Keep the faith brother.
The real question is how do we know if we are called according to his purpose? Is that salvation? Or perhaps what we are doing that day?
Great post Pastor Wilson. Also I am thoroughly enjoying going through your book heaven misplaced at the time. Quick question for you. What main scriptures do you point to prove doctrinally that God is good? And Does this flow with a combination if the notion that if there is a god he must be good? Not questioning the creator here with his goodness, but just trying to get a firmer foundation from yourself, one who really sees and has immense faith of this goodness.
it is often the case that he needs the kind of Calvinistic comfort that comes straight down from the Scottish Highlands This is so true. Over the years many people have given me soggyish, devotional books (I’m sure you know the sort I mean) to help me in my particular illness, but it’s my husband’s ‘sermons’ on the sovereignty of God that have been my greatest blessing. He gives them to me – pacing up and down at the end of the bed – when he sees me gasping and knows I need some clear mountain air to brace me.… Read more »
Great stuff. Syllogisms have their place though and I think we can prove that God is good by taking creation ex nihilo as the starting point. God is self existent and creates everything that is not himself. That means there are only two kinds of things, God and stuff God makes. Goodness or moral law or standards or whatever you call it must therefore be either God or something God made. In either case God defines good, either by being it or by creating it. There is no law over or prior to God that he should obey it. We… Read more »
“…cemented our souls into it like retired mafiosi.”
Great word picture!
It’s not “by and by” we’ll know all about it?
“Thou art good, and doest good; teach me Thy statutes.” — Ps. 119:68
These words are of more comfort in deep suffering than the finest of bagpipes. :-) I, and we, can throw the full weight of my/our concern on the goodness of God; His goodness far surpasses my/our “light afflictions”, for His goodness “endures continually…”
p.s. It is always intriguing to hear Christian songs/discussions that imply there will be a wonderful Q & A session, upon our arrivals in Heaven, whereby we will each hear (to our individual satisfaction!) exactly “what” God was “up to” when He allowed various afflictions and sufferings into our earthly lives… If God had to “explain” things to us, then…would He really be God?
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