Grace and Mercy in Suffering

I recently posted this on the Hill Country UT blog, but it is a topic that I has been on my mind for the last few days. So I’m re-posting it here as well. You can read it on the church’s website by clicking below:

Hill Country UT Blog

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If I had to choose a book of the Bible as my favorite, it would be Job. Maybe that is strange to you, but I find so much hope when I read through it because I cannot help but see the tremendous depth of God’s grace in allowing mankind to suffer. Lately though, I have also been considering the element of His mercy in the midst of pain. I have found it easier to understand His grace during trial, but His mercy as well? It seems impossible, right?

Since we have to start somewhere, let’s start at the beginning. God created the universe and everything in it and when He looked at what He had done, it pleased Him. Man and woman were created in His image and were made to live in perfect unison with Him. That lasted for two whole chapters of the Bible. Despite the unending bliss in which God placed the origins of man, they still chose to disobey His only rule by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And every single one of us continue to make this choice daily. But what we see in God’s reaction is the first recorded glimpse of His grace. Rather than killing Adam and Eve, which He said would be the result of their disobedience (Genesis 2:17), He extended grace in letting them live. There are countless examples that mirror this throughout the rest of the Bible, the most prominent of these being the ultimate destruction of sin through the person and works of Jesus Christ. God created, that creation turned away from Him, and He chose to pursue and reconcile its decision through the death of His Son rather than punish it.

Seeing the effects of God’s grace are not so terribly difficult. We have no right to life so the very fact that we are still breathing is evidence of His grace. Now, believing He is merciful in our suffering has been a frustrating topic for me to think through. Here is how I consider it:

After chapter two of Genesis, the rest of the story, including the one that continues today, is spent following human hearts that are doing everything they can to return to the perfection of creation by pursuing this world for their satisfaction. We constantly do this today by chasing after sex, careers, money, fame, religion, family, and health to fill us and make us whole. In essence, we rely upon God’s creation as an end for our satisfaction when He, the Creator, built it to be a means for His own glory. The point is that God is the only true Good in life and everything we have is supposed to remind us of that and drive us to worship Him for it. Our lives have an eternal need that only the Lord can fill, but we still choose to convince ourselves that there are alternatives for healing our wounds.

I think bearing this in mind is how we see God as beautifully merciful in all of our sufferings. Take the story of Job. Satan comes to the Throne convinced that he can ruin the faith of God’s most faithful follower (1:8) by taking every material belonging fromΒ  him. God gives him the permission to do so and what results is the death and destruction of Job’s ten children, his thousands of livestock, his crops, all of his servants, his home, and his health as he becomes covered in boils while sitting in the ashes of his devastated life.

At first glance, this seems terribly cruel, but we have to bear in mind the two important points mentioned earlier: God is the only true Good and we consistently look for it elsewhere. Reading through the rest of the story, Job never discounts God’s complete sovereignty in all of his pain and his faith is made even stronger in the end when he hears the Lord’s magnificent voice promising His faithfulness to him. The reason I see this as being a story of grace AND mercy is because God knows that we need Him and He allows the pieces of our lives that don’t exhibit that same understanding to be pressed, stabbed, and cut off for our own good.

I will be the first to tell you that my immediate reaction to any form of suffering is not always one of joy. I am quick to victimize myself and question God’s love for me. The thing that humbles me in those moments is that God knows that He is the only source of Life and His love for us is so deeply profound that He allows suffering, the only circumstance by which we truly understand His life-giving power, to occur in our lives. He allows the idols by which we identify ourselves and rely on for satisfaction (sex, careers, money, fame, religion, family, health, etc) to bleed and die so that we have nothing but the only thing that matters – Him. The reality is that if suffering were omitted, God would not be loving and just. Instead, He would be cruel and flawed.

My prayer is that we would walk through life with a greater understanding of God’s grace and mercy. His focus is not on our outward appearance or accumulation, but our heart. Scripture promises that we will spend our lives wasting away externally, but internally the Lord renews our hearts and brings them into eternity with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16). Jesus was not concerned about His outward appearance when He was spit upon, punched, slapped, whipped, stabbed, and nailed to a cross. His concern was the heart even in His suffering. May we come to walk in the understanding that God extends His grace daily in giving us life despite our constant rebellion and His mercy is unending in permitting us to suffer in the areas where we do not trust Him so that we can learn to live more fully in Him – the only source of Life.

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“Behold the mercy of our King,
Who takes from death its bitter sting,
And by his blood, and often ours,
Brings triumph out of hostile pow’rs,
And paints, with crimson, earth and soul
…Until the bloody work is whole.
What we have lost God will restore –
That, and himself, forevermore,
When he is finished with his art:
The quiet worship of our heart.
When God creates a humble hush,
And makes Leviathan his brush,
It won’t be long before the rod
Becomes the tender kiss of God.”

The Misery of Job and The Mercy of God by John Piper

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