God's Perspective on Suffering

God’s Plan A
By: J O N I   E A R E C K S O N   TA D A

“ . . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it
for good . . . ” Genesis 50:2

There was a time when I was content to wade ankle-deep in the
things of God.
But that was before I snapped my neck under the
weight of a dive into shallow water, and a severed spinal cord left my
body limp and useless. Permanent and total paralysis smashed me
up against the study of God. And in the wee, sleepless hours of my
early injury, I wrestled with questions about why and how this had
happened to me. This was no casual question-and-answer session
in a living room Bible study, nor was it a merely academic exercise.
I fought off claustrophobia with hard-hitting questions directed at
God: “Let me get this straight, God .&.&. when bad things happen,
who’s behind them, you or the devil? Did you permit this or was this
your plan for me?”
It was in the hospital that I first read the book of Job, and
honestly I felt confused. The way I pictured God’s role in my
accident was far different than what I read in Job’s story. In Job
chapter 1, God makes it clear that he’s in charge. Satan conspires to
use everything to cause Job misery so that he will turn his back on
God—from the Sabeans to the Chaldeans, from freak storms to fire
from the skies—but God is the one who ultimately grants the devil
permission to make Job’s life miserable.

I had reasoned that it was pure dumb luck that I happened to
go to the beach that day. I thought it was the law of averages that the
tide just happened to be low that day. I figured that if Satan and God
were involved in my accident at all, then it must be that the devil had
twisted God’s arm for permission. I pictured God responding in a
hesitant way, “Well, I guess it’ll be okay for you to do such and such
.&.&. but just this once, and please don’t hurt her too much.”
I reasoned that once God granted permission to Satan, he then
nervously had to run behind him with a repair kit, patching up what
Satan had ruined, mumbling to himself, “Oh great, now how am I
going to work this for good?”
Worse yet, I thought that when I became disabled I had missed
God’s best for me, and that the Lord was then forced to go with some
divine Plan B for my life.

I think this is the false picture many people have about the
suffering in their lives. They assume that Satan’s schemes throw a
monkey wrench into God’s plans, catching him off-guard, and presenting
God with problems he wishes would have never happened.
But the truth is that God is infinitely more powerful than Satan.
Satan is a created being, and a fallen one at that. And in the book
of Job, God did not hesitantly and nervously grant permission to
the devil to bring suffering into Job’s life. Rather, God was the one
who introduced the subject of Job to Satan. So who was ultimately
in control? God was. And not only was God not frustrated or hindered
by Satan’s schemes, God actually intended to use the devil’s
deeds to serve his own ends and accomplish his own good purposes
in Job’s life.
Likewise, while the devil’s motive in my disability was to shipwreck
my faith by throwing a wheelchair in my way, I’m convinced
that God’s motive was to thwart the devil and use the wheelchair to
change me and make me more like Christ through it all.

God is heaven-bent on inviting me to share in his joy, peace,
and power. But there’s a catch. God only shares his joy on his terms,
and those terms call for us, in some measure, to suffer as his beloved
Son did while on earth. “For to this you have been called, because
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you
might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Those steps lead us into the
fellowship of Christ’s sufferings where we become “like him in his
death”; that is, we daily take up our cross and die to the sins he died
for on his cross (Phil. 3:10; Luke 9:23).
God only shares his joy on his terms,
and those terms call for us to suffer as his
beloved Son did.
When suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which
we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our selfcenteredness,
blasting our soul bare, so we can be better bonded to
the Savior. Our afflictions help to make us holy. And we are never
more like Christ, never more filled with his joy, peace, and power,
than when sin is uprooted from our lives.

Does this mean God delights in my spinal cord injury? Was
he rubbing his hands in glee when I took that dive off the raft into
shallow water? Of course not.

He may work “all things” together for my good, but that does not mean a spinal cord injury is, in itself good (Rom. 8:28). God permits all sorts of things he doesn’t approveof. In fact, in a world of evil and wickedness, he allows others to do what he would never do—he didn’t steal Job’s camels or entice theSabeans or Chaldeans to wreak havoc. Yet he was able to erect a
“fence” around Satan’s fury to bring ultimate good out of the devil’s
wickedness. As my friend and mentor, Steve Estes, once told me,
“Satan may power the ship of evil, but God steers it to serve his own
ends and purposes.”
So I could ask, “Was my diving accident God’s fault?” Although
he is sovereign, no, it was not his fault. Or I could ask, “Was it an
assault from the devil?” and say yes, it possibly was. Or I can press
further, asking, “Was it part of living in a fallen, wicked world,
and not the direct assault of either the devil or God?” This may be
the most likely scenario, but whichever the schematic, I have the
comfort and confidence that the entire matter was under God’s
overarching decrees, and that nothing happens in my life outside
his loving plans for me.

Besides, how God allowed for my accident to happen is not the
point. The point is, my suffering has taught me to “be done with
sin,” putting behind me the peevish, small-minded, self-focused
“Joni” to mature into the “Joni” he has destined me to be, honed
and polished by years of quadriplegia (1 Pet. 4:1).
I’m not saying it’s easy. Actually, it’s getting harder. These thin,
tired bones are beginning to bend under the weight of decades of
paralysis. But I have to remember that the core of God’s plan is
to rescue me from sin, even up to my dying breath. My pain and
discomfort are not his ultimate focus. He cares about these things,
but they are merely symptoms of the real problem. God cares most,
not about making my life happy, healthy, and free of trouble, but
about teaching me to hate my transgressions and to keep growing
in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. God lets me continue to feel
sin’s sting through suffering while I’m heading for heaven, constantly
reminding me of what I am being delivered from, exposing sin for
the poison it is.

In short, one form of evil—suffering—is turned on its head
to defeat another form of evil—my sin—all to the praise of God’s
wisdom and glory! Is the cost too great? Is the price of pain too
high? Not when you consider that “this light momentary affliction
is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”
(2 Cor. 4:17).
One day God will close the curtain on evil and, with it, all suffering
and sorrow. Until then, I’ll keep remembering something else
Steve Estes once told me as he rested his hand on my wheelchair:
“God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” I can smile
knowing God is accomplishing what he loves in my life—Christ in
me, the hope of glory. And this is no Plan B for my life, but his good
and loving Plan A.
© 2009 by Joni Eareckson Tada. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Joni
Eareckson Tada is an author, artist, and advocate for the disabled through her
ministry, Joni and Friends.

Christ: A Refuge From The Tempest

By Edward Griffin

And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place) as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.—Isaiah 32:2

This prediction, which was uttered in the days of Ahaz, is thought to have had primary reference to Hezekiah, and to the relief from wicked magistrates which would be experienced in his reign. But in the opinion of the best commentators it had ultimate reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the person of our Redeemer, who is very man as well as God, it is fulfilled that “a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”

In a serene day when no wind is up, when no rain is falling, a man may see by the way-side a shelving rock and may pass by it without emotion.

Not so the weary traveler who is fleeing before the rising storm or the beating tempest. In a season of rain or in a land of waters, one may pass by a river with little interest. Not so a traveler in the Arabian deserts, surrounded with burning sands, fainting with heat and parched with thirst. The sight of a stream of water, and especially of “rivers of water,” in such a place, would transport him. In a country covered with wood or pinched with cold, a huge rock might offer its shade unwelcome; but amidst the parched wastes of Arabia, where the weary traveler, exposed all day to the intense heat of a vertical sun, sees not a tree nor a shrub, but only one boundless waste of burning sand,—there a cool retreat beneath the shade of an over-hanging cliff,—there “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,” would be most welcome.

These observations suggest a principal reason why the Saviour of the world, whose very name ought to be music to every human ear, is treated with such cruel indifference by the greater part of mankind. It is because they do not feel their guilt and misery and need of a Saviour. They are blind to the infinite majesty and holiness and loveliness of God, and to the immense obligations by which they are bound to him; and therefore they do not see the infinite guilt of rebelling against all his commands, all his mercies, all his glories and interests; and therefore they are not pressed down under a sense of their awful condemnation and ruin. Hell is not laid open before them as their proper punishment. They do not stand amazed at the patience which has kept them out of it so long. They do not see themselves to be utterly ruined, and utterly helpless and hopeless without a Saviour. And therefore his precious Gospel, which ought to fill the world with wonder arid delight, with gratitude and praise, is cast aside as an idle tale, and the name of Jesus is treated with the most dreadful indifference.

But let a man be thoroughly convicted of sin; let him see himself covered with pollution from the head to the foot; let him stand in sight of the eternal judgment, and apprehend that divine justice has no choice but to crush him into everlasting torment; let him see himself just about to receive the descending wrath of God with the weight of a thousand worlds— in that awful moment let him obtain a glimpse of Jesus, who came to ” save his people from their sins;” let him lift his trembling eye to a God reconciled in Christ and smiling upon him— I ask that man, “What” now “think” you “of Christ?” O, says he,—but language fails. A sacred reverence settles upon his countenance; his uplifted eye speaks unutterable things. I see it glisten,—I see it weep. O, says he.—His hands are clinched and forcibly raised to his breast. The opening of the last judgment could not add solemnity to a single feature. O the height and the depth, the length and the breadth of the love of Christ! Where has this glorious mystery lain hid that I have never seen it before? To such an eye how precious does the Saviour appear as the great medium through which the love of God has come down to men,—as the Word by which all the wonders of the eternal Mind are expressed,—as the great Prophet who has brought down all the instructions that have blessed the world from the days of Eden,—as the Priest whose atonement and intercession have astonished heaven and earth,—as the King who has governed the world from the beginning, and has always protected and provided for his people, and has all their interests in his hands, and all the treasures of the universe to impart. To one who is indifferent to the blessedness of communion with God and of conformity to him, there appears no form or comeliness in Christ why he should desire him. But to one who feels an insatiable eagerness to rise from this dark world to a knowledge of all the grand and interesting things which are taking place in the kingdom of God,—who longs to be united to all holy beings, and to share in their immortal friendship and blessedness and honors,—who has no desire so great as to be good and conformed to the God he loves; to such a one Jesus must appear exceedingly precious as the one appointed to open the universe to view, to pour all its light upon the eye, and to exalt the soul to all its purity, to all its dignity, to all its happiness.

To an anxious and afflicted soul the Saviour appears peculiarly interesting in the light in which he is exhibited in the text. In the charming simplicity of eastern figure, he is presented “as a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Here are three separate figures, very striking to an eastern ear, which admit of distinct illustrations.

“A hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.” This is but one figure— for the latter clause, as is common in eastern poetry, is only the echo of the former— presenting a hiding place and covert from the windy storm and tempest. Jesus is found to be the best hiding place and covert from the winds and tempests of affliction. A poor disconsolate soul, after it has been chased through the world by the frowns of pursuing fortune,—after it has been hunted from place to place, and not suffered to rest in any corner of creation,—will find in Christ that protection and repose which all other places denied it. The weather-beaten wretch, after bearing the storms of this inclement world thro ugh the long night of affliction, may find in him a shelter under which he may hear the tempest howl without, and feel it not.

Jesus is the best hiding place and covert from the tempest of an agitated conscience. When the lightning of conviction flashes upon the soul, and guilt with its thundering voice spreads its dark folds over the mind, no where but in Jesus can be found a covert from the bursting storm. To what other refuge can a sinner fly when the horrid nature of his rebellion is laid open before him? At what time his ingratitude to the God that made, redeemed and preserves him appears; at what time he is terrified and confounded by the frequent repetition of his sins and the obstinacy of his corruptions; at what time guilt, superadded to guilt, rolls its dark wreaths over the soul, like clouds that “return after the rain,” no where but in Jesus can he find a refuge from the gathering tempest. The blood of Christ, sprinkling his conscience from dead works, has a wonderful power to relieve from the pangs of conscious guilt. It is the most sovereign balm to a wounded spirit. “Give me Jesus or I die,” cries the agonized soul. “None but Christ, none but Christ. Take away that cloud that I may see him, and I shall live.” What other refuge can a soul find that is racked with guilt? Let him go to his wealth, his honors, his pleasures; they are all unsavory ashes in the mouth of a man dying with hunger. Let him go to philosophy, it is a stranger to his case, and knows nothing either of his griefs or his wants. Let him go to speculative divinity, it is no physician, but only a corpse laid by the side of a dying man. Let him go to the courts of the Lord,—let him go to his Bible, to his knees, and all without Christ are nothing. Let him go to God, and God out of Christ “is a consuming fire.” But let him only come in sight of Jesus, and get near enough to “touch” if it be but” the hem of his garment,” and all his pains are instantly relieved,—the fire in his conscience is quenched, and he is as much at ease as though he never felt a pain.

Jesus is also the best covert from the tempest of fear when it agitates the soul. There is a material difference between conscious guilt and the apprehension of punishment, although, like light and heat, they generally go together. I see a sinner convulsed with the fear of a judgment to come. With an eye wildly rolling and marked with horror, I hear him cry, “Who” can dwell with—devouring fire? “Who” can inhabit” everlasting burnings?” His anxious eye looks above and beneath and searches creation through, but not a ray of hope can it find,—nothing but clouds and darkness and tempests. At length it falls on Jesus. Instantly the heavens are calm; the sound of the distant storm dies upon his soothed ear, and every care is still.

Jesus is the only hiding-place from the tempest of divine wrath. A rock of adamant he stood, and suffered this storm to spend its force on him; while his people, enclosed “in him,” lay hid from the beating tempest. The storm is past, and now their faith looks abroad and sees an unclouded sky, and all nature smiling in fresher beauties than though no storm had been. To finish the illustration of this figure, Jesus is the only hiding-place from the storms and tempests which forever beat upon the regions of the damned. Not to them is he a covert. They rejected the canopy of his grace when he would willingly have spread it over them; and now he is nothing to them. But to his own dear people, he will forever be a covert from the hail which will eternally lash the howling millions of the damned.

It is time to make a transition the next figure. “As rivers of water in a dry place.” The most obvious idea on the face of this figure is, that Jesus conveys satisfaction and refreshment to those who can find them no where else. There is a thirst for happiness in the soul of man, but there is a drought in all things but in God,—and for human souls, a drought in all things but in the God that shines “in the face of Jesus Christ.” Such is the constitution of things, that no man can find satisfaction but in the Christ of God. Nor will any ever find it there but those who despair of finding it any where else. But “when the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them: I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” When one has ranged creation through in search of happiness; has sought it in the field and in the city, in the haunts of business and in the circles of pleasure,—and has met with nothing but disappointment and rebuffs; when he has wandered restless from scene to scene, from employment to employment, perhaps from country to country; when, a pilgrim in the deserts of life, he finds himself “in a dry and thirsty land where no water is,” and faints to think that happiness is no where to be found; then the Gospel meets him and thus accosts him— Wherefore seekest thou “the living among the dead?” It is not here. Return from thine idle pursuit. There is but one point whence refreshment can come. Lift thine eyes to the Saviour of sinners. He lifts his eyes; he lifts his heart; and finds “waters breaking out” in the wilderness—and streams in the desert.” Ah, says he, this is where I should have come before. It would have saved me many sore disappointments and many years of anguish.

When one is plucked and crushed by the hand of adversity,—has found nothing but grief and perplexity in his connexion with the world,—carries the aching wounds where friends that have been torn away once grew to his heart,—mourns alone without father or mother, without brother or sister, without wife or child,—unpitied by the crowd of strangers that gaze upon him and pass him by,—while his tattered garments remind him of better days ;-I hasten to the turf where he sits weeping, and gently, (lest I should alarm the ear of grief,) say to him, Hath no man pitied thee? Ah, says he, I am “in a dry and thirsty land where no water is;” no satisfaction or refreshment for a wretch crushed beneath misfortune. From my soul I pity you, but do not despair. Let me lead you to the mourner’s Friend. I bring him to Jesus: and when I see the balm applied to his wounds, and the countenance of the sufferer beginning to brighten, I bow and take my leave, and return to my house with delicious sensations that an infidel never knew.

Here is another pressed under a sense of heavy guilt. He also is in a land where no water is. He has sought on all sides for relief, but sought in vain. His thirst is for reconciliation with God. In quest of this he has applied to external reformation, to outward duties, to the means of grace. He has sought the counsel of ministers and christians, and has tried to repose on the good opinions of others. He has made the desperate attempt to rest on universalism, and even on infidelity; but all to no purpose. The fever of his mind remains. His thirst for pardon and peace is unabated; but no where can he find any thing to allay it, till at last he approaches the Gospel. He hears it say, “If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink.” His attention is strongly arrested. He examines the passage. It is the voice of the Saviour himself. He ultimately seizes the invitation and goes to him: and his astonished soul finds this way of salvation exactly suited to his wants. He finds within “him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The last figure employed, though appropriate and striking, conveys no meaning materially different from the other two. The idea is that of rest in a cool and refreshing plac e. “As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” The figure represents a traveler in one of the eastern deserts, burnt with intense heat, worn out with toil, fainting for water, for shade. His resolution and strength fail. He abandons the hope of ever reaching the end of the desert; when all at once he discovers before him a high impending rock, under the cavity of whose side he finds a refreshing shelter from the scorching sun and burning sand. Such a retreat does our dear Redeemer afford to those who are fainting under the labors and discouragements of this wearisome life. This vale of tears may well be called a weary land. There are many in it who are ready to faint under the load of affliction, and can say with Job, “My soul is weary of my life.” Many are weary of sin,—wearied out with a long course of painful struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil,—are often discouraged with the greatness of the contest, and sink under the apprehension that they shall never get through with safety. These evils press them so hard that they often sigh for the grave where the weary are at rest. But a nearer and more delightful retreat is to be found in him who says, “The Lord hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” “I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.” When his Church wandered forty years in the Arabian wilderness, among burning sands, without a shelter or a shade, he covered them by day with a pillar of cloud. What this was intended to signify, appears from the application made of it by the prophet— “The Lord shall create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and a smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defense. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from the storm and from the rain.”

At what time a poor fainting soul, weary of affliction, weary of sin, weary of temptation, casts itself under the shadow of this rock, he feels a sensation of relief which nothing else can bring and which none can fully describe.

My brethren, what everlasting thanks do we owe to God for providing such a refuge from the beating tempest,—such rivers of refreshment in a dry and thirsty land. What could the weather-beaten pilgrim, what could the faint and weary traveler do without them in such a world as this? How greatly does this view tend to endear the Saviour to us. ‘What new motives rush upon the mind to abide in him, that we may every hour enjoy a “hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest,”—that we may constantly lie at the fountain of living waters, and feel the permanent shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Why do the people of God find so little relief from the distresses of life and the troubles of conscience, but because they abide no more in their everlasting refuge?

How surprising it is that in a world where a covert from the tempest is so much needed, it is so much neglected, and that even by those who have often found it a shelter when every other refuge failed. Would it not be strange to see a person ready to die with heat and thirst by the very side of a cooling fountain, and by the shade of an overhanging rock? Yet a still greater wonder is witnessed here.

May not these sweet and heavenly truths be allowed to “light up a smile in the aspect of woe?” Will not mourners in Zion come to this refuge and dry up their tears? Were you confined to these stormy regions without a shelter, you might well beat your breasts like one distracted. But now what need? I am speaking to those who know the truth of what I say. You have often found refuge here, and seen the agitations of the tempest composed, and all the fury of the storm appeased. The same shelter is ever at hand and is always offered to you; and at what time you are afraid you may always find in Christ a sure retreat. What occasion have you then for these desponding griefs? What abundant reason have you to “rejoice evermore.” And while we thus enjoy the blessed fruits of a Saviour’s dying love, let our souls arise and praise him; let a thousand tender recollections rise up in our hearts; let us renewedly devote ourselves to his service, resolving to live to his glory and to die with an eye fixed upon his cross. Amen.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus.

from “The Poor Man’s Portions” by Robert Hawker

MAY 3.

“Sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind.”-Luke 8:35.

Look at this man, my soul, and see whether you can find any resemblance to yourself. Before he heard the voice of Jesus, he was under the possession of the evil spirit. It is said of him that he wore no clothes. He dwelled in no house, but abode among the tombs. He was cutting himself with stones. No man could tame him, neither fetters nor chains bind him. Poor miserable creature!

And yet, my soul, was not this a true picture of your state, and indeed, of every man’s state by nature? Had not Satan full possession of your heart and affections, my soul, before you became savingly acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ? Did he not lead you in the pursuit and gratification of your lusts and pleasure at his will? You might truly be said to wear no clothes; for you were so far from having on the garment of Jesus’ righteousness. In those days of your unregenerate life, you were living in the shame of your nakedness and in the filth of your nature. You did not dwell in the house of God, nor even delight to go in. And, just as this poor creature lived among the dead, so you lived with creatures like yourself, dead in trespasses and sins. And as this miserable man was wounding himself with stones, so were you; for your daily commission of sin was giving wounds to your soul, infinitely more alarming than the wounds he gave his body. And could no chains or fetters be found strong enough to bind him? So neither did all the solemn commands and threatening judgments of God’s holy law act with the least restraint upon your ungoverned passions.

Pause, my soul, over the portrait, and acknowledge how accurate and striking the similarity. Then ask yourself, are you now sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in your right mind? Yes! Like this poor man, have you heard the voice of Jesus, and felt the power of his grace in your heart? If one like the Son of God has set you free, brought you to his fold, opened your ear to discipline, and your heart to grace, then you are free indeed. What do you say, my soul, to these things? Is there this change, this blessed change, from dead works to serving the living and true God? Oh then will not the language of your heart be like Jesus, and his church of old? “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isa 61:10)