Will God Allow Horrible Things to Happen To Faithful and Wonderful People? #251
Happy Thursday, friends! Shorter episode today. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Two reasons. #1 – Today’s readings are quite short, and #2 It’s after midnight and I just returned from about 2.5 hours of tromping around the woods in the dark looking for my Airpods, which somehow fell out of my pocket earlier today on a late afternoon hike. The area where I lost them is quite interesting. We are just a few miles away from the old site of Fort Ord, which was a large and sprawling military base that used to house up to 50,000 men – seeing its peak during World War 2 and Korea. The base was closed in 1994, and converted to a national monument (kind of like a national park) in 2012, and it is a great place to explore during the day, because there are tons of WW2 era buildings all around. At night however, it’s a little eerie. My wife texted me tonight around 10:30 to see if I had any success yet, and I told her no, and that I felt like I was in spooky-town, right next to a haunted fort, with all of the WW2 buildings nearby, and a foggy night and such. She texted me back, “Just ask the vets for help finding your Airpods…they can probably see in the dark.” Unfortunately, the ghosts of Fort Ord were no help in finding them, but, I guess fortunately, they didn’t shoot me or eat me or whatever, so that’s nice.
We aren’t talking about ghosts today (though, stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode – we will actually see an appearance of what most people would call a ghost in 1 Samuel 28.) What we are talking about is a very tough question. Our short readings today include 1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 6, 1 Corinthians 8 and our focus passage, Psalms 44, which – on the surface, almost seems like a hopeless Psalm. I like movies, books and media in general that ends well. I can handle a little bit of tribulation in the beginning and the middle, if I know that there is something hopeful coming, but Psalm 44 is not really like that. It begins in a fairly hopeful place, but the house just burns down the more you read it, until the end, where the Psalmist just seems to be able to whimper out a cry for help. On the surface, this is not an encouraging Psalm – so why focus on it? Good question – let’s answer it after we read.
See what I mean? This is a grim Psalm and yet it is also honest, genuine, unvarnished, sincere. I say it frequently, some Christians like to put on a fake smile and act like everything is okay – some popular preachers seem to peddle Christianity as if it is the key to having a happy and successful life now, but – it isn’t – don’t listen to those leaders and preachers!
Interestingly, the apostle Paul quotes from this in Romans 8, in one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. How can this be? Let’s let pastor John Piper explain it to us:
What is Jesus trying to say to us when he says: “Go ahead and risk obedience; some of you they will kill; but not a hair of your head will perish”? I think the best commentary on these verses is our text for today, Romans 8:35–39.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Remember that the words of Jesus were: “Some of you they will kill … But not a hair of your head will perish.” Now what does Paul say?
1. Christ’s Love Does Not Eliminate Our Suffering
Like Jesus, he says, first of all, that the love of Christ for us does not eliminate our suffering. On the contrary our very attachment to Christ will bring suffering. What is Paul’s answer to his own question in verse 35: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword separate us from the love of Christ?”
His answer in verse 37 is a resounding NO!
Some of You They Will Kill
But don’t miss the implication of the question: the reason that these things will not separate us from the love of Christ is not because they don’t happen to people whom Christ loves. The quote in verse 36 from Psalm 44:22 is Paul’s way of saying that these things do in fact come upon Christ’s people.
“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” In other words, Christ’s love for us, referred to in verse 35, does not remove us from these sufferings.
This is the meaning of the little word “in” in verse 37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” Not by escaping them!
In other words, no misery that a true Christian ever experiences is evidence that he has been cut off from the love of Christ. The love of Christ triumphs over all misery. Verses 38–39 make this crystal clear:
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
On the far side of every risk—even if it results in death—the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courageous self-reliance, or efforts to earn God’s favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God’s love—that on the far side of all our risks for the sake of righteousness God will still be holding us….So now we have seen three things that Paul and Jesus say:
1. The love of Christ does not remove his people from suffering, and so all obedience is risk. “We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
2. But none of this suffering will ever separate us from the love of Christ. On the far side of risk, the love of God always triumphs.
3. But even more. When we risk for the cause of God and meet the enemy of affliction with the weapons of faith, the enemy is not just defeated, it is captured and made to serve the eternal good of the Christian warrior. And all this is through the triumphant love of Christ. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).