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Once again, Piper prayed and acknowledged his sense of unworthiness.
Romans 8:20 makes it plain that all suffering is judicial. It is a judicial act of God that brings these things on the earth. Because you have done this God says, “I will surely multiply your pain . . .” (Genesis 3:16). Natural evil is a weak testimony to the ghastliness of evil. This sin includes even our mere preferring of other things to God.
Having said that all suffering is a judicial sentence on the universe, verses 1 and 3 of chapter 8 make an important qualification. That is that no Christian experiences suffering as condemnation. Jesus absorbed all the condemnation of all the people who are united to him by faith. All of your suffering is not judgment and punishment—it is something else. It would be a tremendous dishonor for you to feel judged by God if you are in Christ.
Suffering in the Bible has many designs. For those who are unbelievers, all suffering is punishment, but all suffering is purification for believers. For those who are on their way to being Christians, suffering is to awaken them. For a non-Christian, what will happen with suffering will depend on what they do with Christ. If they turn to God it will have been in order to get their attention, and is thus redemptive, or it will be part of an everlasting life of judgment culminating in hell.
In the fall, God was doing more than merely responding to sin. He never is merely responsive. Instead he was permitting it by design so that he could carry out his purposes. God was fulfilling an eternal plan in order that the apex of his glory would be revealed through grace. The apex of his grace would be Christ. The apex of Christ’s manifesting of grace would be his death on the cross. This is the reason the universe exists.
WHAT MORE WAS GOD DOING IN UNLEASHING SUFFERING?
Ephesians 1:6 says that we were predestined “to the praise of his glorious grace.” We exist to bring praise to the glory of his grace. Grace means being treated better than we deserve. Grace assumes demerit. If we were perfect we could not receive grace. Only fallen people can receive any grace! The world had to be allowed to fall in order for this to happen. This is not mere logic—it is driven by verses of the Bible! “. . . because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Timothy 1:9). The grace was all there and planned and given to us before the world was even made.
“. . . everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). The word literally means slaughtered. It was not clean; it was not quick; and it was gross. You would have thrown up, or screamed, or run away. If the book was called the book of the killed one before the foundation of the world, then the slaughter was planned before the foundation of the world. If so, then the world was created and the fall allowed so that we might be forgiven. Some people say that in heaven we won’t remember horrible things. But the main thing we will remember is the most horrible thing that ever happened in the world.
We should not be thinking big thoughts about suffering, but big thoughts about Jesus’ supremacy. He is the center, the reason for everything. It is all about Jesus. Everything is pointing to Jesus as Creator and Redeemer of the universe. The main expression of grace is the crucifixion of Christ. When God subjected the world to Judas-like murderous treachery, he was preparing the cross in order for us to be saved.
In Christ’s death on the cross there is a glory that is manifold. First, he purchased deliverance from pain for all those who are in him. “By his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53). Second, he purchased our faith. This faith is sustaining and will uphold us when we are not healed.
God is both healer and the one who satisfies the suffering soul. We can glorify God by being healed. Piper said he believes wholeheartedly in the gift of healing. He thinks we should ask God to heal people by placing hands on the sick person’s shoulder. No need to add magic words. “If it be your will.” Just ask. Do what you would want someone else to do for you. If you love people, you will pray for them.
But in verse 23 we groan inwardly. In the midst of suffering that is not removed by healing, the cross purchased the grace to still be satisfied in God. Even we groan. This is there to prevent over-realized eschatology. Since Christ has purchased healing some say it is all now. Excessive charismatics get the notion that we can have every healing now. In fact, the sustaining grace is normal in this age, and the healing grace seems less common. God wants the people around us to marvel at the worth of Jesus when we love him in pain.
Why does the proportion of these two graces work the way it does? When a person is miraculously healed of a cancer, there are several things about that which do not bring as much glory. There are several ambiguities about healings that mean less praise might go up to God. First of all, people doubt the medical side of it and say that the original pictures were wrong. Second, are people praising the glory of Jesus or are they giving glory to health? Third, a few years later the healing is probably largely forgotten and there are no more prayer meetings for that man. In a sense that is perhaps why God doesn’t always heal—in order that the value of Christ might be seen in a man who goes on loving God in the midst of suffering.
WHAT HELPS ARE THERE FOR US?
- After this time there will be a glory for us to see, that will satisfy our soul. We love to see greatness. We will be granted the soul-satisfying sight of the greatest reality in the universe.
- But, as we see in verse 19, there will be a revealing of the sons of God to the universe. We don’t look like children of God yet. Our faces will shine like the sun in the kingdom. We will be changed (verse 21). Creation will be set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God! We will be glorified. There is a freedom. We are bound up. We will become fit to see and enjoy. Our British restraints won’t matter any more, or the fact that your dad beat you up. It’s all going to change. The sting of death will have been taken away. We will be capable of infinite happiness in Christ.
- We will see a rearrangement of creation that will allow all this to happen. The universe is about people. He changes us, then changes everything. Mountains and seas will not be thrown away. The new heavens and earth are this world renewed. We will be satisfied.
- God promises that the miseries of the universe are not death throes, but birth pangs. If you are in the kingdom now, every pain is about something new coming. If you hear a scream in a hospital, you will interpret it differently, depending on if you hear it in a cancer ward or a labor ward.
- We are to be more than conquerors. Not just death lying dead before you. What is better is if you say, “Death, get up and serve me well!” Your enemies become your servants i
n Christ. Whatever suffering comes your way will serve you. All things are ours—even life and death. (1 Corinthians 3:23) “Death, you think you are my enemy. Make my day!”
Piper finished with a quote of which I only caught a snippet. He said he longs for us to “Hold our lives cheap, live dangerously, and be reckless in his service!”