Audio Library

Suffering

Another place where we are tempted to think God cannot fulfill his promise is in the midst of suffering.  God blessed Abraham with a covenant child named Isaac.  God gave twins to Isaac named Jacob and Esau.  And from Jacob came twelve sons whom the Bible calls Patriarchs, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Eleven of these sons became jealous of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, so they sold him into slavery.  He eventually ended up in Egypt.  There he was quickly recognized for his character and gifts and was promoted to a place of responsibility.  But when he refused the advances of his boss’s wife, he was falsely accused and imprisoned.  Though he helped a fellow prisoner with his release, the prisoner forgot to speak favorably on his behalf and he was left to linger in prison.  Finally, he was released and quickly promoted to the second most powerful spot in Egypt.  In that role he was used by God to save the world from famine by means of his prudence in stockpiling grain during years of plenty. 

 

For most of his life, Joseph was oppressed by men.  The majority of Joseph’s life was spent in slavery or imprisonment.  It would have been easy for him to think that God had forsaken him.  It would have been very difficult to believe that God could fulfill his promise to be his God and to bring a numerous people through his line.

 

But God’s promise could not be interrupted by Joseph’s slavery or imprisonment.  God demonstrated his sovereign ability by taking Joseph to Egypt and promoting him to his high position so that he could save his people from famine.  If Joseph had not been imprisoned, his family in Canaan would have died and God’s promise to build a great nation from Abraham would have been extinguished.  In other words, far from interrupting the fulfillment of God’s promise, Joseph’s suffering was the instrument for fulfilling it. 

 

Though not openly identified as a type of Christ, Joseph is so clearly.  He was persecuted, sent to Egypt, and as one man became the salvation of the whole world.  Ultimately it was God’s fulfillment of his promise to Joseph which guaranteed the promise to us.  Joseph preserved the Jewish line through which the Messiah would come. 

 

Far from canceling God’s promise, your suffering actually advances God’s purposes in you and through you for his Kingdom.  The Bible makes it clear that our sufferings carry on the redemptive purposes of Christ’s sufferings (Co. 1:24?).   

 

However, all did not live happily ever after once they were saved from the famine.  Joseph moved his family to Egypt where they were cared for and prospered under Pharaoh’s favor.  However, after Joseph died another Pharaoh arose who did not know him and did not appreciate the Jews.  In fact he was threatened by their rapid increase.  They were increasing because God was fulfilling his promise to Abraham to build a numerous group of people who would praise his name.  Therefore Pharaoh enslaved them and tried to crush them with their work.  But he could not.  Finally, he commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill the Jewish male infants.  They would not because they feared God more than Pharaoh.  Pharaoh could not stop their increase or interrupt the promise of God.

 

The new Pharaoh represents the forces of evil which desire to extinguish God’s people and his purposes.  No matter how intense your spiritual opposition, the devil cannot interrupt the fulfillment of God’s promise to be your God and preserve you as his child.  In fact, your trials accomplish something similar to that of the Hebrew midwives.  They remain a testimony to the power of God in small people.  No threat of persecution or death could make them disobey or not trust God.  That faith shut the mouths of God’s cosmic enemies which inspired the Egyptians to kill the Hebrew children.  When you continue to trust and obey God’s promise in the face of threat you demonstrate to God’s spiritual enemies that his power in you is greater than theirs.  I am convinced that we will not know the purpose for most of our suffering until the Great Day when God exalts us in heaven and humiliates all his enemies.

 

Many years ago, a man visited my church. He was deeply depressed because of the death of his wife. He decided that even though he was an agnostic that he would come to church with his sister, because there wasn't really anything else for him to do at that point. 

 

He had his fist clenched to God, because he had taken such good care of the wife he loved so dearly, nursing her through her brutal battle with cancer. He was angry at God. Eventually, the Lord conquered him and brought him to himself. He was incredibly converted. He became very active in our church and was elected as an officer. 

 

Some time later, the Lord brought him together with another woman, who had also been widowed. They were married and were very happy together.  

 

This wife became sick with the same cancer. She died as well, and he took good care of her just as he had with his first wife. Some time after her funeral, he made an appointment to come see me and discuss things. I agonized over what to say. I thought, he's going to ask me how I could say God is good when he afflicted his second wife with the same cancer and take her away from him. This is why he hated God in the first place. I was trying to garner all my best biblical arguments for the goodness of God in the face of suffering. 

 

He came into my office, I said "Tom, I'm so so sorry. And I don't know what to say." 

 

He said, "I didn't come here for you to say anything. I came here to tell you that it is a privilege to be on the playing field. And as long as I know that Jesus is conquering this evil, I can continue to fight." 

 

There is nothing, not site, not sin, and not suffering from spiritual oppression that can annul the promise that God will be your God and you will be his person securely enclosed in the grip of Christ into all of eternity.