Friday, September 3, 2010

Behind a Frowning Providence

One evening at the Conference I picked up this little book and read the whole thing in one sitting. It was really good and helpful that I wanted to share some of it. Later on I found it was written right after the death of the author's 13 year old daughter. To read the rest of the book click here.

Our Comfort in Dark Providences


One of the most difficult things to do when the road is rough or when the billows are passing over us is to feel that God still loves us. It is the last thing we can accept. But we are not called to feel; we are called to believe. In his book, In All Their Afflictions, Murdoch Campbell tells of a minister in the North of Scotland who suddenly lost his spiritually-minded wife. As he prayed that night in the presence of friends he said, ‘If an angel from heaven told me that this would work my good I would not believe him but because thy Word says it I must believe it.’

We are to measure God’s love not by His providence but by His promise. ‘When we cannot trace God’s hand we can trust God’s heart’, says C. H. Spurgeon. When providences are dark it is difficult to read them. It is the Word that tells us how to view them.

By faith we have to trace it all to the hand of our Father. The ‘crook in the lot’ is all of God’s making. We are prone to stop at second causes. We may look at doctors who may have been negligent. We may think of drivers who have been careless. We may feel bitterness over ‘what might have been’.

Joseph after suffering the greatest indignities at the hand of his brothers traced it all to the hand of God: ‘But as for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save people alive’ (Genesis 15:20). Job suffered at the hands of the Chaldeans and Sabeans yet when he came to speak of his loss he was able to say, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’ (Job 1:21). Joseph left his cause in the hand of God and he was vindicated. Job did the same. Says Samuel Rutherford, ‘It is impossible to be submissive and religiously patient if you stay your thoughts down among the confused rollings and wheels of second causes, O, the place! O, the time! O, if this had been this had not followed!’


And why should this not be so? God is God and man is man. It is in keeping with the greatness of God. In a sermon on John 13:7 entitled ‘Dark Providences Made Clear in Due Time’, Ralph Erskine explains God’s purpose in dark providences thus:

It is to discover Himself in a way suitable to Himself and His glorious perfections and to show that His thoughts are not our thoughts nor His ways our ways. If He should work according to our thoughts and imaginations, how would it appear that He is Jehovah, a sovereign God that acts like Himself?’ God owes us no explanations. We owe Him implicit trust and obedience. It is not easy to trust God when He appears to be silent, as He was with Job, but trust we must.

Dr. Ronald Dunn has these wise words to say on the problem of the silence of God in suffering:

I think this is the hardest part of all. You can take just about anything, if you know why. Everywhere I go, every meeting, I’m asked – ‘Why?...I’m going to tell you something: God will very seldom answer your question of Why. It is not that there are no answers, it’s just that you and I probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend the answer if God were to tell us, and besides that, we have to learn to trust Him without knowing why. We ask Him questions. What we’re usually doing is saying, ‘Lord explain yourself’, call God into account (Walking with the King, p. 173.)

So much of our thinking is self-centered. As Dr. Dunn points out, the major theme of the book of Job is not ‘Why to Christians suffer?’ but ‘Why do men serve God? If God were to strip us of everything would we still love and worship Him? If we can do so, like Job, we are giving the lie to the devil and we are glorifying God.

Our responsibility whatever our circumstances is to keep on the path of duty. People are usually more anxious to get rid of the problem than they are to find the purpose of God in it. ‘Afflictions’, says Matthew Henry ‘are continued no longer than till they have done their work’. It is also our responsibility to pray that our afflictions will be sanctified to us. In his book Why Us? Warren Wiersbe speaks of a friend who found herself in a sea of troubles. Attempting to encourage her one day he said ‘I want you to know that we are praying for you’. ‘I appreciate that’, she replied, ‘What are you praying God to do? Wiersbe found himself struggling for an answer and mentioned some things. ‘Thank you’, she said, ‘but please pray for one more request. Pray that I won’t waste all this suffering’.

We may not be able to understand our present condition or sufferings because God’s providence works on a grand scale. Job had no idea that he was the focus of a battle between God and Satan. God was, as it were, showing off a trophy of His grace. Job thought that his life was useless. At the very moment when he thought all was lost he was doing the greatest thing of all – he was glorifying God, he was giving the lie to the devil. It was twenty-two years after he was thrown into the pit that Joseph discovered the reason why.

Our lives resemble the making of a tapestry. The back of it seems to be a mass of tangled and purposeless threads while on the front a beautiful picture is taking shape.We must look to the end of everything. ‘Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful’ (James 5:11)
~ John J Murray

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"Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
Isaiah 55:6,8-1