Friday, October 1, 2010

Learning from Jeremiah: How to Righteously Respond to Suffering

As I might have mentioned before, I’ve recently received the privilege of shepherding a Bible study as a ministry of Grace Community Church. I can’t thank God enough for the dear saints there, and I’m really at a loss for how they have already been such an encouragement to me.

After meeting four times in the Spring, we took some summer months off, as that is their custom. So when it came time to meet again, I was very excited to see everyone. I especially was excited to review the lessons we had gone through before our break. We laid what I thought was a good foundation, and I was looking forward to reinforcing that with a bit more interpersonal discussion.

But at around 1:30 in the afternoon I got a call letting me know that the son-in-law of the woman who hosts the study had died in a car accident early that morning. I don’t even know what to write after that. Immediately I went into prayer-mode, asking God how I was going to shepherd the folks in the Bible study through this. Should we do a message on suffering? Should we skip the message altogether and just pray together? Should we just go on as planned?

Well, I prayed for pretty much the rest of the afternoon. I certainly was reminded of how small and helpless I am when compared to a sovereign God. But it was good to depend on that sovereign God’s grace. In any case, I went to the Bible study – which met at someone else’s house that night – prepared to do any one of those three things.

Those affected directly by the tragedy (obviously) weren’t there that night, and so after asking for people to share how they had responded (emotionally, mentally, spiritually) to this bad news, I discerned that the most beneficial thing for us to do that night was to consider how we should respond to trials and suffering. I wanted to equip them -- and me -- with a rock solid theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of it, so that when we do go through various trials we will be able to fight the unbiblical attitudes, thoughts, and actions that we are tempted to have in those trying times. The best defense against responding to suffering unrighteously is to prepare to suffer well before that suffering comes. Plus, I also wanted to shepherd them in such a way that they would be equipped to comfort those affected by the accident in a Biblical way.

Upon much reflection, I think I can honestly say that I have never felt as weak while presenting a message as I did that night. And yet God was indeed faithful, and proved to us again that when we are weak, then we are strong, for He is strong for us on our behalf, and thus magnifies His sufficiency in our insufficiency. May His name be praised!

The lesson that I taught, and that I’d like to share with you over the next few posts, was a fairly quick, whole-book study on the book of Lamentations. Many times when we suffer, the first book we think to go to is Job. And that’s not wrong. That’s why the book of Job is in the Bible – to teach us how to respond to suffering righteously. But the suffering that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, endured at the time of the Babylonian captivity was just as severe. Job’s sufferings were indeed horrifying, yet there’s something to be said for the fact that his sufferings were fairly personal. Jeremiah’s sufferings, on the other hand, were on behalf of an entire nation wickedly brutalized and ripped from its land. On top of that, Jeremiah himself had not followed in the unfaithfulness of his countrymen which brought this judgment upon them. All the while, he acted righteously and proclaimed the word of Yahweh as the sole voice of faithfulness. Certainly his suffering is worth considering, and the way he responds is worth imitating.

Over the next few posts, I’ll present five lessons that we can learn from Jeremiah about how to respond to suffering righteously. They are both ways of thinking and ways of acting. They are:
  1. He identifies with, and suffers alongside, his people.
  2. He acknowledges that sin is at the root of suffering (even though not all suffering is a direct result of personal sin).
  3. He acknowledges God’s absolute sovereignty in his suffering.
  4. He recognizes that although God is sovereign, He is not the enemy.
  5. He sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, God’s character.
Also, see a companion post for lesson 3 by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, as well as a postscript from Charles Spurgeon.

Hope you’ll join me!


Happy-to-be-Mrs.D said...

Looking forward to reading this series- esp. interested in your thoughts on how we respond to/share in the sufferings of others.

Janna Riccardi said...

I'm so glad you're posting this series - I really benefited from hearing this message "live" and am glad that I will be able to review it as a hard copy now and in the future. Lamentations is such a great book and I think you do a very good job of applying it to our lives. I'm especially looking forward to lessons 1,3 & 5.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Count me in. I love this blog, you deal with such wonderful, Godly issues, unlike so many other blogs I have visited. You stay on Christ centered issues, instead of going hither an yon, and worrying about whose who in the world of theology.

Christ is whose who in the world of theology, and your blog demonstrates that.

God bless you and your beautiful family.