Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is God 'all wise' even in Sufferings? A Quote from J.I.Packer

I have been listing to JI Packer's audio book, 'Knowing God' as I taxi Jonathan back and forth to work, TAFE etc. I was very challenged by the chapter on 'God only wise' and came home to look up a particular section that I wanted to go over in the book. My book is yellow/brown with age, I first read it something like 26 years ago, which proves I must be at least middle aged! I was after the end of chapter 9 - and there tucked away was the tiniest little snippet of paper, a little blue book mark in exactly the same place as I was going to for re-reading now. Twenty Six years and the same subject matter pulls on my heart....

 ...the same wisdom which ordered the paths which God's saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why, simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly.
Perhaps He means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult positions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with Him; for it is often the case, as all the Saints know, the fellowship with the Father and the Son is the most vivid and sweet and Christian joy is greatest when the cross is heaviest. (Remember Samuel Rutherford!) Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.
Paul saw part of the reason for his own affiliations in the fact that God ‘comforteth us in our tribulations that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we are comforted of God’ (2Corinthians 1:4) Even the Lord Jesus learned…obedience by the things which He suffered, ‘And so was ‘made perfect’ for His high priestly ministry of sympathy and help to His hard pressed disciples’ (Hebrews 5:8f) Which means that, as on the one hand He is able to uphold us and make us more than conquerors in all our troubles and distresses, so on the other hand we must not be surprised if He calls to follow in His steps, and to let ourselves be prepared for service of others by painful experiences which are quite undeserved. ‘He knows the way He taketh’, even if for the moment we do not. We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what He is doing, and what He is after in His handling of our affairs. Always, and in everything, He is wise: we shall see that hereafter, even where we never saw it here. (Job in heaven knows the full reason why he was afflicted, though he never knew that in his life.) Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust His wisdom even when he leaves us in the dark.
But how are we to meet these baffling and trying situations if we cannot for the moment see God’s purpose in them? First, by taking them as from God, and asking ourselves what reactions to them, and in them, the gospel of God requires of us; second by seeing God’s face specifically about them. If we do these two things, we shall never find ourselves wholly in the dark as to God’s purpose to our troubles. We shall always be able to see at least as much purpose in them as Paul was enabled to see his thorn in the flesh (whatever it was). It came to him, as he tells us, as a ‘messenger of Satan’, tempting him to hard thoughts of God. He resisted his temptation and sought Christ’s face three times, asking that it might be removed. The only answer he had was this, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ On reflection he perceived a reason why he should have been thus afflicted: it was to keep him humble, ‘lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations.’ This thought, and Christ’s word, were enough for him. He looked no further. Here is his final attitude: ‘most gladly therefore will I rather glorify in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
This attitude of Paul is a model for us. Whatever further purpose a Christian’s troubles may or not have in a equipping him for future service, they will also have at least the purpose which Paul’s thorn in the flesh had: they will have been sent us to make and keep us humble, and to give us a new opportunity of showing forth the power of Christ in our mortal lives. And do we ever need to know any more about them then that? Is this not enough of itself to convince us of the wisdom of God in them? Once Paul saw that his trouble was sent to enable him to glorify Christ, he accepted it as wisely appointed, and rejoice in it. God give us grace, in our own troubles, to go and do likewise.

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