Suffering, Loss, and God’s Grace
Suffering, Loss, and God’s Grace
Death is not a subject people want to talk about. It is an uncomfortable topic, but it is certain. Hebrews 9:27 says “it is appointed once for man to die...” My intent today is to offer the church encouragement. We know that death is certain, but do we live like it? Is your Hope in heaven or the here and now?
Matt Chandler recently said in his sermon ‘Unearthed: Revealed’, “I don’t know what you are going through, but the God of the Bible seeks to not waste a single tear, disappointment, heartbreak, loss, or betrayal. It has also been said that we have either experienced a trial, we are in the middle of one or we will go through one soon.
Have you lost your job, been injured, abused, divorced, suffered financial loss, have a chronic illness, been diagnosed with cancer, or lost a loved one? Are you holding onto your pain and thus paralyzed by allowing Satan to keep you from being all that God has created you to be?
Many Christian authors have written on the topic of suffering and pain. Vernon Pierre wrote a small pamphlet titled Nominal Christianity Will Fail You When Suffering Hits. He writes, “there are many versions of Christianity out there that are cheap, deficient and substandard and they will all fail us when suffering hits. A Sunday only Christianity doesn’t work when we are suffering. Whatever you think you can gain from an hour or so on Sunday morning will crumble in the face of the difficult hours you will experience when profound pain arrives. So also, the name it and claim it Christianity (or prosperity gospel) treats God as if he is a lottery ticket and you feel as if you have lost the game. You will always be disappointed in a God whose sole function is to provide you with comfort and material blessings since no amount of material blessings can protect you from pain. Suffering is like a razor sharp knife that has an especially easy time cutting through a life that puts its hope in riches and possessions. What we need when we face suffering is a real, authentic, substantial active relationship with the true God in his son Jesus Christ. We cannot settle for anything less because anything less will not be strong enough to help us find joy in the midst of pain.”
In Paul David Tripp’s book, Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, he states, “your suffering is not a sign that you’ve been forsaken; rather, it’s a sign that you live in a world that doesn’t function the way God intended and is in need of complete renewal’.
David Powlison writes in God’s Grace in Your Suffering, “suffering reveals true genuineness of faith in Christ,” and “suffering destroys or exposes counterfeit faith.” Where will you place your faith when suffering comes?
Does God want you to live in a perpetual state of loss and suffering? No.
The Bible says, “And God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) So what happened? Why is there so much suffering in the world? What we experience now, is not what God intended before the fall. Sin entered the world through Adam and in order for sin to be redeemed blood had to be sacrificed. Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin and for yours. He redeemed us on the cross. He paid the debt for our sin and we in turn receive His righteousness. Do you know Jesus? Do you know that Jesus came to redeem you from your sin and pain? Do you want true peace in the middle of suffering? Jeremiah 29:11 promises, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.”
My family has experienced great suffering the last two and a half years. Some of you know our story of loss and grief. I lost my youngest son (age 26) to cancer almost two years ago. Phillip was married and a nurse in the ER at Huntsville Hospital in Madison, Alabama. He had just purchased his first home across the street from his brother. And he had been accepted into Nurse Practitioner School. He loved God, his wife, his family, his friends, Disney World, soccer, and climbing. Then in late July of 2019, Phillip was diagnosed with bone cancer in his left hip. Phillip suffered unrelenting pain and endured 8 months of chemotherapy and an amputation of his left leg. The doctors said he was cancer free after his surgery, but the cancer metastasized and two months later he was told that he had three weeks to live. Phillip and his wife asked his father and me to move in with him so we could spend our remaining time together as a family. Phillip died at home on June 22, 2020, surrounded by family. Phillip had a deep abiding faith and his testimony proclaimed the goodness of God in all circumstances. He also had an amazing testimony on social media. He documented his journey from day one throughout his sickness and ultimate death. On October 8, 2019, within 45 minutes of learning that he may lose his leg to cancer Phillip posted, “My leg is not my life. My healing has been promised whether it be here on earth or in heaven.” After later finding out that his cancer had metastasized in multiple places he said, “My life and purpose on this earth was planned long before the creation of the world. I believe that God is bringing me home to him because I have completed that purpose.” Phillip also shared during hospice that he felt like Abraham. He said, “I am scared to leave my family and my home, but I am going to walk by faith to the promised land.” And he did…
I never questioned God’s love for me after Phillip’s death, but I do need daily reminders and affirmation of His love. I have notes and Bible verses on my phone that I read to myself regularly. 1. Do I believe God is in control of all things? Yes. 2. Do I believe God is trustworthy and true? Yes. I believe God is sovereign over all things and I can trust him in all things. I need these reminders. I continue to experience great sorrow and pain from the loss of my son and I always will on this side of heaven. But I know what I believed to be true IS true. I am waiting patiently for the day spoken of in Revelation 21:4 where it says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Phillip chose 1 Corinthians 15 as the passage from the Bible to be read at his funeral. His brothers preached his funeral message. 1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection. Even in death, Phillip was pointing others to Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Phillip recorded himself reading these verses to me the day after he found out he was dying. I have it on my phone. He was reassuring me that the resurrection IS the hope we have in Christ Jesus. It IS our assurance of eternal life. 1 Corinthians 15:20-21 goes on to say, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”
Again, Paul David Tripp’s book titled Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense is relevant here. “You see, the message of the Bible is that the arms of God’s power, presence, and grace wrap around the deepest and darkest moments of human suffering. God wants you to know that it’s impossible for you to go through anything outside his understanding and care. The message is that God’s grace is not just about your past forgiveness and your future hope, but also about everything you’re facing right now. All of today’s sorrows, disappointments, weaknesses, unexpected dilemmas, and the suffering that results have been addressed by his grace.”
God can and will use your testimony of brokenness for his glory if you let him. Matt Chandler states, ‘the work of redemption in your life is very much about God taking everything that the enemy has meant for your destruction and redeem it, weaponize it, flip it on its head and send it right back to its original cause; sin, death, Satan, and demonic principalities and powers. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”’
Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3-7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
And 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 concludes with the hope, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And even Jesus comforts us with the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).
My hope is in Jesus and the promise of the resurrection. I long for heaven like never before and I pray that I will be found faithful when that day comes. Like Paul says, “but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)
This life is full of brokenness and sadness, but there is still comfort in the midst of it. Jesus promised in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; (be of good cheer) I have overcome the world.”
My favorite bible verse is and remains, Job 1:21. It says, “…the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. If you truly believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all things you can trust Him, come what may. It is not easy, but my faith is not conditional. I believe God is real. I believe that God’s word is true and I believe that at the culmination of time that he is coming again. John 14:1-3 reminds us, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Susan Newman is a member of Providence Baptist Church. She and her husband, Jeff, have three children and five grandchildren.
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