Bowing Before the God of Providence

Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon:

Did you ever hear Mr. Woolf tell the story of Aleppo [a large city in Syria] being swallowed up by an earthquake? Suddenly awakened one morning, he scarcely knew how, he went outside of Aleppo. He turned his head a moment; and where that great city had been there was a vacuum, and Aleppo had all been swallowed up.

Who did that? Who but God!

Have you never heard of the earthquake at Lisbon, and of the population of that great city being sucked down and consumed? Have you never heard of whole islands disappearing, being suddenly submerged with the inhabitants, and not a wreck left behind?

Did you never hear of tornadoes, and of ships with hundreds on board being driven to the bottom of the sea by the force of the wind, by the raging of the storm, or rather, by the resistless voice of him whom winds and waves obey?

Why, such fearful calamities happen so frequently, that we are wont to read almost every day of some heart-rending disaster, now an explosion in a coal-pit, then a collision on the railway, a steamer sinks within sight of shore.

Though some of these tragedies are to be traced to human carelessness, and others are purely accidental, yet there remain those which no prescience of mortals could forestall, and we rightly call them ‘visitations,’ for they are utterly unavoidable.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes will always occur, I suppose, as long as the world continues. Still, ‘the earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.’ The God of Providence whom we adore baffles our little wisdom by the ills he permits, and the elements he lets loose, but I bow before him with a love that is not diminished by the convulsive shocks of nature, or the sorrows that taint our feeble race on land and ocean, at home and abroad, because I believe him to be good, immensely good, in the roughest tempests as well as in the clearest calm, though I cannot understand the way that he takes.

Source: C. H. Spurgeon’s Sermons Beyond Volume 63: An Authentic Supplement to the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Forty-Five Forgotten Sermons Compiled from the Baptist Messenger (Day One, 2009), 245–246.

What do you say to someone who is suffering?

The son of Yale theology professor Nicholas Wolterstorff died at the age of 24 in a mountain climbing accident. After the accident Dr. Wolterstorff wrote meditations about the hole left in his life due to the passing of his son. They were originally intended to be private, a place for him to voice his grief, but they were eventually published as a short book, Lament for a Son (Eerdmans, 1987). His meditations provide a penetrating glimpse into the grieving heart of a Christian enduring deep personal suffering. The following excerpt comes from that little book [pp. 34–35]:

What do you say to someone who is suffering?

Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.” Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.

But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.

I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected—gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.

Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings—never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt. And later, when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with a quick, thoughtless “Fine” or “OK,” stop me sometime and ask, “No, I mean really.”

Job’s Prosperity

What word comes to mind when you think of the life of Job? Trial. Affliction. Suffering. Endurance. Patience. But what about prosperity? The beginning and the conclusion of the book highlight Job’s prosperity. Note the chiastic structure that develops from the book’s introduction and conclusion:

A – Job’s prosperous life (1:1)
B – Job’s prosperous family (1:2)
C – Job’s prosperous wealth (1:3)
D – Job’s priestly mediation for his family (1:4–5)
D’ – Job’s priestly mediation for his friends (42:7–9)
C’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous wealth (42:10–12)
B’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous family (42:13–15)
A’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous life (42:16–17)

And notice the final verse of the book, this sort of epitaph etched on Job’s grave: “Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life” (42:17 NLT). Or as James says, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV). Trials, affliction, suffering, endurance, and patience are all key themes in the book of Job. But we miss something when we fail to see “what the Lord finally brought about.” Which is the OT’s way of saying that God uses trials for our good. To those who love God, affliction is the pathway to blessing (but of course this is no promise of financial wealth).