In this post we consider God’s strategies for our defence and coping with suffering. Remember, God is definitely a Good God. God is Love and His Love endures forever. He is also a God of Justice and Mercy, Holy and Righteous. He paid the price of our redemption from the dominion of the evil one
A question of God’s provision
Is God just watching us suffer from afar? Does He care? These kinds of perceptions add to the loading of the reactionary questions on the tip of most humans’ tongue in the midst of sufferings.
In terms of suffering, we might say we each have different coping mechanisms. That may be what we think but the Bible is pretty prescriptive when dealing with the enemy. Certainly not something we should contemplate ‘under our own steam’. One thing that is clear throughout Scripture, Satan never intends anything for our good, ever. One of numerous titles, Destroyer is his name, suffering and death is his game
Coping with suffering because of Satan
From suffering part II we are aware of the devil’s schemes. Now we look at what we should do while this ‘roaring lion’ (as Peter refers to him) is on the prowl (1Peter 5:8). In essence, trying to depress us, cause us to suffer, trying to lure us into doubting God, trying to tempt us into sin
In addition to remembering to use the spiritual Armour of God that Paul identifies in Ephesians 6:10-18, there are numerous other strategies God has given us. John Piper, an American Reformed Baptist pastor and author includes an interesting list of ‘Eight Things to Do with Evil’ in his blog “The Fall of Satan and the Victory of Christ”. Some are not obviously connected to coping with suffering but if we act on these, a suffering can diminish, if not desist!
- Expect evil. “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12)
- Endure evil. “Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7; see also Mark 13:13 and 1Corinthians 10:13)
- Give thanks for the refining effect of evil that comes against you. “Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20; see also 1Thesselonians 5:18; Romans 5:3–5)
- Hate evil. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9)
- Pray for escape from evil. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13)
- Expose evil. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11)
- Overcome evil with good. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
[A great antidote to the work of the enemy]
- Resist evil. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7)
Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12)
Resist the devil as Jesus demonstrated. Don’t struggle, don’t argue but simply quote Biblical Truth at Satan. Wield the Sword of the Spirit. Satan gave Jesus two of the “IF” questions (see suffering part I). Well, one repeated. “IF you are the Son of God ……” just over 40 days after God declared it so (Matthew 3:17 – 4:11). Straightaway, in response to each of the “IFs” and the third lure, Jesus disarmed Satan with a relevant verse of Truth
As we read the Bible it reveals God’s character and loving care for us, and deepens our relationship with Him. This protects us against the devil’s lies. It equips us and helps us to resist temptation and deal with the suffering he inflicts
While Satan awaits his final demise at the appointed hour Jesus, not Satan, has the upper hand in all circumstances at all times. Moreover, as Paul says “….. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1Corinthians 10:13) no matter what the temptation. Temptation to give up, temptation to distrust God. No matter what. When coping with suffering, you too will be able to hang onto the Living Word of Truth – a two-edged sword and defend yourself, God’s way
NEVER means …… Never
Further, as a help for coping with suffering evil, John Piper encourages us to never do any of these :-
- Never despair that this evil world is out of God’s control. “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)
[He can work wonders with whatever Satan tries on us]
- Never give in to the sense that because of random evil life is absurd and meaningless. “How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:33, 36)
- Never yield to the thought that God sins or is ever unjust or unrighteous in the way he governs the universe. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways” (Psalm 145:17)
- Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ. If you trust him with your life, you are in Christ. Never doubt that all the evil that befalls you — even if it takes your life — [is turned by God into something beneficial for you (Romans 8:28) like His] .. loving, purifying, saving, fatherly discipline. It is not an expression of his punishment in wrath. That fell on Jesus Christ our substitute. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6)
[Bracketed text, my insert]
But when we are feeling beaten to a pulp ….
In summary, part of God’s strategy for us coping with suffering from evil was ‘penned’ by Peter. In his 1st letter he said … “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1Peter 5:6-10) Amen
Coping with suffering in General
It’s important to realise that Jesus said we would all face ‘storms’ in life (Matthew 7:25-27). He likened everyone who heard and acted on His words to a wise man who built his house on the rock. His house withstood the storms. Therefore, IF we heed the Word, really pay attention and seriously act on His Word we can handle the suffering! But it’s a big IF. No lip-service pretending. No nice house half-heartedness built on sand
Then let’s look at some records of coping with suffering through the ages. David provides us with prolific prose on the subject. Many Psalms begin with his crying out to the Lord for help. Take Psalm 6 – he is really struggling to the point he feels faint (vs 2), in agony (vs 2) and his soul is in anguish (vs 3). At the same time, he is worn out (vs 6) from groaning (vs 6), weeping (vs 6) and being in tears (vs 6). Overall he is weak with sorrow (vs 7). As we saw in suffering part II we can feel like this through our own sin, the actions of others, chronic illness, bereavement, work issues, evil activity, etc etc
How did David cope?
In the midst of suffering David did not hide away, did not crumple. He cried out to God for mercy: “Be merciful to me, Lord”
(Psalm 6:2). He prayed: “Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (Psalm 6:4)
Sometimes our sufferings seem like they will never end. They go on and on. But we too can cry out like David, “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3). Again in Psalm 13, four times in two verses David called “How long …?” (Psalm 13:1,2). He brazenly expressed his feelings to God in the same two verses… “Will you forget me forever? … will you hide your face from me? … How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1,2)
However, sometimes we cry out for mercy and it does not seem as if God is listening. But he is. He promised. We must be patient. There will be a time when we can say, like David: “… the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer (Psalm 6:8–9). Trust in the sovereignty of God and keep on believing that he will never forsake you: “And those who know Your name will lean on and confidently put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10, AMP). But in the meantime, David’s example suggests four things that we should continue to do in the midst of coping with suffering:
- Keep praying
David continues to cry out to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes” (Psalm 13:3). He pours out his heart to God. Don’t give up praying even when God seems far away
- Keep trusting
“But I trust in your unfailing love” (Psalm 13: 5a). “I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms”
(Psalm 13: 5a, MSG). It is easier to have faith when life is smooth, but the test of faith is in the storms, rough times
- Keep rejoicing
We rejoice in God’s salvation. … “my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Psalm 13: 5b). “I’m celebrating your rescue” (Psalm 13: 5b, MSG)
- Keep worshipping
In spite of everything David has suffered and is suffering, he is able to see the goodness of God: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13: 6). Remember all that God has done for us
We can trust that God is ultimately in control and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
How did Joseph cope?
At 17yrs of age Joseph spent some 13yrs in slavery in a foreign country, including imprisonment. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers and gaoled though fully innocent of the charge (Genesis 37-50)
Joseph remained faithful to the Lord and continued to honour God and behaved admirably in his degrading circumstances. The Lord was with Joseph so he succeeded in everything he did …. as a slave: Genesis 39:2 and as a prisoner: Genesis 39:23. Even after being given a promise by one of Pharoah’s men then forgotten he remained faithful to God so much that Pharaoh declared that Joseph was “so obviously filled with the spirit of God” and “Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt” (Genesis 41:38-43)
Despite all the wrongs done to him by others, there was no hint of bitterness or doubting God. He was even respectful of Pharaoh and humble, making it clear that it was God, not himself, who interpreted dreams. He didn’t even try to bargain for release
Of course Pharaoh was impressed. Though humble, Joseph remained confident in God and ready to be used by Him. He stayed close to the Lord through all his suffering
Jesus made it abundantly clear that this is vital – by His own example as well as His teaching. Staying close to the Lord and communicating with him from your heart is the key to an abundant life let alone coping with suffering
Don’t forget Job:-
Job suffered awfully for several months, (Job 29:2) while Satan tried to get him to turn away from God. Satan accused God of buying Job’s allegiance (Job 1:9-10) and told God that Job would “surely curse you to your face” if Satan made him suffer. “So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. ….. In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:7-10)
Satan afflicted him with suffering on every level – emotional and mental as well as physical and Job remained faithful. Because Job “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
Therefore he could resist the devil. Unaware that Satan was the cause of his “frightening …. terrors” (Job 13:21) Job declared “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I hope in him;” (Job 13:15a)
When we resist the devil and our suffering continues; when we fully commit to the Lord and our suffering continues, we must not forget that our Lord knows. What’s more, we can ask Him to strengthen us to have the same attitude as Jesus in Gethsemane, in His hours of suffering…. [Jesus] became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:33b-36 NLT) [emphasis mine]
Where does that leave us?
Like Jesus we need to spend quality time alone with God. We can speak to Him honestly from the depths of our heart. Such closeness is what Jesus referred to as ‘remaining in me’, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8)
Such closeness to God enabled Jesus to walk on water and He encouraged Peter to do the same (Matthew 14:22-33). Peter stepped out in faith BUT took his eyes off Jesus, saw the wind and became fearful. He started to sink then called for help. Jesus reached out, grabbed him and asked “Why did you doubt?”
The Lord’s responses/help may not always change the circumstances. But they will enable us to navigate through the sufferings we face while God strengthens us and develops our character. I just have to remind you of the classic quote often used in a ‘shoot from the hip’ style to encourage us …..
“… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
God’s greatest desire is for us to walk conversationally with Him like pre-sin. After He rescued the Israelites from Egypt He listed many of the blessings that would follow if they stayed close to Him … “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,” (Leviticus 26:3) the blessings that would be theirs filled the next 7 verses and He concluded with …“I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you; and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:11-12)
Later on Micah tells the people God doesn’t want their sacrifices but rather “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
As Paul reminds us about building a relationship with God through Jesus ….
“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). God has Provided us with those gifts “… for the common good” (1Corinthians 12:7).
“… God has put the Body (church) together, “…… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:24b-26)
When all else seems to be against our coping with suffering we must not forget Paul’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4 from verse 8 on Paul describes the suffering that he and the other apostles faced because they served Jesus. But rather than stop he wrote in reference to the psalmist … “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13)
How did they cope? “…… we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-18)
King David nailed it ….. “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:50)
… just sayin’
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984
- Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation
- The Fall of Satan and the Victory of Christ, John Piper,
August 19, 2007
- Song: “Fix My Eyes” by Dan opdeVeigh et al of Flatirons Community Church (YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW_WNelaef4) also on Spotify
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