Don’t Buy The Lie: Suffering ≠ Unloving

Woman sitting guilty believe the lie
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But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Psalm 22:6-8 (ESV)

Why do you believe in him anyway? God doesn’t do anything on this earth and he doesn’t answer you. Look at all your problems. Why would I possibly want to be like you?

That from someone I love, someone close. Someone who assumes God wouldn’t let his loved ones suffer. Someone, incidentally, who called me worse than a worm.

Satan’s Top Lie To Suffering Saints

“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” That is Psalm 22 verse 8, written by David. It’s not the first time I’ve written about that lie. For the accuser of the brothers is relentless.

So today I circled back and lingered on Psalm 22, alert for that old lie,

“that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all.”

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72

That lie was loud this week. That if God is here, he’s here for my convenience, my ease. I heard it in that dear one’s scornful words and again inside my troubled mind: If God really loved you, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. You must really be guilty for God to allow such heartache.

Satan kept aiming his fiery darts. A couple landed, with tips dipped in deadly poison. Because my grief morphed into self-pity, and self-pity is of the devil.

So this must be an effective lie. Because not only does he use it on me, he used it on David and on David’s Greater Son.

He Trusts In God, Let God Deliver Him

The devil first hurled it at Jesus in the wilderness when he said, “Command these stones into bread” (Matthew 4:3). It didn’t work.

But he came back to sling the lie again, at an opportune time. It came through different mouths.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Matthew 27:41-44

Did you hear the lie? In his weakest, most vulnerable moments, the dying Messiah heard it. He trusts in God; let God deliver him.

I suspect it didn’t sound as harmonious as Handel wrote it. I think it was a raucous, jeering sound.

If I’m honest, if I were at the cross I might have reviled too. At least, I would have urged the Savior, Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Come down from the cross.

Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer like that. 

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Away From Me, Satan!

When Jesus explained how he must “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-22). “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

I’m with Peter. Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth. 

For Christ to bypass suffering would have been nothing short of satanic. He demanded that His beloved Son suffer (Matthew 3:17). God sometimes sends his children into the wilderness.

That can be hard to hear when trouble comes. So Satan plants this seed of doubt, this lie, that suffering = unloved.

But Jesus would have none if it. He turned and said to Peter (Matthew 16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” The Son of God didn’t buy the lie that God the Father spares his children suffering.

Thank God, he didn’t.

For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

The Silence Of God

But in his deepest suffering, our Lord heard the silence of God. Nailed to the cross, Jesus borrowed David’s prophetic words from Psalm 22. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In our far lighter suffering we might hear accusing voices. Then we might hear nothing at all. There will be grace to endure, to stand up under (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we might receive no relief, no rescue, no response to our prayers—only the sound of silence.

Andrew Peterson describes the silence of God.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy
Or break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder
If he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleeding for comfort
From thy staff and thy rod
And the heavens’ only answer
Is the silence of God

But God’s silence need not break our faith.

As he was dying, Jesus fixed on to David’s words. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22: 1-2).

In lament, Great David and his Greater Son both talked back to their silent God.

Don’t Stop Talking To God

David talked back to God because he had faith. Even though he felt God’s silence, he believed God heard. Read the rest of Psalm 22. Paul believed this too.

I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”

Paul quoted that verse from Psalm 116. Lament is good. Crying out to God in our pain is healthy.

“Pain is when it seems like God stops talking to you.

The problem is when you stop talking to God.”

Kevin DeYoung

The problem is when we stop talking to God. Faith, belief, causes us to speak—even if our words form to tell God our troubles.

So cry out. The real problem is when we stop talking to God.

3 Truths to Defeat the Lie

Because it’s not where you start in this battle with despair. It’s where you land.

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he was nailed to the cross. We read Psalm 22 from the foot of the empty cross. There we find three life-giving truths to defeat Satan’s lie.

  1. First, if you are in Christ, your suffering is not meaningless—it is producing a weight of glory.
  2. Second, your suffering is not random—you were not spared from suffering for good reasons.
  3. Third, your suffering is not the end.

We know it’s not the end because God hears his people’s groans. He hears, he remembers, he knows. The Father heard the Son when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He hears your sighs and cries and moans.

He Has Done It!

Serious Bible scholars suggest that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) he was actually quoting the last line of Psalm 22. As Jesus hung in the dark on the cross, he was meditating on that psalm for he’d cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But those words were the beginning of Psalm 22, not the end.

“He has done it!” That is the end of the psalm.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews chapter 12 verse two says this is true.

Bearing sin and scoffing rude, the Spotless Lamb of God didn’t buy the lie. As the Son of God agonized, bearing our sins in his body on the tree and hearing the heavy silence of God, I think he was still meditating on the truth from Psalm 22.

I think he was looking forward to the real and glorious end, when,

All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.

All the families of the nations
will bow down before You..
.

They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—

He has done it!

Psalm 22:27, 31

Before a Word is on my Tongue

Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
Isaiah 65:24

A text interrupted Carrie mid-sentence.

You won’t believe this-that was from Tina. Her dad’s insurance just approved their request. The IV drip will be allowed at home.  

Seconds before the text, Cathy had shared a request from Tina. Tina’s father was medically fragile. He’d been diagnosed with pneumonia. Again. Him so weak, it likely meant another dreaded hospital stay.

So Tina asked us to pray. For her dad’s healing, yes, but more that insurance would approve IV antibiotics at home. Tina feared what long hospitalization might mean for his physical and spiritual health.

There it was. Just like that. 

Still. We were just at the pre-prayer share stage. Carrie was mid-stream in her request. We hadn’t even made it all the way around the circle yet.

Would insurance have approved the IV anywayDoes prayer work? Does God grant our requests because we ask?  And isn’t God’s will already determined? 

That little incident drew me back to C.S. Lewis’ essay, “The Efficacy Of Prayer.” You can read the full essay online here. All ten pages are pithy.

Lewis begins with this little illustration:

Some years ago I got up in the morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London.  So I decided to put the haircut off too.  But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help.  The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.  

It awed me; it awes me still. (p. 3) 

Lewis quickly concludes that there is no scientific way to tabulate the success rate of prayer.

But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayer and my visit…

Then he backtracks. The very question, “Does prayer work?” is framed all wrong, he says. As if prayer were magic or machine.

Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. In it God shows Himself to us. 

Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?  For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents…

He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. They have not advised or changed God’s mind–that is his over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures. (p. 9)

How unfathomable his ways; his purposes beyond searching out! A God who at once knows what you need before you ask, and at the same time tells us to ask. But, don’t tie the bow yet.

On Thursday morning we prayed another prayer. 

In one form or another, it’s a prayer we’ve been praying for years. We pray for pregnancies. For God to be pleased to open long-barren wombs. For Addy it’s been six years, Breanna; four. For Hope; two.

Lewis ends the essay with precious words for us whose requests are refused. While Tina’s request was granted-almost before it was off her tongue- ours is rejected. Are Tina, her dad, some of God’s favorites? Do they court more favor, have more influence at the Throne?

To that, Lewis answers,

The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But…as the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.” 

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need…Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated.  (p. 10-11)

God grants our requests. Sometimes, while we are yet speaking. Sometimes He refuses. Breanna, Ally and Hope- each given one fruit of the womb, no more. That, after repeated prayers.

But the question triggered by Tina’s text- about the efficacy of prayer- what about that? Can we prove a thing would- or wouldn’t- have happened apart from our prayers?

We can’t. And it’s just as well.

For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course he will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them.  (p. 3)

Rest assured-in granting and refusing our prayers-He’ll withhold no good thing

Infinite goodness and infinite wisdom need no urging.

Still, He listens. 

But surely God has listened; 

He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 

Psalm 66:19