Numbers 3-4, Psalm 44:11-26, 1 Corinthians 1
No one like suffering. It’s hard, painful, and makes life slow down to a crawl. Each breath you breathe, every step you take, each moment you continue to live becomes your focus. “Just one more breath, just keep breathing.”
Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. There is not a one-size-fits-all type of suffering that everyone has had to go through. For sure there are different levels of suffering. I would never claim to have had to suffer deeply as some in our church have had to endure. But nonetheless, I have suffered. But I’m no expert on suffering by way of experience. So bare with me.
Psalm 44 is a brutal poem. It’s a recounting if God’s previous blessing of the psalmist’s ancestors and how deeplyGod demonstrated His steadfast love towards them.
The Psalmist even goes on to praise God for how great He has shown Himself to be in the psalmist’s life: “In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever” (v.8).
But v.9-16 leaves the reader wondering. The Psalmist goes on to attribute all of his suffering, the suffering of him and his people, directly to God. “You have rejected us… You have made us retreat… You have made us like sheep for slaughter… You have sold your people for a trifle… You have made us a taunt to our neighbors… You have made us a laughingstock…”
In my own experience, when I have listened to people who have suffered, and in my own trials, we often resort to directly attributing our situation to God. I’m not making an evaluation on that, whether it is good or bad. That’s at a heart level that I can only see for myself. But there is the reality that if God is truly sovereign, then even when others harm us, or life hits the fan, God was in complete control of that situation.
Now, scripture unanimously affirms and teaches that God is absolutely good and that He is no the author of evil. He indeed cannot be if He is absolutely good and loving. Additionally, Romans 8:28 affirms the great truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” That doesn’t mean God declares everything that happens to us as good. Rather he sovereignty works through those events in our lives for the sake of our ultimate good in being united to Him for eternity. So God is not the author of evil, but He does allow His children to suffer or undergo trials of faith for their ultimate good. We must remember how this is mysterious but the Bible affirms God absolute goodness and love, while also affirming His sovereignty and the reality of our world being broken by sin.
So the Psalmist suffers, but naturally an assumption can be made that this is as a result of them breaking God’s covenant with Him. After all, God does say that if Israel were to stray from the covenant He made with them, then he would discipline them as a father lovingly disciplines his kids.
But that assumption is squandered in the reality of the next section of v.17-22. The Psalmist has a clean conscience before God. “All of this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.”
So in other words, the Psalmist is dealing with the reality that though they have remained faithful to God, they are still suffering.
But look to verse 22, “yet for your sake…”
This is the key to answering the question for why the innocent Psalmist is suffering.
It is for their allegiance and alignment with God Himself that is bringing all of this misfortune upon them.
How could this be!?
We see this later drawn out in the New Testament, in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. “Blessed are you when there’s revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
And again in Romans 8:36-37 Paul says, “As it is written, “For your sake we have been killed all the day long. We have been regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him [Jesus] who loved us.”
For those who have aligned their hearts and lives with God, we can expect to suffer in this life because we live in a world who is against God and who does not love Him. In Jesus, we have the security that we will never be cast away from His side because he has already conquered sin and death on our behalf. In Jesus, we have confidence as we encounter suffering that He who suffered more greatly than any of us has endured for us and will bring us through it to Himself.
There is a spiritual war we are engaged in and because we are united to Christ, the same powers that were against Him are now against us. Yet, it is for the sake of God’s steadfast love towards those who love Him that He will bring us home, bring us into His glorious presence for eternity.
So while this psalm brings up more questions than I can answer to seek to answer in a blog post, I hope you would go and dive into Romans 8, go and dive into Matt 5:1-12 and look at the characteristics of Jesus’ followers and also the eternal security they have in union with Jesus, our Lord.
Numbers 5-6, Psalm 46-47, 1 Corinthians 2-3