30/04/2007

Sanctified suffering

During our recent holiday, I found a book on the shelf entitled Puritans – Religion and Politics in Seventeenth Century England and America by John Adair. I have never heard of the author, and am not sure if he is a believer, historian (or both). However, it has been an interesting read.

The book contained a number of biographical references to real lay people. A striking theme throughout the book has been one of suffering- and the way in which the ordinary person graciously accepted the suffering as from the Lord’s hand, but also was enabled to endure it because of their theology. Here is an example for two families, the Johnsons and the Otwells (who were related by marriage):

“Waves of pestilence rather than war brought death into the circle of the Johnson family and friends. They longed for a remission of these scourges. ‘I pray God send quietness,’ wrote Sir Anthony Cave to John in November 1544, ‘for we have deaths pests and wars to know God.’ But worse befell them. A year later Otwell concluded a letter to John with the sad words ‘it has pleased God this day to take Henry Johnson, my boy, from me by death.’ His son had died in his arms. But faith rose to the challenge, and the bereaved father added: ‘Our Lord have his soul and all Christian souls, and keep you in health.’ To escape infection Otwell moved to his brother-in-law’s house, only to report a few days later: ‘God Almighty has still his scourge for me in his hands, for on Wednesday last he stuck William, my brother Gery’s lad, with the plague as we suppose, for he complains much under his arm and is become very sick.’ William died within a day or two.

“The face of death ever before their eyes certainly deepened the faith of these early English Protestants. It cast them on their knees in humble supplication and loving trust. ‘Let God do his pleasure with me,’ wrote Otwell. God alone knew the time of a person’s death which happened ‘at the Lord’s pleasure, who be our guide thereunto.’ There is no hint of theological controversy in the Johnson letters, for the laity in those days as now left all that largely to the clergy. What they desperately needed was a faith strong enough to hold a dead son in its arms. That is what the Reformation gave them.”


These amazing statements – “It has pleased God… to take…” There is no outrage, but submission. There is a turning to God for comfort in the sufferings of life. There is no questioning of God’s right to act in ways that were painful to them.

They were kept by their appreciation of eternity, “Our Lord have his soul.” They were kept by an appreciation of God’s comfort. And they were kept by the truth – “What they desperately needed was a faith strong enough to hold a dead son in its arms. That is what the Reformation gave them.”

Of course, we believe that God is able to deliver and heal, and we must pray for healing. But we also see in Scripture that there are seasons where the Lord permits us to go through trials - even when we have prayed with faith!

We should take care about rebelling against God’s providence in our lives. We have become so sophisticated at thinking we are better at knowing what He should and shouldn’t do with our lives.

This is not meant to condemn those who have been wrestling with painful things that have happened to us or our loved ones. But, we spare ourselves anguish by resting in God’s providential care. When we question Him, deep down we are questioning His goodness and His love for us; that in turn is undermining our trust in Him, when actually in the valley of suffering we need Him. We need to have that walk of trust that turns the valley of weeping into a place of springs (Psalm 84v6).

We could learn a lot from resting in God’s sovereign care, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5v7).

3 comments:

Jesse P. said...

Peter,

I read your comment on my blog about reformed theology and spiritual gifts. You are right, the Puritans were incredible examples of faith and trust in the plans and purposes of God. Thanks for the reminder to ask for healing and trust God when it pleases him not to heal us.

jul said...

I have noticed that after a few years in a puritan influenced church we almost began to expect that God would always want us to be sick/suffering. It's good to remember that while God is working all things together for our good, he's more often just blessing us outright out of his amazing heart of love and compassion. In other words I think his ultimate will is that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, where there will be no suffering at all.

I'm very interested in learning more about the puritans so thanks for your informative posts as well as book recommendations. Sometime soon I plan to do some reading on this!

Peter Day said...

Thank you so much for these encouraging comments. Yes, the puritans are such an example to us. They were so secure in the Lord as a good a gracious God even when they went through the valley with Him.

I thank God for His power to heal and I continue to pray for it (even over my own knee at the moment which has been hurting for the last week). And I thank God for His power to carry us when hardship comes. I thank God that He is still good in the valley.

One of the modern hymns says:

"Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me,
When the world's 'all as it should be,'
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering,
Though there's pain in the offering,
Blessed be Your name."

Amen!