Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God’s Goodness and Our Suffering

Leslie Basham: When you watch someone you love suffer, do you ever feel confused about God’s goodness? Here’s Deborah Howard.

Deborah Howard: God is good. He is nothing but good, can be nothing but good and gracious. On the other hand, we are suffering. God is good. So what is the reconciliation there?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, July 26.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’ve listened to Revive Our Hearts for any length of time, you’ve heard me tell the story of my younger brother—number six of our seven—David, who was killed in a car wreck back in the mid-eighties at the age of twenty-two. I know that many people who knew about David, knew of his heart for the Lord and his desire to serve the Lord in ministry, there were many who were perplexed as to why God would have chosen this young man at this time of his life to take him. They were asking “Why” questions.

I think we were all helped at the memorial service when one of the ministers said, acknowledging the reality of those questions, “It’s all right to ask God why, as long as you ask not with a clinched fist but with a searching heart.”

Our guest on Revive Our Hearts today has written a book that addresses some of the questions that surface at that kind of a time. Her book is called Where is God in All of This? It addresses questions like, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Where is God in all of this?” Deborah is a hospice nurse, so she is no stranger to pain and suffering and the questions that those issues raise. So Deborah, thank you for being with us here on Revive Our Hearts today to talk about some of these tough issues.

Deborah: Thanks, Nancy, I always enjoy being here with you.

Nancy: And thank you for dealing with these challenging questions in a way that is honest and that doesn’t avoid them because I think sometimes the impression is that if you are a Christian, you really can’t ask questions like “Why?” and “Where is God in all of this?”

Deborah: Many people think that if they share the thoughts in their minds with people that they are going to find judgment if they are asking themselves questions like these. Or that people would even think that they are not Christians at all if they have any doubts. Most of us will admit that there have been times in our lives when we have doubted. It’s not an unnatural thing.

The thing is that Christ brings us through those doubts, reveals Himself to us in new and clearer ways, and we move past those doubts into faithfulness. That’s what this book is trying to do, too. It’s trying to help people past the doubts and into more faithfulness.

Nancy: We are talking about people with all kinds of hard life issues. You deal with end-of-life issues which are certainly something that will face all of us. But there are other kinds of issues that you probably had in mind as you were writing this book.

Deborah: When I wrote Sunsets, the first book, I dealt mostly with death and dying. Then I realized that these same principles applied to any suffering in our lives. When so many people in recent times have lost jobs, they are asking themselves, “Why? Why me?” And a lot of people who are given diagnoses that are unpleasant or terminal, they are saying, “What did I do to deserve this?” There are so many issues in this life today when we are dealing with terrorism, when we are dealing with economic crisis, that people ask, “Where is God in all of this?”

Nancy: Now let’s just start with the basics here. When you talk about the sovereignty of God in suffering, what do we mean by that? That’s a big theological word. Break it down for us. What’s the concept there?

Deborah: The basic term sovereignty means "all ruling, all authority is His." In a sense, God is a divine master planner for our lives. Everything in our lives is intricately woven together into a plan He has for us. So nothing that happens to us is anything that God has not either caused or allowed into our lives.

Nancy: So God never sits up in Heaven and goes, “Oops! I can’t believe that happened. What are we going to do now?” No panic in Heaven.

Deborah: Right. You will never hear God say, “Oops!” because He does not make mistakes. Now, He is long-suffering. A lot of times we have a problem with what that means because we don’t see justice brought to the people that we think are deserving of this kind of justice from God—punishment, judgment.

You were mentioning the crime that goes on, all the horrible, sad stories that we hear on the news every day. If it were us, we would want to see a different outcome. But you know what? We are not God. His thoughts are immensely higher than ours, and He has a purpose in what He allows or what He causes to happen in this world.

We see things on such a small basis. We just see our lives and how the world touches our lives. God sees things from an eternal perspective, and He’s working things out in His own timing and in His own way. But we need, as believers, to understand that that has a purpose in our lives.

Nancy: That eternal perspective is so important because we can only see from a very finite, limited point of view. And given our perspective, it looks at times like God is really making a mess of things.

Deborah: Right. It doesn’t make sense to us. In one of John MacArthur’s books, he’s described God’s sovereignty in all things that happen in our lives as a huge tapestry. From our vantage point from below—have you ever looked at the back of a tapestry?

Nancy: It’s a mess.

Deborah: It does not make any sense at all. You can’t tell what the overall picture is. You just see fragments of it ,and so it doesn’t make any sense.

Nancy: We see a lot of things going crazy directions.

Deborah: And a lot of loose threads. Right? We also see just a small portion of that. Well, if you look at any tapestry and you turn it over, you look at the back of it—you look at just a tiny portion of it, you have no concept of what this picture is. But when you look at it from God’s perspective, from eternity to eternity, a tapestry unfolds. And you look at it from His perspective of seeing everything at once and seeing it from the top of the picture. So everything makes sense. Every thread has a place. Ultimately, through study of His Scripture, through re-visiting His promises to us, we start to believe more and more that God, as the divine master planner of our lives has everything under control even when we don’t sense that.

Nancy: We get a lot of letters and emails from listeners sharing with us things out of their past, things that they have been subject to, things that have been done to them over which they had no control, pouring out their hearts, telling deep, dark secrets that they’ve never told anyone else, or not told many.  I think for some the concept that God is sovereign, that He is in control then raises the question, “If God knows all this, if God is the ultimate cause or the One who allowed all this, then how in the world can He also be good—to allow this abuse, this family dysfunction, this pain, this agony, this crime that has affected my life?” So there is kind of this dissonance in the mind and the heart saying, “Okay, if God is in charge, what kind of God must He be to allow these things to happen in my life and in the lives of those I love?”

Deborah: There was a time in my past when I asked those questions myself, when I could not understand why God was causing some things or allowing some things in my life. God was very, very kind in giving me a mentor and a teacher who talked to me for a great deal of time. I said, “If God is in control of these things, then that breaks my heart. I cannot believe He would do this to me.”

At the time I was a single mom. I was teaching in a Sunday school. I was trying to tithe. I did not have any money and then trying to tithe. I was just trying to raise my children in the best way that I could. And yet it seemed like more and more I would make choices that ended up to my detriment and caused heartache and pain and suffering. This man, his name was David Steele, took me and said, “You poor ignorant Christian.” And I was very offended at the time, but he said it with such love and such compassion that I listened to the rest of it.

He said, “There’s so much that you don’t understand about how God works in your life.” And he said, “If you will work with me, I can teach you what you need to understand.” God gave me the grace to accept his offer. I started studying with him several times a week. He told me once, “Nobody has ever worked with you on how to think biblically, have they?”

And I said, “Is it that obvious?”

And he said, “Oh yes.”

Nancy: I think that’s true of most people.

Deborah: I told him, “No, most decisions I make are based on my gut feeling about things.”

And he said, “Feelings are God-given. Our emotions are God-given. But they are detrimental to us when they rule us instead of us ruling them. Our minds should overrule our emotions, and we should learn how to think logically and biblically through our problems.”

I call that the beginning of my spiritual committed life. I was a Christian before then, but I didn’t understand things. I was just a baby. David said that he saw some potential there. He started teaching me and training me, and before long I got it. It was like the light bulb went off in my head.

I worked with David for quite some time. I accused him of wanting me to be a giant brain sitting in a chair without a heart. And he said, “I don’t have to work on your heart, Deborah. I know you’ve got the emotion there. What I need to work on is your mind and teach you how to think biblically through your problems." And ever since he worked with me on that, I have not done any more of those major mistakes. Now I am thinking logically, and I’m continuing to learn biblically. Instead of the highs and lows and peaks and valleys that I used to have, my life has found a wonderful balance. God, through David, did a great service in my life.

Nancy: Now, I’m assuming that this doesn’t mean that your problems went away.

Deborah: Oh yes. (laughter)

Nancy: You were still a single mom with two kids scraping to make ends meet.

Deborah: All my problems magically went away.

Nancy: And we are going to sell that book and make a lot of money for Revive Our Hearts here.

Deborah: No, of course my problems didn’t go away, but the way I dealt with my problems improved. That was a very important turning point in my life, because then I could apply the truths of Scripture to my life. Before that point I thought that Scriptures, yes they had principles, but surely God didn’t mean for us to apply those principles to our lives now. That would just be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? I mean it wouldn’t even work, would it?

Nancy: Or it might work in everybody else’s case, but it didn’t apply to my case.

Deborah: Right. But David made me come to see that yes it is not only possible to apply biblical principles to your life, but God has commanded us to apply these principles to our lives. And yes, they are as relevant to us today as they were back in biblical days. So that was a huge step forward for me to come to that realization.

Nancy: So let me back up for a moment. When you started into this discipling, mentoring, training relationship, you had the perspective that if God had anything to do with what I am going through right now, then that breaks my heart. It’s hard for me to understand a God like that.

Deborah: In fact, David asked me to read Romans 8:28, and I couldn’t even get through it without tears because I thought God must have meant that promise for other people but not for me.

Nancy: How all things working out together for the good of those who love Him.

Deborah: And are called according to His purposes. And I thought, “Yes, He may work that out for other people, but not for me.” I was really having a major pity party in my life at that time. So it was not a coincidence that I met David Steele. It was God bringing me to this point and to the person that He had chosen to use in my sanctification as a Christian.

Nancy: So what did you learn that changed your perspective of God and that made Him a God that you could love and trust rather than a God who would break your heart?

Deborah: Because God doesn’t do anything to break anybody’s heart. God does not seek to punish us in cruel ways. His suffering is for a short duration, and it is always for a purpose, and that purpose is always going to result in His glory and in good to us. Now, we may not be able to see the good that comes from our sufferings right away, maybe never. But many times God is gracious enough to allow us to see what our suffering has actually meant to us. And when you think about it, Nancy, it’s during the times of the greatest tribulation that you end up growing the most spiritually. Hasn’t that been your experience?

Nancy: I was just telling someone this week that I would like to have the fruit that I see in the lives of people who have suffered a lot and how they become like Jesus. There’s this sense of intimacy with God and just a sweet fruit of righteousness. I said, “I want that outcome, but I don’t want to go through what they went through to get there.” But it does seem as if there were no shortcuts.

Deborah: No, that’s the way He teaches us many times. We want to live lives that we don’t even really need faith. Because if we could order our lives any way in the world, I would never have said, “Let one of my most dearly loved family members, like my brother, John, let him die,” or “Let’s let my husband lose his job,” or “Let’s let somebody get cancer.” I would never choose those things if I was ordering my own life.

Nancy: We would never write the script the way God does.

Deborah: No, because I would have every happy ending every day. But the thing about it is, we do have faith and we have faith for a reason, and that is that we need that faith to get through the things that we encounter during our lives. Those things are not haphazardly tossed to us. They are designed for us by a loving God. And, yes, that is very hard to reconcile because you know that both are true.

God is good. He is nothing but good—can be nothing but good and gracious. On the other hand, here we are and we suffer and that is the other side of it. We are suffering. God is good. So what is the reconciliation there between those two things? Well, through studying Scriptures, you learn that God has purposes in our suffering, and these purposes are blessings. They are kind of like blessings in disguise because we may not even recognize them as blessings until sometime after. Sometimes we never understand how these heartbreaking scenarios in our life are actually purposed for our good.

Nancy: So really, the starting place in finding God’s purpose in our suffering is to acknowledge that He does have a purpose, that He is not arbitrary, that He does have purposes in mind, and that His purposes are good. As you have been talking, Deborah, two verses have come to mind. One is in Hebrews 5:8, where we are told that even Jesus, though He was the Son of God, learned obedience through the things which He suffered.

Now, He was obedient, and we could go into more detail as to exactly what that verse means, but there is something that happened in His life as a man that was accomplished through suffering. You have talked about how one of the primary purposes of God in suffering is to conform us to the image of Christ. We say, “I want to be like Jesus.” But we want to get there without the cross. We want the resurrection life without the cross. And as you have pointed out, no pain, no gain.

And then there is that amazing verse in 1 Peter 4:1-2, and again we don’t have time to go into depth on this verse, but listen to what it says. “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”

Now, I will grant there is some mystery in those verses, but what it says, bottom line, is that there is something about suffering that is purifying. It is purging. When God has His way with suffering in our lives, it brings to the surface and deals with issues in our lives, sins in our lives that we may not have been aware of or we may have been overcome by.

God somehow uses suffering to bring us to the place where we no longer live under the domination of our flesh but we want more than anything else to do the will of God. So if that is our objective, to be pleasing to the Lord, to be like Christ, to be purified from sin, then we’ve got to embrace that suffering is a part of that process.

Deborah: That’s where trust comes in. We trust that what He has told us is true, that His attributes are real, and we trust in that. That element of trust will get us through any kind of difficulty. As we go through our lives, this period of sanctification increases. And remember, we will never get there. We will never find perfection this side of death. But our lives should be a journey in sanctification. As we journey in sanctification, our will becomes more conformed to His so that, like you said, the desire of our heart is His heart and His will, and we want what that entails regardless of how that manifests itself in our lives. We want it even if it means we have to go through suffering.

Nancy: It may be that as you’re listening to this program the step you need to take right now as you think about your suffering, big or little though it may be is to say, “Lord, I trust You, that You know what You are doing, that You don’t make mistakes, that You are good, and that You are going to use these trials, these struggles these pressures and problems in my life to accomplish good and holy purposes for Your glory and for my good.” If you can just start there, then you’ll begin that adventure of seeing God unfold what His purposes are in your life.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Deborah Howard about trusting God’s goodness in the middle of the deepest struggles in life. 

Nancy, I know today’s program will be helpful to a lot of women because so many are listening today in the middle of very trying circumstances.

Nancy: I know that’s true Leslie, because I read the emails that come from our listeners. So many share about really difficult situations that they find themselves in. I’m thinking about one woman who emailed us. She listed the challenges she had faced in an eight-year period that included illness, the death of a spouse, children turning away from the Lord, and dealing with addiction in the family. Well, this woman came to a True Woman conference. She got connected with the teaching on Revive Our Hearts, and she discovered truth that she needed to face challenges like these.

She described the teaching saying, “Not only did it encourage me, but after listening to each segment, my blood pressure would be lower.” I’m serious, this is what she wrote. She goes on and says, “I’m so thankful for how God is using this ministry to affect the lives of women. It is a privilege to support Revive Our Hearts in prayer and financially.” Well, I’m so encouraged to hear that and it just makes me think how many of our doctor bills might be lower if we could just get God’s truth into our heads and our hearts and apply it in our lives.

Let me just share with you that we need your prayers and your financial contributions to make this kind of ministry in these kinds of women’s lives possible. That’s especially true in the summer months when giving is usually a little bit lower than normal. So if you’ve been encouraged by the truth of Revive Our Hearts, or perhaps this even helped your blood pressure or helped you deal with some difficult situation in your life, would you first pray that God would meet our needs at this time and then would you consider supporting the ministry financially?

When you give any amount the rest of this week, we want to send you Deborah Howard’s book called, Where Is God in All of This? It may be that you need to read this book yourself or maybe as you’ve listened to today’s program, you’re thinking of a friend or a family member that you know is going through a really difficult time and you want to share this book with them. We’ll be glad to send you a copy when you make a donation by visiting us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for the book when you donate by phone. The number to call is 1-800-569-5959.

And again, thank you so much for helping make it possible for us to minister into the lives of women who are in all kinds of life circumstances day after day as they get their lives grounded in the truth of God’s Word.

Leslie: Your current suffering may seem unbearable, but when you reach your eternal home, you’ll have a whole different perspective. Deborah Howard will show you how eternity can give you so much hope. She’ll be back tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.