Part One: The Father of Man
Part Two: The Father of Sinners
Often we equate blessing with peace and tranquillity. Suffering is a purely negative reality too many of us. Yet, what we often fail to recognise is that suffering is often the very tool used by our Father in heaven to reveal his love, grace, and compassionate mercy. This is hard for us to accept, who are so engrained in a culture that rejects all forms of suffering, we view comfort as the greatest accomplishment in our world.
While we can be tempted to think that when we receive good things God loves us, and when we receive suffering and sorrow God doesn't love us, it is important for us to see the opposite, that during our hardships our Father is displaying his love for us.
One of the outstanding examples of this is the slavery of Israel recorded in Israel. Remember what has transpired for them. They were led into Egypt by God himself through the providential life of Joseph. As my Old Testament lecturer put it, in Egypt Israel was in an incubator where they could flourish and grow into a nation. Yet, eventually that incubator became a prison cell filled with sorrow and affliction, so that Moses tells us that "the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help". (Ex 2:23) The hardened heart of Pharaoh makes matters much worse, the leaders say to Moses and Aaron, "The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us." (Ex 5:21) Yet amid this sorrow and heartache, hear how the Lord tenderly speaks of his people, "Say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.' " (Ex 4:22–23)
How can all that is happening express the love of God? We in the western world often view suffering as a purely evil phenomenon, much like people do in eastern mysticism. The problem with this is that we fail to see that from the Father's perspective, suffering is a pathway towards a far more glorious goal. The Israelites were led into suffering as slaves. Why? So that the saving arm of the Lord might be displayed to the Israelites. Yet this shouldn't surprise us, should it? This is the story of the cross. In the darkest hour of history, the love of God is manifested to us. Why did God send his son? To display his love to the world (Jn 3:16). In the great challenges that befall us, we also see the immense love of our Father in heaven who would direct all things for our best and his glory. The Lord loves us far too much to simply give us trivial earthly goodness; he is working for a far greater goal, the glorification of his name, and our being redeemed and sanctified in Christ.
Yet notice where this redeeming love leads to. The Father's love is displayed in the midst of his people's suffering and it leads to worship. Moses tells us, "Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped." (Ex 4:30–31) They hadn't experienced the full reality of the redemption, they hadn't even experienced the full reality of the suffering. Yet they believed the word of God and worshipped him, they believed in the promise and worshipped their Father.
Is it any different for us? Have we not experienced the full redemption of sins? We have witnessed the full giving of the son, the death, not of Pharaoh's son, nor of a generic lamb, but of the Son of God and the Lamb of God. Israel tasted of the love of their Father in Heaven through a shadow, we have tasted the full reality in his mighty redemption through Jesus Christ. Should the intensity of our worship not be spent upon our Father in Heaven?
We tend to view pain and suffering as a purely evil reality. Many of us have experienced horrendous suffering in our lives. The question to consider is what the suffering points us to? Our suffering should cause us to see the fingerprints of our Father in this world. It should cause us to see his immense love. After all, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Ro 8:32)
This article was contributed by Logan Hagoort, Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church.