At the beginning of February I was blessed to attend the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders in Minneapolis. The theme for this year’s conference was, Gospel Hope: Ministering in the Light of the Second Coming. During the conference pastor John Piper spoke twice. In one of his addresses he said this:
“Our afflictions are God’s cure for the disease of worldliness to heal us in preparation for the world to come.”John Piper
Fourteen years ago today, we were blessed with Isaiah, a child who has suffered a multitude of afflictions. Cristy and I have born these with him. Since he was born there have been many days of unimaginable joy. But at the same time I would be lying to you if I said it has all been easy.
At times it has been gut-wrenching, anxiety-producing, tear-inducing and physically, emotionally and spiritually agonizing. There have been many days when I wrestled in my heart, “Lord, why not heal him? Why must he suffer?” The Lord thus far has not healed him. But does that mean God is faithless and doesn’t care?
By no means. I know for some the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in all things is difficult to grasp and hard to swallow. I fully acknowledge that there are many hard questions and what might appear to be contradictions. We say “God is good and sovereign over all things.” Yet evil still exists. This begs the question, “Is God responsible for evil?”
Here is not the place for a full discussion on this issue. Far more intelligent and well-spoken theologians have wrestled with this and done a much better job. But I will say this. Believing that God is sovereign in suffering, affliction, catastrophe, and even evil is far more comforting to me than believing he is not. A god who is detached and distant, uninvolved in pain, for whom the tragedies of this world catch him off guard is a god that is way too much like me. He may have a lot of power, but he is not all-powerful. He may know a lot of things, but he is not all-knowing. He may be great, but he’s not that great. Ultimately a god not intimately involved in suffering and sovereign over it is no god at all. He’s just a really awesome version of the rest of us.
But the God of the Bible, the one who is sovereign over all, is completely different. He’s wholly other in his nature and being. He is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #4). He’s not like me, figuring things out as he goes along. He’s the God about whom Joseph spoke when told his brothers,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”Genesis 50:20
To put it briefly, because I know that God is infinite in all his ways, I trust that he sees the “big picture,” and that he, having perfect knowledge and wisdom, is sovereignly working in all and through things (even suffering and evil) to bring about his perfect ordained outcome that will bring him ultimate glory and give all who love him ultimate joy.
Believing this, I can trust that in God’s good plans our sufferings are not meaningless. They’re doing something. They’re working to “heal us” of a disease that says “This world is all that there is, and all that it has to offer will be my god.” I can believe that my son’s disability has a purpose and is not just “bad luck.” I can believe that disease, death, and days of darkness aren’t pointless. I can believe that,
“…this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:17-18
As I look back over the last fourteen years, my limited understanding can’t see all of the pieces fitting together perfectly. But with each passing year, I have begun to see more and more God’s hand “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” through our son’s life.
Countless times because of Isaiah, my hands have been forced to let go of the temporal things of this world (things that are “transient”) to rest in his power and in the hope of eternal treasures that cannot fade or be taken away.
Countless times because of Isaiah, idols have been pulled out of my heart by their roots and in their place sweet graces of peace and mercy have been planted.
Countless times Isaiah’s seizures have shattered my ego. Surgeries have subdued my self-sufficiency. Seeing my child cry out to me, helpless, as they wheeled him back to the operating room where I know the doctors will both hurt and heal him, has severed my strength to where I can do nothing but cry out to God for sustaining grace.
And he has ALWAYS sustained me.
There have been many gracious blessings from the Lord through the trials these last fourteen years, but none so profound as the deep longing and anticipation for the world to come that has taken root in my heart.
On the first night of the conference we sang Andrew Peterson’s song “Is He Worthy?” The first verse goes,
“Do you feel the world is broken?
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?
Do you wish that you could see it all made new?
Is all creation groaning?
Is a new creation coming?
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst?
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?
I understand and believe this truth more profoundly today than I did fourteen years ago. I believe a new creation is coming. One in which there will be no more sorrow, nor pain, nor seizures nor spina bifida. Children’s hospitals won’t exist, wheelchairs ramps will never be built and little brains will never suffer damage from hydrocephalus. And in this new creation, in the midst of it all, will be the Lamb who will reign forever in righteousness.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”Revelation 17:17
So today with joy in my heart I celebrate fourteen years of undergoing radical “Anti-worldliness treatment,” by God’s sweet grace in blessing us with our son Isaiah. He is a gift we never would have envisioned, yet the Lord loved us enough to give him to us that with each passing day we may long with hope for “the things that are unseen.”