Review of "God's Grace and Your Suffering"
“How does God meet you in trouble, loss, disability, pain? You probably already know the ‘right answer.’ He does not immediately intervene to make everything all better. Yet He continually intervenes, according to gracious purposes, working both in you and in what afflicts you . . . God’s answer insists on changing you into a different kind of person.”
Thus begins my favorite CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) article of all time, “God’s Grace and Your Suffering,” written by David Powlison. He wrote it during a prolonged period of his own suffering, and it is included in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper and our own Justin Taylor. Taking us through the stanzas of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation,” Powlison writes of how God cares for us as He causes profound good to result from our suffering. “Often our typical sins emerge in reaction to betrayal, loss, or pain. Hammered by some evil, we discover the evil in our own hearts . . . A trial brings out what is most wrong in you, and God brings about what is most right as He meets you and works with you (Psalm 119:67). The endurance of faith is one of the Spirit’s finest fruits . . .”
Before getting into the meat of the hymn, Powlison makes some introductory remarks. He tells us the writer is anonymous, making it particularly adaptable to your particular suffering. Then he points out that we usually sing to or about God (“Amazing Grace”), or to each other (“O Come, All Ye Faithful”), or to ourselves (“Be Still, My Soul”). However in this hymn, the author asks in stanza one, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” The answers come in the following five stanzas as we hear timely words from God Himself. “You sing this song by listening. He tells you who He is and what He is like (in regard to suffering). He tells you His purposes. He promises the things you most need.” What you need when suffering is to know God is with you, does what He says He will do, and is at work. This hymn does that. Through the remaining stanzas, we hear what God has said, often through paraphrased Scripture.
I am with you. (Isaiah 41:10)
I am with you for a purpose. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
My loving purpose is your transformation. (II Cor. 12:9; I Peter 1:6-9)
I will prove My love to the end of your life. (Isaiah 46:4)
I will never fail you. (Hebrews 13:5)
I could go and on, but I’ll give just one final thought from the chapter. At one point, Powlison talks about being “poor in spirit mean(ing) conscious awareness of dire and pressing need for help that God most freely and generously gives.” We don’t talk much of this when we learn about the disciplines – Bible reading, prayer, memorization, fasting, etc. “How Firm a Foundation” adds a fundamental ingredient for living the Christian life. It teaches you to need help. “God uses significant suffering to teach us to need Him.”
I wish I could make this required reading for all New Covenant attendees! But in the meantime I can highly commend Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, and Powlison’s article in particular. You can purchase it here.