20 Years of God’s Faithfulness
Novembers 14, 2020, marks 20 years of understanding and hearing the gospel preached in a way that I could understand. Further, it celebrates twenty years of hearing the Bible exposited in a manner that enabled me to convict me of my sin rightly, turn to Christ in obedience and faith and walk in the way of the Lord. November 14 marks twenty years of being a Christian.
I remember the living room, the dinner, the fellowship, and remember, this is what my soul needs. I need Christ and his gospel. It was a college Bible study group led by my former pastor, Brad Ellgen.
I take no credit for these 20 years. And believe me, it’s been a rough 20 years. A lot growing up was needed (and still necessary in many ways). Maturing in Christ involves far more than intellectual assent to the Bible’s foundational truths, filling my brain with more and more information, inasmuch as the development of the slow progression of these truths sinking deeper and deeper into my heart. Transformation is a good word, and sanctification is that process. I am not who I was, and as the Spirit does its work, I see more and more the gap between who I am and who Christ will eventually transform me to be (Phil 3:20-21). The longer years drag on, the more I see just how deep my wretched lies, and so the more I long for Heaven and long to be with Christ.
A broad Lesson Learned in 20 Years
On the one hand, suffering is good for your soul. Suffering is ordained of God under the sovereign, gracious, merciful, kind, loving, wise, and good heavenly Father who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Jesus has brought us from death to life, who saved by his righteous right hand, who, while we were still sinners, He died.
Suffering has helped me see my sin more clearly, and the more clearly, I see my sin, the better. Though not all suffering is created equal, all sin leads to death (Rom 6:21). So, we must make it our ambition to root our sin so that we may grow in our love and obedience to God. The simplest way to do this is to ask the Holy Spirit to expose our sins to us. But every time I’ve asked God to show me my sin, it’s always been followed by another layer of suffering. The process of dying to oneself is excruciating; the process of seeing just how utterly self-absorbed we are (I actually am) in our flesh is often hard to handle.
One of sin’s chief characteristics is the capacity for deception. Whenever we see our sin anew or rightly seeing sin as we ought, a critical question worth asking is, how exactly was I deceived? What exactly was the lie I believed? Of course, we are deceived because we are sinners, naturally prone to being deceived, but the specifics are not always apparent.
Think of Adam and Eve. The strategy of Satan was to deceive Eve may suggest something unique to particular vulnerabilities inherent within Eve. That is, she was particularly vulnerable to thinking something to the effect that the fruit was pleasing to the eye more so than what pleasantries she had already enjoyed in all of God’s other provisions. Adam was particularly vulnerable to silence, to not stepping in to defend his wife. Read the account. It’s a terrible moment, the worst failure of humanity. Yet, you and I are particularly vulnerable, too. How are you particularly vulnerable to be deceived?
This relates to suffering because you and I dwell in the context of the fallen world. We always have. We know nothing differently. And despite all various forms of suffering that we may endure (and yes, I know there are too many to recount here), we never have permission to sin no matter how great the suffering may be. So, suffering in this way is the exposure to ourself of our sin.
Job is often referenced in such cases of extreme suffering and hardship. Despite his suffering, Job was never granted any permission to sin. He couldn’t even question God without being corrected. How much more must we seek to fight and resist sin while suffering. And even more, how much more do we take occasion to root out sin, especially in suffering. And yet, even more, we have not resisted sin to the point of shedding our blood (Heb 12:4).
Why would the author of Hebrews compare us to Christ in this way; why is he talking about sin in the context of suffering (Verse 3); where is the compassion; where is the mercy; where is the nearness of God? Isn’t that what’s most important when we suffer hardship and pain?
You might wonder about my suffering story. I will share two very broad pathways. Between 2008-2010, I underwent somewhat of a transformation in my own heart regarding the growing awareness of my sin. By God’s mercy, he brought me into fellowship with a wonderful church body, partnership, and friendship with some brothers who are still very dear to me. That season was a highlight of Christian life because up until that point. I was effectively blinded in many ways about the true magnitude and depth of my sin. God has used key relationships to expose my sin in a brutal and painful way, but ultimate good. All in all, I grew to hate my sin in a new way.
Two, since being married on June 29, 2013, the marriage journey has not been typical. That is, my wife has been chronically sick and ill for this entire time. She was hospitalized for probably 18-20 months cumulatively, multiple life-threatening illnesses and life-saving surgeries—lots of physical pain, lots of dark days, and seemingly hopeless nights. Depression has often felt like a closer friend than actual friends in Christ.
For me, the point of growth has continued to be the rooting out of sin but now in a different context of suffering. In light of this, I say more confidently both to myself and as a point of counsel to others, we don’t have permission to sin while we suffer. Even when you’re exhausted when you’re enduring difficult moments and seasons, long nights of physical pain, endless emotional flatness, and a seemingly endless trial of physical weakness and virtual total dependence upon others. To hear more about our journey and ways to pray, please feel free to follow us on our CaringBridge blog: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/heidiruiz.
Suffering helps to address the indwelling sin in our lives and help us see our need for the grace of God. Indeed, I am aware of my security in Christ, the certainty of my salvation, and the finished work of Christ on my behalf. I am acquainted with the confessions and truly believe in salvation by grace through faith alone. I know I am not earning anything in terms of salvation or favor or blessing. These truths have been my anchor when darkness floods.
Yet, this security hasn’t always prevented me from sinning. Sin deceives us in our suffering, prompting us to consider justifying ourselves in ways that, on our better days, can make us behave and think in totally insane ways.
For example, two such sins are: This isn’t fair, or God isn’t here.
This isn’t fair is a refrain of entitlement. It’s a refrain that suggests God operates in a manner of fairness, and he is obligated on some level to grant us fairness. Fairness is an interesting biblical category, but in fact, it is not a biblical category at all in the context of suffering. When it comes to a divine plan where suffering is incorporated into the storyline of my life, God does not operate based on what is fair. He operates based on his holiness and his glory. He is concerned about his glory more than he is concerned about my perceptions of fairness. If I am not careful, my perception of fairness elevates to the place of idolatry that subsumes the Bible’s concern regarding God, namely, his glory, praise, and honor.
God isn’t here is a cousin to this isn’t fair because if it is true (that this isn’t fair), that must mean that God is absent, unconcerned, and far off from me my circumstances. If it is true that suffering in such-and-such a way isn’t fair, then worse than God’s absence is the notion of God’s lack of control. After all, if God was truly present, he would surely lift the suffering because he has the power to do so.
The refrain God isn’t here not only reveals our lack of understanding concerning God’s work in our suffering, but it also reveals what is present within us; that is, what we understand about the nature of the presence of God. Further, it reveals what we assume his presence will mean on this side of Heaven. Lastly, it shows those entitlements mentioned earlier and how our understanding operates related to what God is most concerned about with our life.
A painful truth for the sojourner on this side of heaven: God is less concerned about lifting your suffering than he is about using suffering in your life. God is more concerned about increasing your love and dependence on him than satisfying your understanding concerning the degree of his presence in your life.
To say another way, he will ordain moments of total darkness, bleakness, and seeming abandonment, to make you feel he is far off if it meant helping you see just how close to him and how beloved you are in Christ. He stops at nothing to help root out our sins. The process of rooting out sin is painful, but it is good because God is good, holy, just, and righteous in every way.
I admit it’s a mildly baffling mystery, but it is true. Just look at Job’s story again, considering the snippet of a thought process in Job 6:8-10. Job pontificated not on giving into what the flesh most desperately wants in suffering – not just relief from pain but even for a prospect to die – and still considered joy in pain and a non-denial of God’s word as prizes still to be attained. That’s the vision. Though I don’t think Job necessarily understood why or how that would happen, he knew it was true even though it was difficult for him to see beyond the suffering.
If that isn’t enough, look at Christ. It was the Lord’s will to crush his son (Isa 53:10). Imagine that. Consider how the Apostles interpreted this idea (Acts 2:23). Jesus was handed over for crucifixion by God’s “set purpose and foreknowledge.” That is to say; there was never a time in the mind of God when Jesus wasn’t at the center of the plan of God to crush him, make his life an offering so that you and I (would be sons of God (Heb 2:12) and heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17).
Suffering shows us the dramatic storyline of the patient suffering of Christ, where we are brought together into union with Christ. So, I am thankful for the faithfulness of God in preserving me these last 20 years, for the bouts of suffering and hardship in helping me see my sin, and in ordaining medical hardship in my marriage.
I pray the next 20 plus years to go down in history as an ever-growing dynamic of trust, love, faith in Christ, and an ever-increasing belief in the gospel even if it means more hardship, pain, and more suffering. Though I long for glory and can’t wait to be in Heaven, I pray the remaining days of my time on earth are full of persistent exposure and rooting out of sin so that I can love and adore my heavenly father not only as I ought but that as he is worthy of.