Understanding the Divine Design of Difficulties ~ Part 2

By Marcelo A. Tolopilo

The world’s response to suffering: “Huh?… Whatever!”
Welcome to Part II in what is becoming a four part series on suffering, or better yet, gaining God’s perspective on suffering. The world struggles with the reality of suffering. It doesn’t quite know what to do with it, or how to define it, let alone how to handle it. It sees hardship as – to borrow Churchill’s line regarding the perplexity of Russia in WWII – “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  Not surprisingly, the confused logic of this age regarding difficulties can often leads us to dark and waterless places, conclusions that cannot bring the light of understanding to our suffering or assuage the thirst of our beleaguered soul for comfort.

As I wrote in our first article, “In the end, the sagacious perspective of man on hardship is that it is random, impersonal, pointless, and ultimately hopeless.” What we need is biblical clarity to dispel the fog of confusion often blown across life’s landscape by the winds of popular wisdom. What we need is God’s perspective on suffering and, as we have begun to see, a key biblical passage that burns away the fog of ignorance is 1 Peter 1:1- 9.

“Can we have a little light please?”
One of the beams of truth from this text that immediately breaks through the clouds of our adversity is the comforting reality that suffering is not random but rather orchestrated (you may read my previous article at witp.org). We learned last time that the phrase “according to the foreknowledge of God” at the beginning of verse 2 modifies all of verse 1.

In other words, Peter tells us that our entire existence as Christians – our privileged standing as God’s chosen ones, as well as our affliction as sojourners in this world – is “according to the foreknowledge of God.” God orchestrates all of our lives, including our afflictions. The logic of this biblical principle takes us to another wonderful and related reality.

With the balance of this article, I would like to focus on a thought that shines out from this text to obliterate the errant human notion that suffering is “impersonal.” Because the world sees no rhyme or reason to suffering, the most logical conclusion is that it is impersonal. If there is a god, he surely is aloof, and the pain mankind experiences is the result of god not caring, or not being powerful enough to prevent it. Hence, suffering is unplanned, cosmic, collateral damage.

The eminent God who is immanently present
However, the Bible informs us differently. Believers are not at the mercy of cruel fate or suffer at the hands of a god who is aloof, detached, uncaring, or impotent. Our God is in relationship to His people and as such He is intimately acquainted with their hardships and personally, immanently involved in their care.

The key term staging this principle is the word “foreknowledge.” The noun “foreknowledge” is a fascinating term full of rich theological truth for Christians to mine and contemplate. In this particular context (1 Peter 1:1-9), “foreknowledge” does not simply mean to be aware of something in advance. This compound word actually comes from the verb “foreknew, foreknown”[1] and is made up of the preposition “before” and the richly meaningful verb “to know.”

This verb (“to know”, the root of our word “foreknowledge”) is used to describe the deepest of relationships in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, it is employed to speak of the special relationship between a husband and wife; therefore, it is actually translated “had relations with” (e.g., Genesis 4:1 – LXX – Luke 1:34). What’s more, in the New Testament the word “to know” is used to describe the intimate love with which God loves His redeemed: “but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:3, see also Galatians 4:9).

The believer is “known by God”! This does not mean that God simply knows stuff about Christians – as if He were some kind of dispassionate celestial file clerk – but that the Lord our God knows us intimately because He is in relationship with us, the key bond being one of love. His relational knowledge of us is deep, intimate, and personal.

King David expressed the wonder of this truth in Psalm 139:1-6. He wrote “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

In a similar way, the expression “foreknowledge” in 1 Peter 1:2 does not simply signify that God possessed information about us before the world was formed – true as that may be; God knows everything about every human being that will ever live, saved and unsaved. However, the sense this term communicates is far more grand and glorious.

The word “foreknowledge” informs us that God chose to have an intimate relationship with us from eternity past. Think of it … though the wonder of it might make your noggin blow a fuse … in the timeless counsel of God’s holy will, He chose to know us, to make provision for our adoption as His sons and daughters, and therefore to make us the objects of His infinite and perfect love.

Paul echoes these thoughts beautifully in Ephesians 1:4, 5: “just as He chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”

My friends, we are in an eternal and intimate relationship with the God of the universe who is sovereign over all things (Psalm 103:19), including our suffering. The relevance of that truth to our suffering is as comforting as it is obvious. My brothers and sisters, the hardships we (Christians) experience in this life are orchestrated by a loving, heavenly Father who is engaged in our lives and who infinitely cares for us His children. The adversity we encounter is never impersonal but tailored by the Father’s gentle hand of loving providence.

“Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7

[1] NASB Exhaustive Concordance

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