Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
The DEEP

Behind a Frowning Providence

A marshy Lowcountry creek at low tide A marshy Lowcountry creek at low tide Photo by Matt Richardson

Finding wisdom in suffering

Proverbs 3:11-12

11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction; 

12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

 

If you ever visit coastal South Carolina, the region where I live, you will find a paradise where the ocean meets the land. There are sandy beaches where the Atlantic touches the Sea Islands, but inshore you will see a vast stretch of salt marsh, woven like green lace by creeks and rivers that criss-cross behind the islands and carry the twice daily inrush of ocean tides. The tidal swing here is dramatic, with a rise and fall of eight to ten feet feet twice daily.  

I enjoy kayaking or boating at high tide. When the water is up into the marsh you can catch redfish on a fly rod and explore deep into the marshy landscape. However, I love kayaking at low tide. Thousands of fiddler crabs march across the muddy flats, oysters spit little drops of water into the air from their exposed beds, and life seems to surround you with its colors, noises and earthy smells. But dangers lurk there too and for the unwary boater, hidden sandbars, oyster reefs and other hazards can make for a terrible day on the water. 

One morning, I was paddling Bull Creek, a few miles from my home. The tide was very low and as I watched snowy egrets fishing in the muddy shallows I noticed a small boat coming towards me up the creek. It was moving slowly with the two fishermen aboard each leaning out over the side watching the water. The boat moved this way and that across the narrow creek as it made its way in my direction. 

They stopped nearby and called down to me:

“Hey buddy, which side of the creek is the deep side?”

It was clear that did not know these waters, where at low tide, just a few inches of water depth can mean the difference between smooth sailing or becoming stranded for hours on a hidden sandbar. They were anxiously searching for the narrow channel of deep water. 

I looked up at them in their power boat and thought about the question from my little kayak. 

“Well,” I said, “its all deep to me.”

The three of us had a good-natured laugh–which was fortunate, because they could easily have gunned the throttle on their motor and swamped me and my little plastic boat. 

Bearing this in mind, I recommended that they keep their boat near the eastern bank of the waterway, where deep water could be found. With a friendly wave of thanks, they continued on in confidence–while I pondered the encounter.

The best thing about kayaking or boating at low tide is that you can learn where all of the obstructions are–and avoid their hidden dangers when the tide returns and the waters rise once more.

God provides similar understanding to you and me when it comes to navigating the treacherous shoals of life and it can be found in Proverbs chapter 3:

11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;–Proverbs 3:11

Solomon is instructing the sons and daughters of Israel on wisdom. Here, the wise king shares the next “mark of wisdom” as Tim Keller reveals: to be ready for suffering. 

Now suffering is something no one enjoys, but here he is telling you about suffering that comes of the Lord. What does this mean? Does God intentionally want you to suffer or go through hardship? Is God not a “God of Love (I John 4:8)?” 

He is, and the wisdom that Solomon is sharing is telling you that this God of love loves His children so much, that He will even discipline–or chasten–them when He so chooses. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17), but God can also be the author of our troubles and challenges too:

I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the Lord, do all these things.’–Isaiah 45:7

To be prepared for the suffering of life and the discipline from God is part of growing in wisdom. As Keller explains:

The mark of wisdom is to be ready for suffering. If you aren’t, you aren’t competent with regard to the realities of life. But suffering is also a discipline for growth in wisdom. It can drive you toward God into greater love and strength or away from Him into hardness of heart.–Timothy Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

This can be difficult to understand, for in life you naturally seek to avoid troubles, and may struggle to conceive of a God who love you also causing pain. The key in verse 11 is found in the  word “despise,” for as Bruce Waltke says, “there can be no reproof where there is dislike.” 

If you are a parent and you have had to punish your child, you know the pained expressions, the tears and even the indignant tantrum that can result.  You tell your child the same thing parents around the world say: “ I am doing this because I love you.” Of course, your child thinks you are the biggest liar in the universe! In the end, however, the little one comes around and hugs make things right–and hopefully one more lesson has been learned.

When you encounter the disappointments, pain, and sorrow that this life brings, you are tempted to see these events through the eyes of an offended child. You may struggle and ask, Why would God do this to me? I love God! I try to follow Him! And yet this trouble has come upon me…

It can be hard to love God when you lose your job, see those you love suffering–or bury a spouse after a long and difficult illness. 

Why does God choose to chasten you, His child? Does He still love you? 

Yes, but it can be difficult to see and understand. Sometimes His correction and discipline is a direct result of your sinful choices and habits. The earthly consequences of our sins–broken relationships, corrupting habits, and even judicial punishment can result from the sins you commit. 

In these things you can see the blessing that can come in the hand of God’s discipline, for it is a sign that He has not abandoned you to your sinfulness. As Paul warns in Romans 8:

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.–Romans 8:24-25 

This is what Satan wants, for he desires nothing more than to pull you down to the lowest levels and whisper in your ear that the consequences of your sins have placed you hopelessly far from the love of your Father. As Jesus warned Peter:

31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”–Luke 22:31-32

Peter went on that night to deny his Lord three times–only to be lovingly restored on the shore of the Sea of Galilee by his risen Savior. Peter became a great encourager in the early church and beyond, just as Jesus said. Peter’s suffering and guilt was turned to hope for eternity. 

The chastening of your heavenly Father can also simply be a part of living in this fallen world. All around you, the effects of sin still have a grip and with it comes the general misery of life after Eden. The tears and heartache that result from death, loss and disappointment that you encounter simply by living in this place may not be direct chastening from God–but part of what He uses to make you love Him more deeply.

It is into this world that the only begotten Son entered as a man–and whom God chastened on the cross. In the midst of your suffering it can be easy to want to turn from God or blame Him bitterly. You must never forget the Jesus came into this world and, though sinless, went willingly to His punishment on the cross for the sins of others:

looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.–Hebrews 12:2

Irish poet John Donne wrote a beautiful verse entitled “Good Friday, 1619, Riding Westward.” In it, he conveys the agony of what it must have been like to witness Jesus’s death on the cross:


Who sees God's face, that is self life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?–John Donne

It can be difficult to imagine that it was God’s deep love for His son–and through Him a deep love for you–that sent Jesus to the cross.

Can you begin to see how wisdom and suffering are conjoined? To suffer in this life as a believer, is to know the love of God worked out during your days on earth. Whether He is disciplining you for straying after idols or when enduring the heartbreak of loss in a fallen world, He is ever near you and building you stronger. Ernest Hemingway writes in “A Farewell to Arms:” 

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.–Ernest Hemingway

God loves you even in your brokenness–especially in your brokenness:

12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.–Proverbs 3:12

It is this delight of the Father that can sustain you in your darkest hours, for He is drawing you closer and refining you more and more into purer gold. 

C.S. Lewis, who knew of pain and loss, wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In his book “The Great Divorce” he showed how the pain of life–of the chastening of the Lord–worked itself out in the eternity the believer:

“…you cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”- CS Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

Do you know pain and hardship? Have you felt the chastening hand of your heavenly Father in dealing with the effects of some sin in your life–or as a part of a loved one dealing with theirs? To see this in light of God’s work in your life is to know and grow in His wisdom. 

William Cowper was a hymn writer who struggled with lifelong bouts of crippling depression and loss. In his classic hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” you catch a glimpse of the God who loves you through the pain:


God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea 
And rides upon the storm–William Cowper, 1774

When the tide is low, and life is at its ebb, you can feel the most alone. Yet, it is then that you see that in being brought low you can more clearly see the dangerous sandbars and reefs that you may miss in the good times of high water. You follow the God whose untraceable “footsteps are in the sea” (Psalm 77:19). 

Yet through it all, He will lead you safely home by the hand of the Son whom was chastened for us all.

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

 

 

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