Two weeks ago we looked at the context for Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish captives and God’s message to them (and us): stop panicking, pick up your hammer, and make yourself at home. In other words, don’t fight what is part of God’s plan for good.
We also saw how part of making ourselves at home in a trial is not listening to false prophets: identifying, shutting out, and shouting over (if needed) the lies that foster discontent in our souls. When we reject these unbiblical ideas and embrace God’s truth instead, we’ll find the peace we need to truly make ourselves at home.
This week I’d like to share some final thoughts from this passage on God’s sovereign plan for good, our need to trust Him, and our hope for–and beyond–the home we build in chronic illness.
The Sanctification of Brokenness
God pointed out multiple times through the prophets that Israel’s captivity was ultimately good for them because it would make them return to Him. In the same way, if something pushes us closer to our God and Father, makes us depend more on Him, forces us to seek Him and His character and results in our spiritual growth, isn’t it a good thing?
If the goal is to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil 3:10), isn’t anything that accomplishes that purpose good?
God’s design for our lives is that we know Him, that we enter into a relationship with Him and have fellowship with Him the way Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Isn’t it amazing, then, that in this design the suffering and brokenness produced by sin, created by rebellion against God, are given a purpose so high and holy?
The word “sanctify” means to separate from the common and the everyday to be used for God in His service or by God Himself. So in the plan of God the brokenness of this world, the results of sin, even sin itself can be sanctified, in a sense, in His hands because He is able to use these things for our good and His glory–a beautiful plan beyond our comprehension in which even the vessels of wood and clay (II Tim 2:20) are elevated to the role of ministers of God.
The minor chords, played on broken instruments by soiled hands, also have a part in God’s symphony.
This is what God means in His promise that “all things work together for good” (Ro 8:28) and “I will fear no evil” (Ps 23:4): what Satan throws at us to destroy us God takes and turns into a ladder for us to draw nearer to Him. Even the terrible, the difficult, the painful, the ugly, the tragic, the unexpected, the undesired have a holy role in the work of God.
I think of what Ilúvatar (the God-like being over all creation and all powers) says in The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s mythology of Middle Earth: “These too [Men] in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work” (29).
But well before then, before Men were created, Ilúvatar tells Melkor himself, the powerful being who deviated from Ilúvatar’s beautiful symphony and began a pattern of discord:
“And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” (5)
I know this is fiction, but it portrays so beautifully the very theme we see laid out for us from Genesis to Revelation of God’s Scripture: all evil is contained in God’s control, and the master of evil himself, the Father of lies (Jn 8:44), is ultimately just another instrument in God’s orchestra playing for His glory.
So we see that because of God’s sovereignty and the way He uses even evil for good, it’s the truth that nothing can harm us. The very fire that purifies us is God’s servant–if we permit it to be. All the things and events of our lives are (can be) teachers from God. True, some of these teachers are ugly and hard, while others are beautiful and gentle, but their work is the same: our sanctification. (See Episode 71 of The Thinklings Podcast for how God uses trials as our teachers.)
We just have to sit down and calm down in order to learn from these teachers. We can’t receive any instruction from them if we’re on the floor wrestling with them.
And if we don’t like the teacher, we go to the Principal of the school and talk to Him. He’s the one in charge of the teachers, and while we can communicate with the teachers directly, their role ultimately comes from the Principal. So it’s much more effective to go to the Principal than grapple with the teacher in the schoolroom.
(As I’ve said before, this does not mean we don’t take what steps we can to be good stewards of our body, search for remedies, and help ourselves. What it means is that we ultimately leave the results in God’s hands and trust Him to remove or install a teacher according to His superior wisdom. I mean, He does know everything, so it kind of makes sense of trust Him.)
We Don’t Need to Know Why
I’d like to pull one more truth from this school illustration: the teacher doesn’t owe an explanation to the student. Just as the employer doesn’t have to explain himself to the employee, or the commander doesn’t add “why” to the “what” and “how” he gives to the soldiers.
God–the ultimate Teacher–doesn’t owe us an explanation. Of anything. Elisabeth Elliot spoke of this in one of her presentations shared on the Elisabeth Elliot podcast (I can’t remember which episode), and I wholeheartedly agree. Scripture backs her up.
I’ve heard a lot of growing support for the idea of coming to God with your questions. Your anger. Your feelings. Everything you need to vent and want to demand.
This is not unbiblical. The psalmists came to God with every question imaginable and the full gamut of emotions, showing us by example that coming to God with the mess in our hearts is the best choice we can make.
But what is our expectation? That if we ask long enough, cry hard enough, or shout loud enough God will answer us with the full run-down of what He’s doing and why?
He doesn’t owe us an explanation.
As P. B. Power wrote in A Book of Comfort for Those in Sickness, “Faith is not always wanting to know” (66).
Emily P. Freeman echoes his words in Simply Tuesday: “Walking by faith means being willing not to know, never to know why or how things happen the way they do” (173).
So yes, it’s human to ask, and natural for our finite, control-grabbing natures to want to know why, but faith is content to not know. Faith rests in God’s character as a good God, a loving God, a wise and sovereign God who promises to work all things together for good and never breaks His promises.
Faith waits in the darkness of this broken world confident that even the darkness is merely another instrument in the Creator’s hands as He works sanctification in our souls.
At Home in Suffering
I believe this idea of faith and trust is the message God gives us in the book of Job. Job brings his emotions to God and asks all the questions, even begging God for a chance to sit down together and hash out the suffering he’s been given.
God finally answers, but notice that in the all beautiful, awesome, inspiring language of His response to Job (chs 38-42), He never once answers Job’s questions.
Job asks, “God, what are you doing?” and God answers, “I’m God. You’re not.” And Job says, “Okay,” and surrenders in worship and trust.
Is it enough for us too that God is God and we’re not? That He’s in charge? That our suffering is one of the teachers He’s hired to grow us in our relationship with Him? That even the very worst tragedy we could imagine can be one of the many instruments playing for His glory?
This is what we see God reminding His displaced children through Jeremiah’s letter. He’s God, He knows what He’s doing, and He’s working for good.
And this is what it means to make ourselves at home in chronic illness: to embrace God’s work in our lives, give Him free rein to accomplish His good purposes (through whichever teachers He chooses), combat the lies that surround us with the truth of His Word, and trust Him whether or not we understand.
I love the rest of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:
For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.vv 10-14
The principles of this promise apply to us as well: a good purpose for every trial (Ro 8:28), an eventual end to the trial (whether on earth or in Heaven; Rev 21:4), and a deeper, more sanctified relationship with God as a result (I Pet 1:6-7).
So right now our job is to make ourselves at home in our chronic illness, as long as it lasts. And someday, as God promised His people and promises us, it will be worth it all.
Do you trust God to work all things together for your good and His glory, even if you don’t see how? Are you content to not have answers? How can you embrace this season and make yourself at home in chronic illness?