The Curriculum of the Word in the Seminary of Suffering

The eightieth verse of Psalm 119 sets the tone for the next 15 verses, “My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.”  The salvation for which he longs is intimately tied here to the hope that he sets upon the word of God.  Why does the psalmist long for salvation, but that he is suffering and afflicted – he wonders when he will be comforted, he has “become like a wineskin in the smoke”, he asks how long he must endure persecution from his enemies who dig pitfalls for him to fall into, and attack him with falsehood; he writes, “they have almost made an end of me on earth,” indeed, “the wicked lie in wait to destroy me.”  And yet, in the midst of this he asserts, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction,” so that, as was observed in that eightieth verse, the Word of God keeps him from perishing in the fires of suffering; as he attends to and delights in the Word, they are made to be refining fires!

The main assertion that I aim at in these verses has some what of a counseling bend in it – that the primary course of study for the Christian who is – in God’s providence – attending the seminary of suffering is the Word of God.  And thus, it is incumbent upon us as brothers and sisters in the Lord, if we would be of the greatest help to our suffering siblings, to do this: direct them to the Word of God.  Among the many reasons for this, I shall attend to three – that we ought to so direct our afflicted brethren because, first, the Word is the Word of God; secondly, it is a heavenly Word; and thirdly, it is a spiritual Word (that is, the Word of God’s Spirit, the Comforter).

First, then, that the Word is the Word of God.  Several times in these 16 verses, the psalmist grants the origin of the Word to God writing, “your Word . . . your promise . . . your statutes . . . your law . . . your commandments . . . your precepts . . . the testimonies of your mouth.”  The Word is the Word of God.  As such, God is central to it.  In it, He has revealed Himself to men, and revealed the way to Him.  It is His treasury given to us, and the treasures therein, none of which is greater than God Himself, are immensely useful in enduring affliction, and more than that, praising God for them.  There is nothing that may be used more combatantly against despair in suffering than a magisterial view of God; and there is no revelation more devoted to this cause than the Bible, God’s Word.  So it is, that when Job was afflicted with suffering in various ways and to an unthinkable degree, he derived no comfort from his wife or his “friends”; nor did he receive much comfort from his own thoughts; it was not until he encountered the magisterial view of God in those latter chapters, that he was comforted; note, the same Job whom we encounter throughout the entirety of the narrative is no different in his sufferings at the end – he is still engaged in the same circumstances; but he has seen God face to face such that his suffering is seen in light of God, giving occasion to Job’s repentant confession.  This is why we are to direct suffering people to the Bible, ourselves included – it is the Word of God wherein God has granted a vision of Himself that conquers our despair in affliction.  So the psalmist writes, “I hope in your Word.”

Secondly, it is a heavenly Word.  “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps 119:89).  Is there anything more comforting to the soul, particularly the suffering soul, than the thought of heaven?  In heaven, we shall see God, share in communion with Him, engage in the greatest, albeit increasing, degrees of worship; in heaven, we shall have our bodies glorified, our souls redeemed, our tears erased, our strength renewed, our lives made blissfully endless and of the greatest quality; in heaven, we shall be sinless, free from temptation, free from sin, released from the guilt of sin, clothed in the purest divine righteousness of Christ, etc.  With all of these things and thousands more does the heavenly Word encourage the broken heart and the contrite spirit.  The Word lifts our hearts above this earthly abode into the realm of heavenly citizenship; the Word exhorts our souls to consider the hope of glory; the Word is given to infiltrate the fabric of our lives in order to grant to us a heavenly, God-centered world view that illumines the suffering that we often, at first, find so dark.  Is it surprising then that we find our Lord, Jesus Christ, quoting, indeed, fulfilling the Scriptures while He was upon the cross?  Assuredly He remembered, “out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11), and so we too are commended by the Word to gaze at heaven out of the anguish of our soul and be satisfied.

And thirdly, it is a spiritual Word insomuch as its author is the Spirit of God.  This author is widely regarded as the Comforter, Helper, Counselor, and Encourager of the disciples of Christ Jesus (John 14:15-17; 14:26; 15:26-27).  The triune God – specifically the Father, but no doubt the Spirit of God also – is called by the apostle Paul “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction,” with a purpose, “that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).  So the Spirit of God is the Comforter, whose nature it is to comfort the body of Christ in affliction, and thus, the divine pen by which He has written the Word was dipped in and filled with the oil of comfort – this oil drips from every page to those who hope in His Word.

And so dear siblings in Christ, if you find yourself by God’s providence in the valley of affliction, hope in his Word, the Word of God, heavenly and spiritual, and you will find yourself being refined thereby in those fires.  To those of you who, like me, find suffering to be in some sense infrequent, let us still make the study of the Bible our daily employment that we might be prepared for the seminary of suffering when it inevitably befalls us.  And lastly, let us all exhort one another to examine the Word, to live in the Word, and to heed it when it says to us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).  Then we, like the psalmist, may say, “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Ps 119:93).

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