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17. Suffering from God?

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

The Arrows of the Almighty

Bible reading: Psalm 38:1-22 (all).


The subject of this chapter is not an easy one to write about nor, I suspect, to read. My reader may be tempted to skip on to the next chapter rather than face the uncomfortable truths in this one . However, it is truth clearly taught in the Bible, even if often buried, misapplied or otherwise avoided.


In Moses’ song of Deuteronomy 32, recited to all Israel just before he died, he spoke about God ‘expending His arrows against’ His own people, that is those who had rebelled against His loving leadership and had chosen to go the easier way of simply following their own ideas, vs23. Moses speaking the words of God describes disobedient Israel as “a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them”, vs28. Trying to get the people to focus on Almighty God Moses continues God’s words: “See now that I Myself am He! There is no god besides Me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand”, vs39. In ultimate judgement God says, “I will make my arrows drunk with blood”, vs42, (italics mine).


In Job 6:4 there is an altogether different usage of the same picture. Replying to his friend called Eliphaz, Job has been accused of covering up his own sinfulness, which Eliphaz thinks must have brought the terrible suffering into Job’s life, work, home and family (see Job chapters 1-5). Counsellor Eliphaz’s view can be summed up in 5:17-18, “Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal”. What Eliphaz says is of course true. But it is not true of Job in this instance.


We know from Job chapters 1 and 2 that God’s own testimony of Job was, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”, 1:8. The same words are added to in 2:3, “… And he still maintains his integrity, though you (Satan) incited Me to ruin him without any reason”. Job had no need of correction before God. God Himself held up Job as the greatest example of a human being in all of God’s earthly creation at that time.


When Job thinks about all of his suffering he finds no reason for it except, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshalled against me”, Job 6:4, (italics mine). God is not disciplining or correcting Job. He is using Job as a visual aid of godliness in a man, to teach Satan a lesson. Job did not bring trouble from God onto himself. Quite the opposite. So we have a similar phrase in the two Scriptures, “the arrows” of God, but it reveals two quite different issues.


Jeremiah also speaks of God, “He pierced my heart with arrows from His quiver”, Lamentations 3:13. A third similar phrase. If you read through verses 1-20 there are at least sixteen times when the prophet says in effect, ‘God has opposed me and hurt me’. Verse 1 names it as “the rod of the Lord’s wrath”. Yet Jeremiah’s daily hope is still in “the Lord’s great love”, vs21-24. Jeremiah and his people experienced what God through Moses had warned about in Deuteronomy (see above).


Yet we must never assume because someone, or a people, is suffering badly in this life, it is definitely because of some really bad personal or family sins. Jesus’ disciples made this common mistake as they slipped away from the temple one day. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was


born blind?” John 9:2. Our Lord’s reply is still full of insight for us today. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”. Jesus went on to heal the man’s blindness using His word, spittle, dirt and some ceremonial washing.


We have seen that God warned His people through Moses that He would fire “arrows of suffering” into the lives of those who were careless in following Him, ignoring His given ways for life. And we have seen in Jeremiah’s Lamentations how this worked out in Israel’s history. We also discovered that the innocent Job suffered at the full maturity of himself, his family and his business, when God allowed Satan to test him. God was confident that Job could withstand the test. Job was an upright man, but he suffered. Neither was there any direct link between sin and the blind man who suffered from birth. Our Lord Jesus pointed out the man’s inability to see was in order that God would be glorified when Jesus met him and healed him. These latter two are undeserved but God-given “arrows of suffering”.


Now let’s return to Psalm 38 to examine the main subject of this chapter, what happens when we think in our hearts and minds, or behave in ways, which invite God to bring His chastisement and disciplines of suffering into our lives.


“Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger or discipline me in Your wrath. Your arrows have pierced me, and Your hand has come down on me. Because of Your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. My guilt has


overwhelmed me like a burden to heavy to bear” Psalm 38:1-4, (italics mine).


Notice the contrasting in these verses of: “me” 5 times, “my” 2 times, and “Your” 5 times. David prays to his God the prayer of a broken man. He has done wrong. He knows it and recognises he only deserves God’s righteous anger, vs1. Nothing else and nothing but.


Yet David still feels able to come to his “Lord” and Saviour, “Jehovah Who saves”, vs1, 15, 22. In vs15 he goes further, “Lord, I wait for You; You will answer, Lord my God”. His use of the personal pronoun for his sin – see vs18, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin”, does not stop him being able to call “God”, “my God”, vs15, 21, 22, (italics mine).


I’m sure preachers of the New Testament will use 1 John 1:9 in their preaching of the Gospel. You may be able to quote it to me without looking it up? We preach the Gospel (Good News) of our Lord “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world”, 1 John 2:1-2. Our Gospel is good news because every person ever born is born a sinner in the sight of our Holy Creator God. No one can help themselves out of this situation. It is beyond all human endeavour, either individually or together.


The good news is that 1 John 1:9 reads, “If we confess our sins, He (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. None of us has loved God with all heart, soul, mind and strength, nor loved and served our neighbours as much as we love and please ourselves. These are the summarised “greatest commandments” according to our Lord Jesus.[1] Since we have failed on these two we need a Saviour from our sin. And – Hallelujah! – God has provided One. But notice carefully the verses either side of 1 John 1:9:


“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” 1 John 1:8.

“If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him (Jesus) out to be a liar and His word is not in us”, 1 John 1:10.


No one can be saved without first truly recognising they are sinful. My experience tells me that the longer I live as a disciple of my Lord Jesus, the more and more sinful I seem to become.


This has been likened to the dawning of a new day. In the darkness of the night everything one can dimly see looks basically OK in the blackness. But as the golden rays spear into the sky ahead of the sunrise one can gradually see more and more. The increasing light starts to show things as they really are and one can begin to discern bad from good among them. One may try to remove the bad. After six hours or so the sun rises up to its midday brilliance. At that time nothing is hidden from its glare. Every bad thing is revealed, unless perhaps it is deliberately kept in the shadows. The closer we get to the radiant noon sunshine the more the smallest pieces of dirt in our world are unable to hide.


Now think about that in relation to the sin that invades the life of every Christian as every day goes by.


We know that David, the writer of Psalm 38, sinned, and at times very badly, by human standards anyway. I personally believe God’s grading of sin is not the same as ours. In His summary Jesus implied that not loving God 100% was worse than murder etc. didn’t He?

We also know David experienced the conviction of God in His life, for example when Nathan confronted him with voyeurism, lust, murder and subsequent adultery involving Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11 and 12. His repentance following conviction can be read in Psalm 51. With deliberate and unconfessed sin in his life David knew arrows from God in his life such as disquiet, disease, depression, discipline, disaster and even after his confession, the death of his baby.


It is possible that Psalm 38:7 could read, “My loins (NRSV/LB) are filled with searing pain”, indicating a sexually transmitted disease, and verse 11 “wounds” could possibly indicate leprosy.[2]


Have you noticed how often the Bible mirrors our own lives? Over 48 years of Christian ministry I have unfortunately witnessed the downfall of not a few ministry colleagues or acquaintances. They have fallen into private and public sin. Some of them I have had to personally confront as a neighbouring pastor. Others are people I knew of or who were well known ‘in the public eye’ of ministry. I have also endured the demanding experiences of hurtful investigations when serious accusations were made against lay people within congregations I was pastoring. Every one of these challenges has been costly to me, to colleagues, and to the people who were allowing sin to become their master.


Paul warns all Christians, leaders and laypeople, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body”.[3] God fires His arrows of suffering into the lives and bodies of those who do let sin rule their lives. Beware.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”, Romans 6:11-14.


I know the temptations I have had to face in a 48 year lifetime of Christian service. I am far, far from sinless and nowhere near a perfect Christian. I have fallen into sinful thoughts and actions, and I confess I sometimes still do. Other people may put a Christian minister on a pedestal and admire him because of his role in the church. I would not. Nor do I dream of standing on a pedestal for others to think wrongly about me. I would rather have no status than be a statue!


I am not going to share with you the particular battles I have had to fight, which are known largely just by my wife Brenda and me. But the fact I have faced and do still face so many, makes me think that you may well do so too.


I’m sure the colleagues referred to above never intended to abuse their positions of ministries and trust. Somehow the opportunity just crept up to them. I suspect the five general steps James outlines in his Bible letter applied to them:


“Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters”.

James 1:14-16.


1. Step one – allowing strong inner thoughts, wishes and wants to stay in your mind

2. Step two – watching for alluring and attractive opportunities to do what you know to be wrong

3. Step three – imagining activity, perhaps even planning it and then starting some

4. Step four – living actions and behaviours all of which break God’s will for Christians

5. Step five – experiencing the gradual ending of life with your God as your close Friend.


Some of my suggested and specific warnings are as follows:

  • Be very careful of time spent with the opposite sex

  • Be very careful of your thoughts when alone

  • Be very careful on the internet

  • Never abuse your wife or children

  • Be very careful when away from your family

  • Be very careful when handling any money, including your own

  • Be very careful when using the church’s/ mission’s/ work’s/ community’s etc. money

  • Be very careful when counselling or close advising individually and privately

  • Be very careful when comforting in times of need

  • Examine your motives and actions for signs of pride

  • Look for idols in your own life. One may even be your God-given Christian ministry!

  • Examine your motives and actions for any jealousy

  • Examine your motives and actions for any greed

  • Examine your attitudes to other tribes and ethnicities

  • Examine your attitudes to people less fortunate

  • Examine your attitudes to people less able

  • Examine your attitudes to all the people you lead

  • Examine your attitudes to younger or upcoming ministers/ pastors/ colleagues, who perhaps should soon take your place in work and church

When we go wrong on these and many other issues of life we invite God to fire His arrows of suffering and troubles at us because we are going our own way, and not His. We are being disobedient, even if no one knows it except us, and of course God. We may end up with people praying for us who are praying to God for His relief of our suffering, when it is in fact God Who is sending that suffering to us as a discipline.

We must learn to discern and to deal with the arrows of the Almighty.


I have said before that since 2006 I have only an artificial voicing system. I cannot speak properly. My gracious Creator God and Father took back the voice-box He had lent to me for 57 years. He gave permission for an aggressive cancer to infest it. In the 13 years since then I have had further battles with more cancer in my neck, and in the last few years in my bladder and prostate. I have often asked the question: ‘Are these arrows from the Almighty fired because of my sin?’ Let me tell you, it is a tough question to face.

As I said above I do not claim to be sinlessly perfect. Many times I have prayed prayers like those of Psalm 139:23-24:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”,


and Psalm 26:2-3:

“Test me, Lord and try me, examine my heart and mind; for I have always been mindful of Your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on Your faithfulness”.


I have listened to God with both His word and my mind open for Him to lead me into more true Christlikeness, which is my heart’s desire. In 13 years He has made me aware of many things that should not be in my life. I am grateful to God for His Son my Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood washes my sin away as I first see it and second confess it to Him and thirdly resolve not to go that way again. But I do get dirty again! Quite quickly too!


I am fully aware that God knows, “all my longings”, Psalm 38:9. I would be back in Sudan tomorrow if my health (and my God) would allow, but now that is most unlikely to ever happen due to some permanent physical changes in my body. I do, “wait for the Lord my God to answer”, v15. I am not good on patience, so I am often frustrated. “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin”, vs18.


But over time God has helped me to gradually see His view of events. Instead of me preaching to one congregation at Khartoum International Church, with occasional visits to other congregations around the Three Cities, and teaching at three Bible Colleges, Gideon Theological, Gereif Bible School and Faith Institute, God has enabled me to reach many more people, in Sudan and in South Sudan, with the help of some very good friends I made when Brenda and I did live in Bahri. The books He has graciously allowed and enabled us to publish from Juba, some with chapters written by others as well as by me, have spread widely. I am confined to my study desk here in England while you are reading this, wherever you are. Our God is a great God. Having waited a bit I can begin to see His plan. I admit it is far better than mine ever was.


For me my confinement has been a time of spiritual growth whenever I can let go of my ideas and instead focus on God’s. A fellow Englishman named C.S. Lewis wrote about eighty years ago: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[4]


I believe this applies to the Lord’s people today, whether the arrows fired by our loving God are because of our secret (to others) sinful actions, or because we are so busy doing our own things we do not listen to what our God actually wants for us to do. I also believe Lewis’ words apply to the wider world and our suffering countries as well. God’s purposes for individuals, countries and the world are exceedingly the best. But as long as we cling on to our miserable sins God will not bless us with the full generosity that He wants to. Through nature and other created things He shows He does not withdraw His blessing fully. But when droughts, famines, floods, earthquakes, plague-like diseases and so on occur, far too many people blame God (for example: “Where is God now?”) rather than humbly confessing our individual and corporate sin in God’s solemn presence, and begging for His mercy, forgiveness and restitution.


If you are a Christian brother or sister who has fallen into sinful patterns of life, or if you are as close to God as you can be but may be being used by God as an example to help others glorify God, why not join me in praying the following prayer?


“I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. … Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour … Lord I wait for You; You will answer, Lord my God”, Psalm 38:18, 21-22, 15.


“I will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High”, Psalm 7:17.


And always remember God’s uplifting words through Moses: “See now that I Myself am He! There is no god besides Me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of My hand”, Deuteronomy 32:39 (italics mine).


Note:

You may want to compare other Psalms which have a similar theme.

See Psalms 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, 143.[5]


Discussion guide


1. Discuss the warning of Deuteronomy 32:23. In that speech Moses has proclaimed the greatness and perfection of God, 32:3-4. He has warned in 31:29 about the consequences of turning away from God. He foresees it happening in 32:5-6. From 32:19 Moses describes the awful rejection of His people by God, and our “arrows” phrase is in the middle of it. The Lord says, “I will heap calamities on them and expend My arrows against them”, vs23.

How can a great and perfect God do this?


2. Have Lamentations chapter 3 open in front of you. In verses 12-13 Jeremiah laments “He (the Lord vs1) drew His bow and made me the target for His arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from His quiver”. Almost all the verses from 1-20 depress God’s chosen prophet. Then suddenly – a dramatic change! From verse 21 onwards something happens.

  • What?

  • Put into your own words the apparent ‘two sides’ of God we read about here.

  • What is our best way of thinking about God?

3. Think about Psalm 38:1-22. Why has God pierced King David with His arrows, vs2, vs18? Do you believe God may treat you similarly? Why? / Why not? Give Scripture to support your answer.


4. What is the significance of the repeated “me” and “my” in verses 15, 18, 21-22? Can God remain “my God” even when I sin against Him? Why do you think David finishes the Psalm with “my Lord and my Saviour”?


5. From my bulleted list of 18 “specific warnings” about modern day temptations, which ones are most common in your personal life or from your experience as seen in those around you? How ought they to be dealt with? Where you can use your Bible for this last point.


6. “Jesus’ blood washes my sin away as I first see it and second confess it to Him and thirdly resolve not to go that way again. But I do get dirty again!” If this is true for you:

Why not leave the group to spend some time alone, quietly but in God’s company, letting His Holy Spirit examine you?

God says: “I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of My hand”, Deuteronomy 32:39 (italics mine).


[1] Matthew 22:34-40. [2] Cyril Okorcha (Nigeria) Africa Bible Commentary – Psalms (Word Alive: Nairobi) 2006, page 644. [3] Romans 6:12. [4] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins: New York) 1940/1996), page 91. [5] Cyril Okorcha (Nigeria) Africa Bible Commentary – Psalms (Word Alive: Nairobi) 2006, page 644.





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