Troubles are part and parcel of our existence. It doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor, weak or powerful, young or old! The troubles come in many ways. Some people are on life support, some are facing financial ruin. Some people are bereaved, others are facing abuse at work. The list goes on!
In moments of trouble our minds are filled with many questions. Why am I suffering? Where is God? When will these troubles end? Why am I the only one going through this? When our backs are against the wall, life seems very confusing! There are many voices whispering in our ears with many promises. How do we make sense of suffering?
The prophecy God gave Nahum around 670BC is an excellent place to make sense of suffering. The nation of Judah has come under oppression from the pre-eminent superpower of the day Nineveh (Assyria). God’s message to them is that don’t focus on suffering. Focus on me and what I am doing about your suffering. This is emphasised particularly in Nahum 1:12-13:
Thus says the Lord, “Though [Nineveh] are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” (Nahum 1:12-13)
God wants them to focus on him by remembering three important truths. First, God is present in your suffering. Judah is under foreign control or what God describes as a national yoke. It is feeling alone! Suffering is always lonely. It isolates you and demands that you focus on its pain. God says to his people : you are not alone because I am present and active in your difficulties, even when those difficulties are your fault.
God always sees and experiences the suffering of those who belong to him. Prophet Isaiah echoses this point when he comments on Israel’s suffering in the wilderness, “In all their distress [God] too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9). The presence of God in suffering is the essence of the Christian message. God became man in Jesus Christ. He put on human flesh. Jesus has walked the walk and suffered for your suffering. By dying on the cross he has carried your pain and sorrows on his shoulders. As Isaiah puts it, “he has borne all our afflictions”.
What is even more remarkable is that God is now doubly present in our suffering through God the Holy Spirit that lives in every follower of Jesus. God the Holy Spirit feels what you feel and knows the pain you are going through. This means you can face the world with confident. You have no need to pretend or put on a brave face about the challenges you are facing.
Secondly, God controls your suffering. The surprise message of Nahum is this confession from God : "I have afflicted you”. God is the fundamental cause of Judah’s affliction. Nineveh is certainly the visible cause but God is clear that Nineveh’s oppression of Judah is under God's jurisdiction. Nineveh certainly bears full responsibility for its actions and is judged for it accordingly. And yet God makes it clear Nineveh is ultimately fulfilling his purposes!
This is the mystery of suffering! Nahum calls us to affirm both divine jurisdiction over suffering and Nineveh’s responsibility for its action. That God is the cause of suffering should not worry us at all because it is already clear that God suffers in our suffering. This is not a God who causes suffering and runs away like modern politicians!Far from it! He is a God who genuinely means it when he says "we are all in this together".
Why does God allow himself (and us) to suffer?To accomplish an even greater glory for us. We see glimpses of this divine transaction in Nahum as God promises to bring about of a new peace and eternal restoration. God’s action in the life of Judah is not purposeless it is to grow them and bring them to deeper relationship with him! And of course the cross of Jesus again serves as the perfect demonstration of this truth. God is despised by men and dies on the cross in Jesus Christ, in order that you and I may share in the newness of life. In order that God may live in us for evermore! What a transaction!
Finally, God liberates from your suffering. Nahum is clear that God’s afflictions on Judah are limited – “I will afflict you no more”. God will act to bring an end to Judah’s suffering by destroying Nineveh. History records that this was achieved with the destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians and Medes. God too is able to act and bring your troubles to an end. If you are a follower of Jesus, your afflictions are momentary because one day they will end.
Notice carefully the two-fold strategy of Judah's liberation employed by God. God first deals directly with Judah's enemy. Nineveh is to “cut down” despite its might! God always destroy his enemies. Nineveh is a type of Satan whostands in opposition and enslaves a God's people. God in Christ has also dealt with your arch enemies – he has broken has Lucifer's grip on your life. If you are a follower of Jesus you have no reason to fear Satan because He is a defeated fellow. A terror only to those who refuse to repent!
After breaking their enemy God now will set them free. He will “break off” their “bonds apart” Judah was previously held in chains, now it can walk free! Not into another human servitude! But free! The promise of freedom comes with no conditions attached! This promise of freedom is also immediate! It says “for now” – God is on the move Nahum again is pointing us to a deeper spiritual fulfillment that Isaiah also speaks about. Jesus is the “Lord’s chosen servant” who unconditionally liberates us from our enemies - Satan, death and sin. He is ultimate rescue agent!
Knowing God is the ultimate rescuer we can be honest about our slavery! We can rest in his special promise that the rescue is coming! We can live and think as one set free from the power of sin! Surely our only response to all this is praise and joy!
In these few verses Nahum reminds us that the Christian God is a God who comforts us in our suffering! Our suffering is not lonely, because God is present with us! Our suffering is not out of control, because God is in control of all it! Our suffering is not indefinite, because God promises to act in our situation! That is priceless!
The Burden of God : God is Just - Part III (1:10)
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013