- The role of lament in suffering (1:00)
- Complaint vs. lament (1:25)
- Darkness and lament that leads to hopefulness (3:33)
- Hope from the Bible for the suffering (4:24)
- Our understanding High Priest (6:55)
- Finding hope in the already, not yet world (9:16)
- Hopelessness as the doorway to hope (10:12)
- How to renew your mind in suffering (12:43)
- Speaking truth to yourself (14:07)
- A four-step practice to renew the mind (16:48)
- Combating the lie of unworthiness (18:42)
Paul’s recommended resources:
- Where Is God When It Hurts? by Phillip Yancey
- When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
- Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul Tripp
- When Suffering Enters Your Door (video series with Paul Tripp)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Paul Tripp: Hi, you’re listening to The Gospel Coalition question and answer podcast, and this is a biblical counseling series, featuring hopeful answers to your questions on navigating fear, anxiety, ministry, and marriage, and everything in between. My name is Paul Tripp, I’m a pastor and author, a conference speaker. My mission statement is connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. The whole focus of my ministry is what I call, the now wisdom of the Gospel for Jesus Christ. That Jesus didn’t just die for our past or our future, but He died for everything you face right here, right now. And so that’s everything I write about, that’s everything I speak about. And so I’m really excited about addressing this topic of suffering. One of the questions people often ask is, what about the role of lament in suffering? I just think that’s such a wonderful question, but I think if we’re going to talk about lament, we have to make a distinction between complaint and lament. They’re really different things.
The inertia of complaint is, I’ve already begun to judge God as not good and I’ve already begun to look around me and envy the life of somebody else. And think, how is a good God ever going to do this to me when He’s blessing this person over here? And complaint doesn’t move toward hope. I’m sort of bringing God in the coat my judgment and questioning His goodness in a space of some love and that’s always spiritually discouraging. It’s debilitates my motivation. You see that when Israel is standing across the Jordan from the promised land and the spies come back and say, there are big giant people here. And the Israelites begin to give weight to fear, they give weight to wonderment. Why would God bring us all this way to do this to us? And they grumble and complain, it’s a really good case study on the negative spirit of complaints.
Lament is just the opposite there, lament is bringing my need to God. Now, think about this, in order to do that, you are already preaching to yourself that God exists, that He’s present, that He hears, that He can help, or why lament. If I ask you for help, I’m asking you to help because I think you can help. And so the beauty of lament is that it reminds me of God’s presence, His power, His care. And even though I’m crying out, I’m actually by the process building hope in my own heart. That’s what you see in the Psalms, so many of the darkest lament Psalms are also the most hopeful of Psalms. Because lament begins to direct you toward God and toward all the things that He alone is able to offer you in these moments. Lament reminds me that God would not leave me in this broken world by myself. Lament reminds me that He never turns a deaf ear to the cries of His people. Lament reminds me, not only does He have the power to help, but He has the willingness to help.
It’s very important that you not confuse complaint and lament because they do two different things in your heart and life. Well, here’s another question. What hope does the Bible offer those walking through emotional suffering? I can’t tell you how much I love these questions because suffering is the universal experience of everyone between the already reconversion and not with your own role. It just is. In Romans 8 when Paul in verse 18 begins his discussion of suffering, he assumes suffering because he says that we’re living in a world that’s groaning waiting for redemption. We live in a world that’s broken. It doesn’t function the way that God intended and that brokenness will enter your door. I’ve had that experience of that brokenness myself. Several years ago, our daughter was walking down the street in Philadelphia, drunken unlicensed driver, creamed up on sidewalk and crushed her against the wall, she had massive injuries. It was very scary, by God’s grace she’s doing well now. I’ve been through significant physical suffering myself in the last several years, left with a damaged body now in a way in which I’ll never be helpful in my mind.
So with that comes a deep emotional travail. Now, I love what I’m about to say. The Bible never asks you to deny your remote emotions. The Bible never asked you to bucket up, to put out a saccharin smile and act like everything’s okay. Biblical faith will never ask you to deny reality. That to me is already encouraging because often in moments of emotional pain, we wonder, does anybody care? Will anybody ever understand? And the message of scripture is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. God understands and He’s inviting us to bring those tears to Him. He says, bring your burdens to me, cast your cares on me because I really do care for you. But there’s even more than that, that’s just the beginning of the good stuff. Hebrews tells us that we have in Jesus, a faithful sympathetic and understanding high priest who was able to be touched by the feelings of our infirmity.
I love the word there for infirmity. I don’t quote Greek words very often, but here we go. The word is asthenia and that word is probably best understood as a summary word for the human condition. God understands our humanity. Jesus lived an emotional life because He took on humanity. And so our Lord understands the full range of the emotions that we go through. I mean, we see the most powerful poignant moment of emotion of Jesus on the cross, when He cries out Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani, my God, my God why have you forsaken me? There’s Jesus utterly destroyed the deepest moment of His pain was not physical, the deepest moments was pain, was emotional, it was relational. Now hear that, this is the one that I’m praying to. He’s never disgusted by my emotional state. He never wonders if He should have asked me to be His child, He’s never overwhelmed. He’s never surprised. He’s never thinking maybe ought to give up and walk away.
Again, you go to one who has a full experiential understanding of what is happening in your heart. The one to whom you cry, wept as well. And He said, you come to me and I will shoulder your burden. This means that I don’t have to get up in the morning and load those burdens on my shoulders again and do my best to carry them alone. You see the inertia, the move of God’s grace is not from dependence to independence. The move of God’s grace is from independence to dependence, God welcomes you to be dependent on Him. And He will not turn you away as you do that. Well, another wonderful question that if you can’t relate to this question, you’re either not human or you’re seriously comatose. It’s just such a question that speaks to the human experience. How do you find hope in the already not yet world? Everybody searches for hope, we all want a reason to get up in the morning. We want a reason to continue, we want to think that somehow we’ll get through, want to think that somehow change is possible, we all want hope.
And what hopelessness is, this is important to understand, it’s the failure of things I put my hope in. Hopelessness is the demise of all the things that I put my hope in. And so I want to give you what sounds like bad news, but it’s actually good news. I am persuaded that hopelessness is the doorway to hope, that when you quit hoping in your money and quit trying to turn your spouse into your Messiah and hoping in your new job and hoping in your finances and hoping in your physical health and hoping in your emotional stability, all those that catalog hope, it’s there, that your heart is open to reach out for hope that will not disappoint you. So you want to, I think one of the reasons that God allows us to live in this broken world is so that in our travail, in the demise of our hope, we would find truthful that will never ever disappoint us. Now that’s the message of the cross.
What we learned from the cross is that God is able and willing to take the worst things ever and out of them bring the best things ever. What could be worse than the unjust conviction and murder of the Messiah, the one perfect man who ever lived. What could be better in the sacrifice of the Lord, Jesus Christ for our sins? And so in the dark hallways of my hopelessness, a light is shining and that hallway, as I let go of things that I thought would keep me going, I’m walking toward that light and that light is the light of our savior. Who says, hope in me. I am in you, I am for you, I am with you, I will never forsake you and I will do for you what you could never do for yourself. What a beautiful message that is. May we walk that hallway and find that light at the end, because there is real hope to be found in a world that often seems like a hopeless place.
Well, what are some of the effective ways to renew my mind in seasons of suffering? I can’t stop saying how much I love these questions. Well, this is really a bit of an answer to this question and the question follows, but I want to set it up this way. And if you’re watching this podcast, listen very carefully to what I’m about to say, no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. Most of us have learned it’s best not to move our lips because people think we’re crazy, but we’re always in a constant conversation with ourselves. You never stop talking to you because we’re hardwired to be interpreters, human beings made in the image of God, do not live life based on the facts of their experience but based on their interpretation of the facts. So the things you say to you, about you, about God, about meaning and purpose, about identity, about relationships, about life, are profoundly important because they’re formative of thoughts, they’re formative to desires, they shape your words and they shape your actions.
And so I would say, first of all, pay attention to your inner conversation. I think that we talk to ourselves a lot, but we don’t listen to what we’re saying. Become aware of your private conversation and then develop the habit of interrupting that conversation with Biblical Gospel truth. I love the example of this in Psalm 27, Psalm of David and scholars who study the history around the Psalm say either David was fleeing King Saul who was jealous against him, David had only ever been loyal to Saul it was a situation of gross personal injustice. Or David is fleeing from his son, Absalom who is out to have his throne, a situation of gross family betrayal. And David’s response at that moment is, I want to run to the temple and I want to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Now, if I had an enemy pursuing me to, the Psalm says, eat at my flesh, be happy for your lunch. I’m not sure, the first thing I would say is I’d just like to go to church right now.
But there’s a reason David is saying this, he believes that there’s one who sits on the throne of the universe whose way more beautiful than any ugly thing you will face in your life. He’s beautiful in grace, He’s beautiful in love, He’s beautiful in sovereignty, He’s beautiful in faithfulness, He’s beautiful in power, He’s beautiful in patients, He’s beautiful in mercy, He’s beautiful. And the only way that you understand reality accurately is when you look at it through the lens of the stunning beauty of your Lord. So David says, my mind is going to go all kinds of directions in this, how could it not? I’m running for my life, I’m living in caves, I’m facing injustice and betrayal. This is a mental restness for you, I want to clarify my thinking, I want to run to the temple so I view reality accurately. You’d never, ever understand reality accurately if you leave out the most important factor of reality, that’s the existence and character of God.
And so I actually want to give you homework right now, four words that I think really speak to this question that I would encourage you to nail in to your schedule every morning. The first word is gaze. Just take a few moments before you start your day to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Read a little bit of Isaiah 40, read a little bit, the last few chapters of Joel in both passages God stretches human language to its furthest elasticity, to capture for us the glory of God. Read Ephesians 1, which pictures the unstoppable nature of God’s plan of redemption and His grace for us. Gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.
Second word is, remember. Remember that beauty doesn’t justify in God, but it redefines your identity as His child. You are now the object of that beauty, God pours His beauty down on us by grace. The beauty of sovereignty, the beauty of His love, the beauty of His faithfulness, the beauty of His patience. Third word. Now rest. Teach your heart to rest not because people like you, not because you’re healthy, not because everything is going well, but because God exists and He’s stunningly glorious and He pours down His glory on you by grace. All that God is, He is for us by grace. Fourth word now. Gaze, rest, remember. Now act, now go out and live with hope and courage because you are connected to this one of such glorious beauty by grace. I think we have one more question here.
I want to speak to this last question, although I’ve already been speaking to it. What are some of the ways to replace the lies in my head regarding unworthiness? If there is a manual on human worth, it is the Bible. Bible begins with God creating Adam and Eve and declaring that they are made in His image. You could not have a more beautiful, glorious, value infused, description of who a human being is in that unique in all of creation. Unlike anything else that God made, God said, I made you to mirror my likeness. What an amazing thing to consider. There’s no such thing as a valueless human being, there has never been a human being existing that didn’t have value and worth, fundamental dignity because of how God made that person. But there’s more, God harness the forces of nature and control the events of human history, so that certain time His son would come and live the life I could not live and die the death I should have died, rise again, consuming death. So that my identity that had been so damaged by sin would be restored.
It’s an incredible thing that God would consider me, that valuable that He would literally control history, control the natural world so that His son could come and do this thing for me, make this investment in me. If you thought that creation demonstrated your worth, the Gospel laps even more onto that. Now, that leads to the question, by what measure am I measuring I’m worthiness? Because I’m not business successful? Because I’m not beautiful? Because I’m not strong? Because I don’t have a PhD? You see all those false measures of worth just beat us up. They’re all a lie. You’re not worthy because you happen to have academic gifts, not worthy because fitness is easy for you, not worthy because for some reason you’re able to make money. You’re worthy because you’re made in the image of God and you’ve been recreated in Christ Jesus. And so your worth is not for judgment, it’s not a matter of what you’ve done or what you didn’t do. It’s a matter of God’s design and the outpouring of His restorative grace.
And so if you want to recapture that worth, spend time in the narrative of God’s word, run to God’s word, embed your sense of self in the larger story of redemption, embed your little story in the greatest story ever told and watch what God does to your heart. May God help us as we do that. We live in a broken world and there are lies said to us every day, listen, the only way is by replacing it with truth. And that has to be our discipline until we’re finally in that place where there are no more lies and only truth is told forever and ever and ever.