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Faith for the Storm

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John Bunyan authored one of the most published works in the English language. You may not have known that he spent time in prison—for preaching without a license from the government. He could have been released from prison if he promised to stop preaching, but he had a higher commitment. Still he suffered. He wrote,
“The parting with my Wife and poor Children hath oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind Child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides.(Grace Abounding, Section 327.)[1]
“Yet Bunyan persevered. If temptation and fear were great, his consolation was greater still, and depended in large part on the promises he found in Scripture: “Leave thy fatherless children,” he read in Jeremiah, “and I will preserve them alive, and let thy widows trust in me” (Jer. 49:11). Scripture convinced him that he could trust his family with God. As for his other fears, he could face them in God’s company. When he was most fearful, he found most comfort: “when I have started, even as it were at nothing else but my shadow, yet God, as being very tender of me, hath not suffered me to be molested, but would with one Scripture and another strengthen me against all” (Grace Abounding, Section 323)[2]
Bunyan offers to us a wonderful example of trust. The Bible is filled with heroes who trust continues to amaze us. Job’s statement, “though he slay me yet will I trust him.” Habakkuk said, “Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18).
Likewise, it is good that we remember the lonesome anxious Jesus praying in Gethsemane. We would do well to remember his betrayal, the slanderous accusations made against him, the fists that struck him, the spit in his face, the skin and flesh torn from his back to provide a resting place for the old rugged cross, the nails that fastened him to that cross, and the spear which pierced his side. He was the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men.

SUFFERING

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
Suffering is universal in this fallen world and the human response to suffering is nearly universal as well: we don’t like it, we don’t understand it, we don’t want it, and we hope it goes away. “The Bible does not deal in any systematic way with the problem of suffering as a theological issue. It is, however, extremely significant that the Bible begins with an account of the source of the pains of childbirth and of the contrariness of nature (Gen. 3:1–19; Rom. 8:18–23) and ends with a picture of heaven in which there is no more pain, no crying, and in which nature gives abundantly of its fruits (Rev. 21:1–4; 22:1–5).”[3]
We can’t always explain every instance of suffering, but we can know why suffering is in the world. Romans 818-25 teaches, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
No one would have expected God’s grace to fall upon this woman. “She is a descendant of the ancient Canaanites, the bitter biblical enemies of Israel whose paganism had often led Israel into idolatry (cf. Jub. 22:20–22). Whereas the law granted some respect to Egyptians and some other cultures (Deut 23:7; cf. Is 19:25), Matthew’s Jewish audience may wince at his label for this woman of faith. “Yes,” Matthew seems to reply; “God’s compassion extends to all Gentiles.”[4] Despite being a Canaanite woman, she had great faith. She said, “ἐλέησόν με, κύριε υἱὸς Δαυίδ” She knew who Jesus was: 1) the Lord and 2) the Son of David. She knew about the OT prophecies and the Messianic expectations of the people. Still, she remained an outsider. She was a Canaanite woman. God drove her people out of their land generations before she met Jesus. But she still recognized that Jesus was the only hope for her and her daughter.

NO ANSWER?

“ But he did not answer her a word. (ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον) And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
The response “it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” still sounds harsh today. Jesus, perhaps, made the woman wait so that she would have to continue her faith’s pursuit.
God often tells us “not yet” or even “no” just as this woman was told. But it the responsibility of pursuing God by faith remains. Sometimes God’s “no” is given so that our faith may be developed further. “No,” or the silence of the answer, is hard to hear, but God works through that silence to bring about great works.

THE ANSWER OF FAITH

“Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The wait is often long, but Christians will at last be comforted. The promise of comfort rests on God’s own sovereign decree. Isaiah 40:1-5 records, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
God said, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

How great is our faith?

The woman’s faith, although she was an outsider, was great. This is a rare compliment from Jesus. The Centurion is the only other person who comes close—“I have not found so great a faith in all of Israel.” So, how great is our faith? How can our faith grow?
Our faith is made and nurtured by God through the Scripture—Romans 10:17. Our faith is also grown through trials. God does not tempt us with evil, but God does allow us to go through trials, often greater than we can bear, so that we might learn not to trust in ourselves but in God.
[1] Rebecca S. Beal, “‘Pulling the Flesh from My Bones,’” Christian History Magazine-Issue 11: John Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1986).
[2] Rebecca S. Beal, “‘Pulling the Flesh from My Bones,’” Christian History Magazine-Issue 11: John Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1986).
[3] F. P. Cotterell, “Suffering,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 802.
[4] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 414–415.
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