13 They [the Egyptian taskmasters] worked the Israelites ruthlessly 14 and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork. They ruthlessly imposed all this work on them. (Exodus 1:13-14)
At the church I serve, I’m currently taking a small group through a study of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. It is a six session video series where Dr. Keller sits down with a group of nonbelievers and discusses the questions they have about Christianity. Last night’s session was “If there is a god, why is there so much suffering in the world?” It was a twenty minute video, but we spent nearly an hour talking about it together. It’s not hard to see why this topic hit such a nerve. Just in our group last night was:
- My friend who lost his wife to cancer five years ago.
- A licensed professional counselor.
- A volunteer missionary who has done extensive work in Haiti.
- A large number who are working their way through the Bible this year, so we recently spent two weeks on Job. And if you aren’t familiar with Job, “why do good people suffer” is kind of the main point.
- All of us are still dealing with the effects of the tornado that tore through our county a few weeks ago, killing seven.
And to top it all off, we had been at the funeral of a young man who grew up in our church just the day before. 34 years old, heart attack. When our worship pastor and I visited the family to plan the service, it was one of the most painful conversations we’ve ever had with a family who has lost a loved one.
So last night, we found we were asking the same questions as the unbelievers in the video, and feeling nearly the same frustration at the oversimplified, pat answers we sometimes hear. Worse, we realized that these canned answers are the very ones we have sometimes given ourselves.
This morning, as I opened my Spurgeon Study Bible to Exodus, I read these words from Spurgeon, who was reflecting on the fact that the Israelites had settled in Egypt, even though their home was in Canaan:
The land of Goshen was fruitful, and the Israelites had been greatly favored by the Egyptian king. The mass of them, therefore, had little thought of ever leaving that country. … [So] the first thing to be done with the Israelites was to cause them to be anxious to come out of Egypt… He must bring them out in such a way that they would be willing to come out, so that they would march forth with joy and delight, being thoroughly weary and sick of all Egypt and therefore rejoicing to get away from it.Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 72
So is it possible that God uses pain in this world to make us eager for our true home? Is that why growing old usually means growing tired? Is that why we often mutter “Come, Lord Jesus!” whenever the world seems out of control?
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote, “People don’t change until it hurts too much to stay the same.” I’ve heard it applied to making changes in a church, but I’ve also heard it said by people recovering from addiction. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we would never long for a better place if there was no suffering in this one.
I am using the Spurgeon Study Bible for my Bible Read Through in 2023. All of the study notes are quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and writing. For more on Charles Spurgeon, click here. The Spurgeon Study Bible is available from Lifeway, Christianbook.com, and Amazon.