Keep These Thoughts in Mind When You Are in the Hospital
All of us have beliefs about life and death, about good and evil, and about God. If someone is going to presume to give you counsel about your time in the hospital, it seems good that you should know what he believes and why. So here are four things I believe (Read about all 10 things in my book, Lessons from a Hospital Bed). I took these into the hospital with me when I was sick. I banked on them while I was there. And I brought them out again, more sure than ever that they are true.
1. The Bible is the Word of God and Should be Trusted
John Piper's opinion about your suffering has no authority. God's Word does. If you ask me, "But how do you know the Bible is the Word of God?" my short answer would be, "There is a glory that shines through it, which fits perfectly with the God-shaped template in your heart." When your mind is clearest, you know the voice of God. As Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
Deep down you know God. That's what the Bible says: "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them" (Rom. 1:19). Just as God's world makes clear that he is its Maker (Ps. 19:1), so God's Word makes clear that he is its Author.
It's similar to the way you know that honey is honey. Scientists may say this jar contains honey because of chemical experiments. But you know it's honey because you tasted it. Similarly, there is a divine sweetness in God's Word. It touches a part of you that you know was put there by God. Thus the psalmist ex- claims, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Ps. 119:103).
So when Jesus says, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), and when Saint Paul says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16), and when Saint Peter says, the authors of Scripture "were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21), your heart says, yes.
You have tasted. You have seen. And there is a sweet, deep assurance that these words are true. Your whole soul resonates with statements like these: "The sum of your word is truth" (Ps. 119:160); "Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Ps. 119:89); "Every word of God proves true" (Prov. 30:5).
When this happens, the whole truth of God washes over you in the hospital with in- comparable comfort: "When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul" (Ps. 94:19); "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:18–19).
No man can comfort your soul the way God can. His comfort is unshakable. It comes from his Word, the Bible. That is my first belief. And all the others are based on this one.
2. God is Good
The Bible tells us, "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him" (Nah. 1:7). "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations" (Ps. 100:5).
But in the hospital, we are surrounded by suffering. There is no place quite like it. In the outside world, pain seems to dissolve in the water of ordinary life. But in the hospital, it's as if the water has been boiled away, leaving only the concentrated sediment of suffering. You can see it and smell it and hear it.
You may be tempted to ask, Is God good? There is so much suffering in the world that he made! Let George Mueller give God's answer from the Bible. Mueller is famous for building orphanages for destitute children in England in the nineteenth century. In 1870, when he was sixty-five, his wife of forty years died. He loved her deeply. He spoke at her funeral and chose Psalm 119:68 as his text: "You are good and do good." He recalled in the sermon how he held on to this truth:
All will be according to His own blessed character. Nothing but that, which is good, like Himself, can proceed from Him. If he pleases to take my dearest wife, it will be good, like Himself. What I have to do, as His child, is to be satisfied with what my Father does, that I may glorify Him. After this my soul not only aimed, but this, my soul, by God's grace, attained to. I was satisfied with God.*
Even when we are surrounded by suffering in the hospital, God is still good.
3. God is Wise and Knows Everything
God knows absolutely everything about your body and its disease. Compared to his knowledge of the universe, all the scientists and all the libraries in the world are like children and first-grade readers. There is nothing he does not know and understand perfectly:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom. 11:33)
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. . . . his understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)
And with this infinite knowledge, he is infinitely wise. He uses his infinite knowledge to accomplish all his wise purposes:
With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. (Job 12:13)
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all. (Ps. 104:24)
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. (Dan. 2:20)
God means for this to comfort us in our trouble. We know this because he tells us to pray for our needs but not to use a lot of words, as if he were reluctant: "Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do . . . for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:7–8). He knows what you need. Don't be anxious about your daily needs; "your heavenly Father knows that you need them all" (Matt. 6:32). He knows.
And in his wisdom, every need will be met: "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). And so we proclaim, "To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen" (Rom. 16:27).
4. God is Totally in Control
Some find this comforting. Some find it incredible. Some find it blasphemous. Some find it cruel. I am in that first group. It is a great comfort to me that whatever happens to me, and to those I love, is not in the control of meaningless chance or malevolent demons. God is good, and God is wise; so it is good news that God is in control.
God says, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose" (Isa. 46:10), and, "I am the Lord. . . . Is anything too hard for me?" (Jer. 32:27). And we respond with Job, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). And with Christ we say, "With God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26).
Why is it good news to say, with Jesus, that not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of our Father? Jesus tells us why: "You are of more value than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:31).
When we are sick or dying, we may not see the kindness of God as easily as when we were well. But that is why we need God's Word. Experience is not a reliable guide. God is.
When sickness and Satan and maybe even other people threaten our lives, we need to hear God say to us what he said to Joseph's brothers. They had sold Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37:28), and now he was their master in Egypt. But here is what he said: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20).
Not just "God used it for good" but "God meant it for good." They had an evil purpose. God had a good one. This is the key to all comfort in suffering. However evil Satan's aims are in our lives, God's aims are good. This is a huge comfort when everything else looks bleak.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books.
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