Suffering part of God’s plan, Whitten says at Southern Seminary
Christian suffering is part of God’s power, plan, and purpose for the universe, Florida pastor Ken Whitten said in a March 10 chapel message at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“The sovereignty of God and the sympathy of God do not conflict,” said Whitten, who has served as pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, for 25 years.
Preaching from Job 38-41, Whitten observed how suffering serves the purpose of God, even when the pain seems pointless or unbearable. Such suffering is a part of the Christian life and identity, according to Whitten. Job complained against God when he experienced suffering, but Whitten said this was the wrong response.
“When Job shuts up, God shows up and speaks up,” Whitten said.
Whitten explained that God’s covenant name is not used in Job until God speaks to Job from the whirlwind in chapter 38. This is proof, according to Whitten, that Job had been asking the wrong question — he asked “why?” when he should have asked “who?”
There are four ways people can suffer, Whitten said: persecution, punishment, chastisement, and affliction. Job suffered such affliction that he was brought to ask, “Will a man serve God for nothing, and is God worthy of our worship?” However, believers can find comfort in their suffering by looking to the majesty of God, as seen in his creation. According to Whitten, the universe displays the power and wisdom of God, which stands a reminder that suffering is not purposeless.
“You understand, ‘Whatever I’m going through, God understands,’” he said.
Whitten pointed to the power of God over, and his plan and his purpose for the universe as answers to the questions raised by suffering. After reading Job 38:7, which references “when the morning stars sang together,” Whitten played audio recordings of pulsars — a type of star that spins rapidly and emits pulses of radiation which can be converted into almost musical sounds. Whitten said such sounds are an illustration of the stars singing together: a reminder of the weakness of man and the glory of God.
Constellations like the Pleiades and Orion, the oceans, and the animal kingdom all exhibit not only the power of God but also his wisdom, Whitten said. Believers can find comfort in God’s wisdom when they recognize that their suffering is ordained by this supremely wise God.
When one comes to understand the greatness of God displayed in the universe, he has no choice but to cover his mouth and repent, as Job did. Only when one looks to God in trust and humility will suffering be bearable.
In closing, Whitten offered several takeaways from the book of Job.
“When you see Job’s restoration and transformation, you begin to understand that grace holds no grudges,” Whitten said. “You understand that God has a right, God has a reason, and God has a reward.”
Randy Stinson, Southern Seminary’s provost and senior vice president for academic administration, introduced Whitten before the sermon. A former member at Idlewild, Stinson gave Whitten a baseball autographed by former Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken Jr., “the Iron Man” of baseball, calling the longtime pastor “the Iron Man of the pulpit” for his 25 years of ministry at Idlewild.
Audio and video of Whitten's sermon are available online at sbts.edu/resources.