The Agora
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RR, "Providence", Gary Burns, and the "why" of suffering

[Brother Gary Burns died after a long and difficult struggle with leukemia. Just before his death, he wrote Suffering, the why of -- see Articles and Lessons.]

Just thinking... about RR (and JT), about "providence", about good brothers and sisters who suffer, in a thousand ways, and sometimes ask "Why?", and about friends who die young...

So while I was thinking thus, I decided to read a bit of RR's "Ways of Providence" -- and was reminded again, that even if RR had never given us anything else, how his little narrative book "W of P" would be enough!

I wound up reading his retelling of the life of Jacob, in which -- as he says -- the "ways of providence" are so well-illustrated. In one place he focuses on a part of the narrative that is more or less hidden "between the lines" or "behind the scenes". Meaning... the main story has moved on elsewhere, to Joseph in Egypt, and to the brothers going down there in trepidation and fear, but out of necessity because of the famine. But here RR concentrates on the one they left behind, the aged Jacob -- who had, as far as he could see it, "lost" one son already, endangered another, and so desperately did not want to lose his beloved Benjamin... but who could only wait and worry and fear...

RR proceeds.....


Jacob is left alone in distress. His sons are all gone to a country where he knows they are suspected and from which perhaps they will never return. The austere "lord of the land," the burden of his apprehensions, may fall upon them all, Benjamin too, as he had done upon Simeon, and make them bondsmen, and he may never see them again. He is uneasy; he cannot rest; he trusts in God, yet the clouds are dark and his heart heavy. It is almost at the breaking point. He cannot endure much longer. Poor Jacob!

"To the upright, there ariseth light in the darkness."
His sons return in due time, and what fine equipages are these they have brought with them? Wagons that Joseph has sent to carry Jacob and all the little ones to Egypt. Who? Joseph!

"Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt."
Jacob faints at the report! No wonder. Give him time. He slowly rallies. He listens; Benjamin and Simeon are there. He looks at the wagons. He puts all things together. He comes to the only conclusion admissible in the circumstances:

"It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die."
What more forcible illustration was it possible for God to have given to all succeeding generations of His children that trouble (so far from being evidence of desertion) is a means employed in His hands to lay the foundation of future joy and blessedness. Let His children then be comforted and strengthened to endure even the deepest and most inexplicable affliction. Let them learn to see God in the darkness and to feel His hand in the tempest. Let them beware of the folly of Job's three friends rebuked of God. Let them know that this time of our pilgrimage is the night, and that though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning and that joy a joy prepared by the weeping. Let them apply the consolation Christ has given them:

"Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall be comforted."

Thereafter I read also some of RR's story of Joseph -- the same story on the "other side", so to speak... There RR concludes:


Meanwhile, the lesson of Joseph's life is unmistakable. It is what we have already seen illustrated, that God works when His hand is not apparent, and often when it would seem as if He must be taking no notice, and by means that seem to exclude the possibility of His being at work. The conclusion is comforting to those who commit their way to God. It may seem to them that God is not only working with them, but actually working against them. Let them remember the agony of Joseph in the pit, in slavery, in false imprisonment and learn that the darkest paths of their life may be the ways appointed for them to reach liberty and life, wealth and honour -- yea, a throne in the kingdom of the anti-typical Joseph, who himself had to tread the dark and tearful valley of humiliation, and who, in the day of his glory, will introduce all his brethren, amongst many bright stars, to the most interesting of Jacob's sons.


Thank you, RR. And thank you, GB (the OTHER GB, not this one!), for reminding us that it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of God, and for reminding us that there is a reason for everything that happens to us or to those we love, even if we see it only through a glass darkly at this present time. "The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower."

Yes, I do believe it will.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
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