Chronic Suffering and Christian Hope

This past November, at Desiring God’s The Works of God: God’s Good Design in Disability conference, Dr. Mark Talbot taught on the subject of God’s sovereignty in our suffering. Mark is associate professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, where he has taught since 1992. He earned his PhD in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. His areas of academic expertise include philosophical theology, philosophical psychology, David Hume, Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards. Mark has published many book reviews, magazine articles, and chapters in collaborative volumes, including Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Mark and his, Cindy, have one daughter and three grandchildren.talbot

More particularly, Mark Talbot is able to teach on the subject of chronic suffering from the deep reservoir of his own suffering since an accident rendered him paralyzed as a young man. One of the major points in Dr. Talbot’s outline presented the biblical theological orientation that forms the foundation of the believer’s hope in the midst of suffering disabilities in this fallen world. Here are the 4 points of that theological orientation that Dr. Talbot expounded upon.

  1. Scripture takes God’s will to be the ultimate explanation of any disability because his will is the ultimate explanation for everything (Isaiah 46:8-11).
  2. We will acknowledge this only if we recognize that God has willed all human suffering. Many Christians resist this recognition, but it follows from any plain reading of Scripture.
  3. God wills human suffering for a variety of reasons. There are two purposes of the Genesis 3 curse: punishment for sin (the curses pronounced upon the serpent, man, and woman are clearly stated), and mercy (Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden to prevent them from eating and living forever in an unredeemable state). Consider other Scriptures on His mercy (Psalm 119:65, 67, 68, 69-72, 75). There is the specific mercy of chronic disability: it removes the blinders, prompting us to focus.
  4. For God’s saints, suffering always results in their ultimate good.
  • This ultimate good will defeat all of any disability’s constituent evils.
  • Yet the specific reason why God has visited someone with some particular disability may, for now, be beyond our finding out.
  • Indeed, the reason why God has visited some saint with some particular disability may involve no more than his exercising his sovereignty. Yet even then, we may rest assured that he is lovingly bringing us specific goods through our suffering. During this life, disability reminds us of the depths of human being and the value of normalcy. It is designed to make us long for sinless wholeness. In the eschaton [the fulfillment of God’s plan at the end of time], we will realize our Father’s great design, encompassing his love for us in having visited us with the specific disabilities we now know.

Listen to Mark Talbot’s rich teaching here.

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