The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People Part 1 – Man looks at the External, but God looks at the Heart

by Mike Ratliff

Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:4-7)

In our study of God’s sovereignty in the suffering of His people from the book of Job, let’s look at Job and his family before affliction overtook them. However, before we look at that please look closely at the passage I placed at the top of this post. Samuel, by God’s direction, went to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel from the sons of Jesse. When Samuel saw Jesse’s firstborn son, Eliab, he was sure that he must the one God sent him to anoint. However, what did God say? In our modern vernacular it would be something like this, “Don’t go by appearances.” “A man’s character is within and is not made up of what he looks like or what he has.” “I look on the heart of Man.”

Often we do as Samuel did and look at how rich or powerful or popular a person is and think that they must surely be in good with God to be so blessed. Conversely, we also look at some pastors and their families who labor long and hard in small churches in complete obscurity and think that they must be irrelevant in the Kingdom of God to be stuck in this backwater. In this study I hope to bring attention to the fact that appearances, the presence of suffering or the lack of suffering, wealth or poverty are not indications of God’s blessing or cursing in one’s life. In fact, the point of this study will be to cement into our consciousness the fact that God is sovereign. He can do as he pleases in the lives of his people to accomplish His purposes in their hearts.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1)

The name of this book, Job, as well as the name of the main character in it, is a transliteration of the Hebrew name “Iyyov” which means “the hated or persecuted one.” The land of Uz was probably roughly equivalent to modern day Kuwait. The man Job is described in v1 as blameless and upright. The word translated “blameless” here is translated as “perfect” in the KJV. This word means complete, whole or upright in a moral sense. The word translated “upright: in v1 is often used in the Old Testament to describe the uprightness, justice and righteousness of God. Job was one who “feared” God. This Hebrew word is a close parallel to the Greek word from the New Testament which was used to describe “God-fearers.” This word attempts to describe one who lived with an active conviction that God was one to be feared and, in response, altered their way of life in order to be pleasing to Him. One of the ways Job did this was by turning away from evil. This describes a person who lives a life of repentance.

Believers who live lives of repentance do so by walking by faith. Their lives make no sense to the fleshly people all around them. They eschew evil and do good. They deny themselves sensuality because all that does is feed the flesh in an attempt to be fulfilled with that which cannot fulfill. They are honest and grateful. They are ready to help those in need and to share their wisdom in order to help others to live God fearing lives. This describes Job’s character. To me, he appears to be role model for each of us.

There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. (Job 1:2-3)

Job was blessed. God had given him seven sons and three daughters. In the Bible, a large family was always seen as a sign of God’s blessing. He also had a huge amount of livestock. In the patriarchal period, in which most biblical scholars place Job, wealth was measured in livestock and the number of servants one had. Job was very wealthy. He was considered to be the greatest of all the people of the east. How did Job handle his success?

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4-5)

Job not only took care of his own spiritual needs, but also was the priest before God for his family. His focus was upward. It was on serving the living God. He feared God and turned away from evil. He stood in the gap for his family as well.

Job was a godly man whom God had blessed with a large family and much wealth. The natural inclination in us is to make the false assumption that Godliness will always produce material blessings. Ungodliness will always produce misery and suffering. If professing believers suffer then they must have sin in their life and they are being unrepentant.

One of the byproducts of this study will be to erase those false assumptions from our hearts. Yes, there are consequences to sin and there is suffering that comes from that, but is it automatic? Is it always manifest in this life? Don’t some wicked people suffer little in this life? Sure, that is so. There are also many very good people who seem to suffer continually. Therefore, let’s not make those assumptions that only the wicked suffer from God while the godly don’t.

We sin when we leave God’s sovereignty out of how we look at life. Humanism says that the end of all things is Man. Man is the highest form of life and it is right that things work out so that all can be happy–if they deserve it. If they don’t deserve it then they must suffer. Okay, that sounds good, but upon what criteria do we base this? When the happiness of Man is the ultimate goal then any force that enters the equation that changes things so that Man is not happy then that force must be bad. All effort to change that force or negate it is put into action. Suffering is bad, ease and comfort are good.

When Christians suffer there is usually a huge outcry and a plea for prayer to make the suffering stop. Is this how we should react to suffering. In this series we will look at these topics in greater detail and we will see that there is more to suffering than just the pain. When upstanding godly people like Job are suddenly cast into a bed of suffering, how should we react? How do we pray for those suffering like this?

I will leave you today with the following passage from the pen of the Apostle Paul. Meditate on it, asking God for wisdom and direction in your own pursuit of Him.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. (Colossians 1:24-26)

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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21 thoughts on “The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People Part 1 – Man looks at the External, but God looks at the Heart

  1. Mike,
    Yes, the truth is that most people do not accept and trust the Sovereignty of God. I think this was the pivotal point for me. When God opened my eyes to this truth, everything else changed. I began to understand that all that came into my life came by God, through God, and to accomplish the will of God is my life. It is all on purpose. (uh oh…is that purpose driven…;-) you better believe it…God’s purpose driven.) It is not about happiness. It is about righteousness. God is building and revealing His righteousness in the lives of His children. He is committed to this, because He is committed to bring glory to Himself…and the ONLY way we can glorify God is to be like Christ, the very glory of God. God will use what ever means necessary to accomplish this…hence suffering. I will never forget in recent months reading a letter from John Piper, on the subject of not wasting your cancer. (Just after His diagnosis.) It could be applied to ANY suffering or trial we face. We will waste the opportunity to build righteousness of Christ in our lives if we approach suffering with the wrong attitude or a lack of understanding about God and His character.

    God looks on the heart for sure Mike, and he is committed to cleansing and molding and using it all for His glory. Yes…we SHOULD rejoice in suffering…it is a sign and assurance that we are His!

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  2. That letter from John Piper along with that sermon he preached right after he was diagnosed with cancer broke my heart. It was so obvious that God was doing a deep work in his heart through the cancer and his surgery. So, was God being mean by allowing cancer into his life. God is sovereign. To grow us in Christ is God’s end for us. To make us happy in this life is not.

    Great comment bruisedreed!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  3. “Believers who live lives of repentance do so by walking by faith. Their lives make no sense to the fleshly people all around them. They eschew evil and do good. They deny themselves sensuality because all that does is feed the flesh in an attempt to be fulfilled with that which cannot fulfill. They are honest and grateful. They are ready to help those in need and to share their wisdom in order to help others to live God fearing lives.”

    By God’s grace may we all increasingly live lives of repentence and be conformed more and more into the image of Christ. And may we, strengthened in the joy, comfort, and peace of the indwelling HOLY SPIRIT humbly rest in the reality that our lives will make less and less sense to most of the people around us— trusting fully in HIM. And may the Sovereignty of God be increasingly the filter through which we see, hear, and experience all of life.

    Thanks for the excellent post, Mike. Such encouragement again.

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  4. Thank you Kim,

    Yes, it is the joy of the Lord that strengthens us to walk the walk by faith. It is by His grace we can do good. It the indwelling Holy Spirit who helps us pray and it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is constantly interceding for us to the Father. Have you noticed that walking in repentance is impossible if we have a pride problem. Only the humble can do it and it is by and through the grace of God that we do it. If we are dominiated by pride then we will be self-focused and useless in the Kingdom. If we repent and walk in humility then Jesus walks in us and works through us. I think I prefer the latter and hate the former. How about you?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  5. Thought provoking insight, Mike…
    You initial passage from 1 Samuel 16 was a great lead and drew my thoughts to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 1:26-29…”Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.”

    The Lord chooses the un-likelies of the world in order to humble the wise and the strong…that no one should be tempted to embezzle His glory. What a privilege to be mocked as a fool for the sake of Christ. What an honor to share in His sufferings. To consider that the Lord would entrust me with unjust suffering, as he did Job, with confidence that it would result in cosmic glory is too great an honor to fully comprehend.

    The more suffering He allows, the more deeply buried in Christ I become…and the more resolved I am to know nothing and proclaim nothing and boast in nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified!

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  6. Jessica,

    Very insightful comment! You have it right my sister. Now think on this. In the parable of the soils and the sower, some seed falls on shallow, rocky soil that has no depth. It springs up right away, but then falls away just as fast when suffering comes. What you said about viewing suffering as being entrusted with unjust suffering is very deep. It is like Peter and John rejoicing after being flogged because they had been found worthy to suffer shame for His name. The genuine believer who is the deep, good soil does not fall away no matter how dredful or unfair the suffering. That perseverance is of God. He sustains us. He is glorified as we endure the sufferings for the sake of the Son. I think you understand this very well my sister.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  7. Mike,

    Great post! My pastor and I were talking about Job this past Sunday evening. There’s not much of a better example of suffering in the life of God’s child than what we read about this man. And, as is common for our day, his friends wanted to attribute the suffering to sin and chastisement. Well, God does certainly take a dim view of their thoughts, doesn’t he?

    Looking forward to what follows.

    -Mike

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  8. Mike,

    Yes, they had a false view of God and a false view of man. God never changes. People are still trying to worship a god of their own making while at the same time trying to force the Living God to fit their sterotype. I am looking forward to your insightful comments as well.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  9. In comment 4, Mike asked me, “If we are dominiated by pride then we will be self-focused and useless in the Kingdom. If we repent and walk in humility then Jesus walks in us and works through us. I think I prefer the latter and hate the former. How about you?”

    I, too prefer the later and hate the former. My life though is not yet defined by this in my outward living. It gives me much to repent of hour by hour. My pride constantly is “in want for the flesh” (to fulfill that which can never be fulfilled) to ensure that others like me or approve of me or connect to me– to establish a sense of belonging and okayness. I do see though, by God’s grace and wonder working power, a lessening of this being such an underground controlling force.

    As HIS light shines and exposes I confess. And truly this is the “best life.” I have never cried so many tears, nor been so broken, nor been so aware of my sinfulness and the utter awfulness of sinfulness, nor how HIS thoughts, ways, purposes, desires are so very different from my own…. and I have never known such joy and peace and comfort. And even when I am not experiencing joy, peace and comfort, or if I did not have that payoff—- HE is worthy. HE is worthy and holy and sovereign. He alone deserves complete occupation of all that we are, think, and desire.

    Keep on teaching us Mike and causing us to consider such great TRUTH. Kim

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  10. Kim said, “As HIS light shines and exposes I confess. And truly this is the “best life.” I have never cried so many tears, nor been so broken, nor been so aware of my sinfulness and the utter awfulness of sinfulness, nor how HIS thoughts, ways, purposes, desires are so very different from my own…. and I have never known such joy and peace and comfort. And even when I am not experiencing joy, peace and comfort, or if I did not have that payoff—- HE is worthy. HE is worthy and holy and sovereign. He alone deserves complete occupation of all that we are, think, and desire.”

    I can’t think of a better description of how a believer reacts to God shining His holy light into our hearts. It isn’t just the outcry against sin in us, but it is the actual hatred of it. This trait is something a lost person could never counterfeit. It is only the regenerated heart that can experience the utter devastation that comes from the realization of the Holiness, Righteousness and Justice of the Living God!

    This utter devastation brings brokeness yet boldness. Kim, would you have always responded to my comment as you did above? Would I have written the posts as I have before God shattered my heart? Nope and I would be willing to bet that you wouldn’t have responded so wisely before either. This bold brokeness may appear costly to the fleshly person, but is Heaven on Earth for the Spirit-Led. It is part of our denying self and taking up our crosses and following Jesus out of the city by way of the cross to the hill of death. This puts us on the path of pilgramage to the Celestial City.

    Emotional “revivals” wear off real quick. However, my restoration via a shattered heart has been doing nothing but growing deeper since August 2004. I will never go back to that old blind, fleshly Soul-led Christianity that I was mired in for nearly 20 years. God has circumcised my heart. I can SEE and I have ears to hear. God’s values are mine. All I care about is His glory and the edification of those precious sheep He sends my way.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  11. How gracious is the Lord to have seasoned your faith to serve Him for such a time as this…for His glory and the flock’s good. He is being glorified through your love for the things He loves, my brother…and we are being edified. God bless…

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  12. Mike,
    Have you noticed…there is confession and grieving over sin on this site. This is what the genuine church is about….confessing sin, repentance, and bearing one another’s burden. I rejoice at the work that God is doing in the remnant. Let us genuinely bear one another’s burden…and pray for one another to stand strong and be faithful to the truth. I genuinely appreciate each of you who share from the heart, and let us see the work of God in your lives.

    From one of my mentors…Jack Miller. “Cheer up, you are worse than you think you are. And cheer up the grace of God is deeper and sweeter than you think it is.”

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  13. Thanks bruisedreed,

    I am humbled by how God is pricking hearts and drawing us into repentance. Yes, we are being cleansed. We must pray for God to open the eyes of those all around us who cannot see the truth.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  14. I recently asked The Lord for the “affection of affliction”, that is to say, my desire to have the very heart of Jesus, implores me to cry out to God to place much greater love in me for the things that He loves and a much greater repulsion of the things He despises.

    I have to say that a certain grief comes upon me, that never did before, when I see the Sodom and Gomorah that surrounds us and I hurt deeply for the people swallowed up in sin and I weep for their ignorance of the truth. I know that it is God’s spirit within my heart that allows me to feel even a small portion of what He feels about sin and I know if it were not for His merciful grace, that I would be just as ignorant of truth and just as insensitive to sin, once a partaker of that idolotry, in Christ I am free indeed!

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  15. terrilynn,

    Indeed you are free! Even though we grieve over our sin and the sin of this lost and dying world, we should rejoice because that means we are apprehending the mind of Christ. The sin in the visible Church should break our hearts. They worship a facsimile of God that is man-focused. They treat God like a bellhop. He is the living God and sovereign.

    May we all have affection of affliction.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  16. God is always chastening me and that always causes my flesh to suffer…not as much as it should since I don’t die to self completely all the time like I should. However, I have never really suffered physically or mentally in this life. I lost a family member that I loved but it wasn’t my parents or my siblings. That’s the most I have suffered really. I wouldn’t call myself overly blessed either. I’m an RN and making an average living by His grace, but I don’t have a fancy home etc. Right now I think I’m where I’m suppose to be. God is teaching me every day how to lean on Him…during the good and bad days. I think when I learn that then He will be my stablizer and the waves of life won’t toss me around like they could if He were not my stablizer. I hope I have learned this when persecution does come! I think that was where Job was. God was everything to him so he could go through the valley and the mountain top without rollercoaster emotional effect. He had his eyes on Him and not on him. Thank, Mike!

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  17. Sarah,

    That’s a good point. When we have our eyes on self we eventually stumble, but if we keep our eyes on Christ we don’t. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    I don’t suffer persectuion like our brothers and sisters in countries like Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and China, etc., but I am ridiculed and misrepresented. I am mocked. I am an outcast from my former church for taking a stand against what the pastor wanted to do. That kind of thing, but that isn’t really like being shot or beaten. I’m pretty healthy, but my wife isn’t. My parents are in their 80’s so there are issues there. Just normal life stuff.

    I believe persecution is coming. It will be the real deal. I pray we will be ready.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  18. Mike,
    to be honest I have always been afraid of physical and mental persecution. I know there is NOTHING I can do to physically or mentally prepare myself for that type of pain except to continue to lean my lessons from God now. Only God knows how to prepare for the future and He is doing that very thing in all the small corrections He does in my life. Last night was a very hard night at work for me and I did not learn my lessons well. I don’t know why sometimes I can learn them and cry out for joy when I come through them and then there are times like last night that I refuse the Hand of God. I really don’t understand this.

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  19. Sarah,

    Sounds pretty much like me.🙂

    My son is a Med Student. he is just finishing his 3rd year. Doctors don’t seem to have it as bad as nurses. One of my best friends is a nurse in hospital near where we live. She seems quite stressed sometimes. I understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes, like you, I refuse the Hand of God and suffer. Why? I’m still working on it, but I think that God allows us to do this for His purposes. He is working in us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The fact that it bothers you is a very good thing.🙂

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