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Behind the Frowning Providence: Part 1 There are Dark Providences

Posted Sep 13 2008 11:49pm

I was re-reading portion of a small but very encouraging booklet entitled "Behind a Frowning Providence" by Mr John J Murray a retired minister and thought I will share some encouraging portions with you over the next few posts.

For you and I who suffer great pains and misery due to our depression or bipolar or other infirmities, it is sometimes hard to reconcile our understanding of what a blessed Christian life should be like with the sufferings that we have to go through or that of our loved ones. It is sometimes difficult to understand why a loving God will allow His children to go through such pains and sufferings. Other Christians may accuse us of a lack of faith and trust in God. We sometimes wonder whether we are truly a Christian and if we are, why are we going through so much troubles and pains and sufferings.

The truth is our sufferings or pains does not contradict what the Scriptures tell us of who God is, the fallen nature we have inherited through Adam's sins in the garden of Eden, what our Lord Jesus Christ has done on the cross to redeem us from, and the rich and blessed life we have in Christ when we trusted in Him as our Saviour despite the pains, suffering or dark providences we are going through even after we have become a Christian. These are paradoxes.

How can we justify the ways of God with us? As hard as it may be for us to understand some of these things, a careful study of Scriptures and understanding of the wonderful work of God in providence will unfold a new light in our darkness and a new perspective in our checkered life.

Mr Murray noted that one of the best known hymns is William Cowper's "God moves is a mysterious way, His wonder to perform". Cowper was subject to melancholy (depression) and knew more about the darker side of Christian experience than the brighter. It was out of heart-felt experience that he composed his hymn and presented in it so many precious gems of truth such as the oft-quoted lines,

Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

What is meant by a "frowning providence"? Is this something that we are to expect in the Christian life? If so, how do we cope with it?

Mr Murray said when adversity comes into our lives we tend to react in one of two ways. We may say that it happens beyond God's control and God has no power to stop it; or we may say it is an evidence of God's anger against us. Either way we are guilty of casting aspersions on the character of our Father and consequently of perverting our attitude of Him.

Thomas Boston, a minister who went through severe trials in his ministry and domestic life, due to a mentally-ill wife said:

"A just (right) view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment (demeanor) under them. That view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the Word alone that represents them justly, discerning in them the work of God, and consequently designs becoming the Divine perfections."

The Christian, although he is justified, remains a sinner in the midst of a fallen world. He is subject to "all the ills that flesh is heir to" ( my note: I think this includes clinical depression, bipolar, asthma, diabetes, other sicknesses, disappointments, etc etc and death ). Some of the consequences of his past sins affect his life. He is the subject of the discipline of His Heavenly Father. Satan concentrates his attack on him. His sufferings are compounded because he is a Christian. "In the world", our Lord warns His disciples, "you will have tribulation." (John 16:33)

The Bible leaves us with no doubt that suffering is a normal part of the true Christian life. Hebrews chapter 11 portrays the suffering witnesses of the Old Testament. The New Testament presents us with our great Example (our Lord Jesus Christ) who was "made perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10), and also with the many followers who "became partakers" in His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). The whole emphasis in the teaching of the early church was on "rejoicing in the midst of sufferings." It is "through much tribulation" that we enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22).

Sadly, this understanding of the possibilities of Christian sufferings is far removed from the outlook that prevails in large parts of the Church today. The impression is given that the purpose of the Christian life is enjoyment. Everything that stands in the way of that is to be eliminated. People are looking for a problem-free Christianity. The health, wealth and success gospel is having a field today. Purveyors of such a gospel look the part. Unfortunately, the hollowness of such views became apparent when suffering, sorrow or disappointment comes. Then it becomes clear that we need a faith that is grounded in God's Word.

Over the next few posts I hope to share with you excerpts from Mr Murray's messages on Behind the Frowning Providences under the following headings:

2. God's Work in us through Depression, Bipolar and other Disabilities or Sufferings (God's Designs in Dark Providences )

3. Our Comfort in Dark Providences.


Personally, for me, understanding that all things are under God's controls including my depressions and bipolar, and that God is working my pains and sufferings for His glory, my good and that of His people, brings me great comfort. My bipolar, depression or any other sufferings or trials, are not an end in themselves. God can certainly heal and deliver me. But if He doesn't do it, He has good purposes in them. I may not fully understand or see things as clearly as He does. But understanding a little better why He allows Frowning Providences in my life, enable me to look beyond my pains and sufferings to the higher purposes that God has allowed them in my life. Then these become means to eternal spiritual benefits for me and other fellow Christians.

Understanding that my depression or manic are due to bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) and it is a medical condition that can be treated brings comfort and prevents unnecessary guilts. Others who do not understand may accuse me of lack of faith in God or my being weak or emotional. But I know that God in His sovereignty has allowed me to have this medical condition for my eternal good. Through this condition, I have been brought to a closer walk with God and I have been able to serve God by comforting others who are suffering.

God's love and His Words give me great strength and comfort as I travel this checkered road to the celestial city with many ups and downs due to depression, bipolar and other challenges. God has never promised me a life without thorns or difficulties but He has promised me unchanging love (Jeremiah 31:3), sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) and eternal life (John 3:16). He promised that He is working all things for my good even when I don't understand it (Romans 8:28). I have found God to be faithful and I can look back at how He has and is working all things for my good and for His glory. These brings me great consolations and give me courage to face each day.

If you are a Christian and you are suffering from depression now, and you are not able to feel God's presence with you nor find comfort from God's Words, do know that it is because of the chemical imbalance in your brain that is causing you not to be able to think or feel aright. Clinical depression and bipolar depression are medical condition that needs to be treated with medical and other helps. Once the chemical imbalance in your brain is restored, you will be able to enjoy God's presence with you and find comfort from His Words again. I highly recommend 6 very encouraging sermons by Dr David P Murray on " Depression and the Christian" as it will help to dispel some of the myths regarding depression and the Christian and give you a more biblical view on your current sufferings due to depression. Especially, it will prevent the dangerous and damaging misunderstanding which often leads people, especially Christians, to view medication as a rejection of God and His grace, rather than a provision of God and His grace. I hope you will seek medical and other appropriate help, so that you can be more functional and able to enjoy God, His Words, your family, your church, work, etc etc.

God's love and sovereignty is a Christian's greatest comfort admist the ups and downs through all the changing scenes of life. We may not always understand why God allows us to go through certain things, but we have no doubt at all of His love and care upon us. He Who gave His Son to die on the cross for us, will do so much more to keep us.

Thanks for stopping by. Do drop me a note, if you can, to let me know how the above excerpts has helped you. Or how has God's Words bring comfort to you in your sufferings? How has the knowledge, that God loves you and He is sovereign, strengthen you in your darkest moments?

Hope you have a blessed day!

God moves in a mysterious way
by William Cowper

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.


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