If you like your religious faith shallow and thought-out for you without you being required to use your brain for any aspect–in other words, you require a manmade religion–you’re not going to hang around in church long.
The Christian faith is a lot of things, but shallow and neatly systematic it is not. Rather, it’s historical and complex and true. It is true-to-life. And it has been revealed to us in such a way that we are required to put our thinking caps on and engage the brain in order to appreciate what we have been given and how it all fits together.
Take suffering, for example.
A recent critic of the Christian faith–these Christopher Hitchens and Bishop James Pikes have always been with us, so don’t let the latest “smarter than God” genius upset you–says the fatal flaw to our theology is suffering. We’re told that the Bible does not adequately answer the question of suffering and pain in the world.
You read that and shake your head. Scores of books from Christian writers pour off the press every year dealing with just that subject, particularly after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.
But even if we ignore those books, we’re faced by the fact that the Bible deals with suffering from one end to the other. It’s almost correct to say that human suffering is “the” constant theme of the Bible, it’s so prevalent throughout.
The history of Jews is a story of suffering. The Book of Job is devoted entirely to this subject. The sermons of Jesus are saturated with examples and instructions concerning suffering. His very life and death illustrate the subject better than any textbook. That’s why, when comforting the Lord’s harassed people, Peter thought of just that.
The Apostle Peter writes to suffering believers,
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth,
“And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you have been healed;
“For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (I Peter 2:21-25)
If we had nothing else in the Bible on the subject of suffering than this single passage, we could conclude several things:
–suffering is the lot of God’s Best in this world
–there is a right way and a wrong way to bear up in suffering
–we are to emulate Jesus. One of the many reasons Jesus was allowed to suffer in this world was to provide us with a pattern, an example. Here’s how it’s done.
–God always has His purposes for the suffering of His beloved.
–Our task when suffering is to commit ourselves to Him, trusting that He will “judge righteously.”
C. S. Lewis called it “pain.” The Scripture generally calls it “suffering” or “tribulation.” We experience it as “conflict.”
It’s no fun, I’ll tell you that.
But when done right, our suffering/pain/conflict can produce marvelous results. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus….who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame….” (Hebrews 12:2) See that? There was joy on the other side of the cross. To get there, He “endured.”
I’ve made a little list of what believers may expect regarding pain and suffering and conflict in this life. See what you think.
1) It will come. “Through many tribulations we enter the kingdom,” the first generation of believers told the second. (Acts 14:22).
Before Jesus walked out into the night to face the appointment with His executioners, the last words to His followers were these: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
2) It will come when you least expect it.
3) It will come in unexpected ways.
4) It will come when you are tired and thus weak.
5) Many of the faithful will not recognize the suffering for what it is.
6) Some of the Lord’s best will even deny that it exists.
7) Left untreated and unaddressed, this conflict/opposition/suffering will wound the congregation severely.
8) Treated properly and promptly, the suffering will honor Christ, strengthen the faithful, stun the enemy, and impress the watching world.
9) God will be there.
10) All the resources of Heaven are on call at this point.
As Stephen was being stoned to death, he “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…” (Acts 7:55). Heaven was intensely interested in what was happening at that moment.
11) You may not “feel” the Lord’s presence. Or you may. Christians have to learn to operate either way. Feelings are a poor barometer of the Lord’s nearness.
12) The world is watching. This could be your finest witness ever.
“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Pet. 2:12).
Notice the reaction of the non-Christians to the conflict in the Jerusalem church once the congregation handled it well. (Acts 6:7) They were watching, taking note, greatly impressed, and wanted a part of what the believers were experiencing.
13) The church’s mission is at risk.
When the Jerusalem congregation was threatened by conflict, the disciples said to the congregation, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables….” (Acts 6:2). They stayed the course.
14) Scripture will show the believer how to get through it.
15) The best peace-makers are believers who hate conflict with a passion and treasure unity. (See Ephesians 4:3)
16) Suffering is in the DNA of believers. “You have been called for this purpose.” We do not want to suffer; we do not enjoy it; we will not volunteer for it. Yet, it’s the result of the nature of our task: to swim upstream in a down-stream world.
Those who never experience conflict or suffering for Christ in this life may find they have become too comfortable with the down-stream culture around them.
17) The one thing God does not expect is believers to belly-ache about the suffering they are enduring; the one prayer we should not expect to be answered is “Why me, Lord?” Did we think we were special, better than all the preceding generations of believers.
18) Suffering comes in all varieties. The single kind we are not allowed and can get no comfort from is the pain associated with our wrong-doing.
“For what credit is there if when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (I Peter 2:19).
Too few of God’s wayward children get this. In my city, the feds will arrest a corrupt official and a jury will convict him/her. Immediately, the felon protests that he/she is entitled to claim the blessings of heaven for those who endure hardship. It is true, thankfully, that God forgives the repenting sinner and thereafter will go through the hardship with the believer. It is not true, however, that all suffering in this world is sanctified or redemptive. So much is needless and shameful and pointless.
19) When suffering for Christ’s sake, there is a sense in which we share His suffering. This is when we may experience what Paul called “the fellowship of His suffering” (Philippians 3:10). We may count on His nearness, Heaven’s resources, God’s purposes, our vindication, and a redemptive outcome.
If we are faithful. Everything hinges on this.
20) God will not waste our suffering. When we emerge on the other side of this storm, we have been changed and are stronger. We see more clearly now. “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Soon, we begin to see God is using us in ways that had not been the case. We’re able to help people who would not have turned to us before.
You and I are this way. When in trouble, we do not run to one who has never known sorrow. Instead, we seek out the one who has known failure and heartache and has gotten to his feet and is still on the job. This is the one who will understand and can counsel us.
I know so little about suffering for Jesus, I ought to be ashamed for writing anything on the subject.
On the pain of child-bearing, I was telling my 8-year-old granddaughter that it’s something women just get through and afterwards, with the beautiful child in their arms, they decide it was worth the trouble. She wasn’t buying that. With all the wisdom of her eight years, Abby said,”You’re a man; what do you know?”
I had to confess I did not know anything, that everything I “knew” on the subject was hearsay from my wife and mother and daughters.
Abby’s question pertains to most all of suffering in this life. What do I know? Not much.
I do know that our Lord Jesus laid down a pattern for us. We do well to study this I Peter passage and to make its insights a part of the tissue and fabric of our lives.
And I know that the times of my greatest pain and struggles in this life were when the Lord was nearest, His peace was sweetest, and my sight was clearer than it had ever been.
No one would volunteer to hurt. But when it’s inevitable, my friend, offer it up to the Savior and stay close to Him. You have just been granted a special blessing of Heaven.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed” (Romans 8:18).
“So, they went on their way from the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” (James 1:2-3).
The world will always consider this the fatal flaw–the Achilles’ heel–of the Christian faith, so we must not let that unsettle us.
As with everything else about the Kingdom of God, they just don’t get it.
Thank you for this commentary. I do suffer a lot I don’t know why I’m still here. What or who my purpose is I certainly don’t feel like I’m a good Christian. I try to witness to my lost friend but I feel like a failure. I won’t lie or make my life more rosy than it is and it’s not at all. I often am bashful about sharing the Gospel. I have but not with everyone I meet. I wonder what kind of example I am but I guess some see me from a distance and have been in awe of how I keeping fighting to live each day the best I can and failing greatly to be any example. My brother has said if he was living my life he would have killed himself o think a lot of people would say that my body seems cursed. Tremendous burden. Keep encouraging people we that have much pain. I know there is much darkness I once landed in a website or chat I’m not sure what to call it or even how to get back to it. I tried to bring light but it was a place of too much darkness I prayed for the people on there and stopped engaging it as it was starting to drag me down. Life is just so lonely and hard for some though the Lord has always been good to me provided my needs and more are times. I’m certainly blessed compared to much of the world! To be poor in America is to be rich.
Tracy, I am deeply saddened by your words but more so by the words of your brother! I repent of behalf of those who have spoken word curses over you (including yourself) and break off any lies and any agreements with the enemy by the blood of Jesus that would allow any spirits of infirmity, deception, death, suicide, oppression, depression, failure or anything else that would oppose Christ to operate in your body and in your life. Bind up those demonic spirits, Lord and send them to a place assigned by Jesus. We loosen the Holy Spirit and truth into every void. We close all doors that would give access to any unclean spirit and seal them with the blood of Jesus. We thank you that this is done in Jesus mighty name. Amen.
I hope you will read this Tracy. But, if you never see it I am believing that God will still touch you and set you free this very day!