Sunday, January 16, 2022

The redemption of suffering. . .

I remain mystified by the change in medicine when the driving factor became reducing the level of pain.  My wife, the ICU nurse, was there to watch how that question become what defined the treatment of the patient.  Suddenly, and it was overnight, the biggest single indicator of health was the absence of pain and the goal of medicine to relieve suffering.  Some have suggested that this was, perhaps, the genesis of the opioid and pain killer addictions that plagued our nation and still cause so many problems.  I do not know but it seems logical to me.  When suffering is the focus, relief of suffering is the goal, and the means to that end becomes the right treatment.

What happened in microcosm in medicine, happened overall to our culture.  We remain convinced that suffering is always a bad thing and that the goal of this life and the purpose of God is to relieve such suffering.  We are sure that there is no good thing that could come of suffering and there is no purpose in suffering.  It has become our greatest evil.  We are ready to end the lives of the aged or afflicted because we have judged their lives too painful to continue and we wait with great anticipation their own consent that they have become unlivable.  Such is our quest to end suffering that we have decided that death is better than suffering.  It is the same at the other end of life.  No child should be brought into this world unless they are wanted, can expect to have a decent and full life, and are not hindered by physical or mental defect.  We have decided that such suffering is so great that to abort the life before birth is the noblest act of a compassionate humanity.  Suffering is worse than life and death is merciful.  How odd for a Christian society to come to the conclusion that there is no redeeming purpose in suffering when it is suffering that redeemed us!

Even more that this, Christians know that suffering is the ultimate mark of love -- what we are willing to suffer for others is the most profound statement of love.  This we have learned from our Lord.  And this is the suffering that love endures -- husband for wife and wife for husband and parent for child and, eventually, child for parent.  Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friend.  This is Jesus' love for us and it is the mark of our love for Him and for those around us.  Christ has not only redeemed us through suffering but has redeemed suffering for us that we may participate in His suffering.  Oh, what glorious gift.  Or is it?  Have we as Christians refused suffering while still grasping hold of what His suffering won?

If you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:14)  Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... (Philippians 3:10)  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance perseverance, character; and character, hope... (Romans 5:3-4)   Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Jesus warns us of what is to come if we stand with Him and walk in His ways.  Persecution, pain, and even death are the consequences of being Christ's in a world that is His enemy.  His call to take up our cross and follow Him is a call not to avoid suffering but to embrace it.  He insists that we will suffer many things for the sake of His name but not to give up.  Christ has not simply redeemed us by suffering but redeemed us for suffering -- not randomly or without purpose but for the purpose of His glory and to show forth who we are to the world.  Yet too many Christians continue to take the pills of sentiment and self-indulgence -- demanding that God free them from any suffering or pain and holding God responsible for even the suffering and pain we bring upon ourselves.  What kind of shallow Gospel is this?  How dare we call ourselves Christians if we make suffering the test of our devotion!  How foolish we are to insist that God would not want us to suffer, not even to deny our wants and desires for any cause, or to presume that God's job is to relieve us of such suffering!  The reality is that pain is the condition of this world and a life without pain is either an illusion or an addiction which consumes us.  We do not make our peace with suffering but rejoice in it when we suffer for righteousness' sake.  It is our glory in this world to suffer at least briefly before our tears are dried up and our hearts occupied with everlasting joy.  

All of this became even more clear when in a Bible study we discussed the sufferings of our Lord in graphic terms.  It is hard to hear because we don't want to believe that anyone should have to suffer so -- not sinners for their sin and not a Savior who would redeem us from that sin!  But such is the measure of His great love for us that we were redeemed by suffering to suffer with Him as His own in a world that knows Him not.  Start preaching this and watch how many Christians will leave!


gamarquart said...

“How foolish we are to insist that God would not want us to suffer, …”
I am sure you are aware of the definitions of God’s wills. Various theologians speak of God’s sovereign will, His efficacious will, His permissive will, intentional, circumstantial, and ultimate wills.
There is no question that under the Mosaic Law, God caused suffering. He had to. He had made a covenant with the people of Israel, under which He was obligated to reward the people for keeping His Law, and to punish them for breaking it.
The New Covenant proclaims that salvation is entirely a work of God. God has taken on all of the obligations in this covenant, just as he did in the covenant with Abraham.
The New Testament, to the best of my understanding, teaches that God does not cause His people to suffer. The Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, these are the causes of suffering. When suffering does strike us, it does so in accordance with God’s permissive will, which permits evil to exist in this world. When we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven,” this implies that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will.
I suppose I am one of those who, based on my understanding of Scripture, believes that God does not want us to suffer. If our salvation depended on some improvement in our characters in this life, then there would be a point to it. However, because of the suffering and death of our Lord, there is no need for us to suffer in order to inherit eternal life.
He allows us to suffer, just as He allows the whole world to be evil, until He puts an end to it in the return of our Lord. He definitely does not want us to lose faith when we suffer. This is why we are encouraged to take an example from the suffering of our Lord. This is also one of the functions of the Holy Spirit; that is, to strengthen our faith and to comfort us when we suffer.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

gamarquart said...

There is a significant implication to this matter. When tragedy strikes someone, should we tell them that God sent it to them in accord with His will? Although there is never any excuse for turning against God, I know numerous cases where that was the afflicted person’s reaction.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Unknown said...

It is important to understand that nothing comes to us except that it has first passed through the hands of God Who loves us and desires that we be reconciled to Him and restored to a right relationship with Him for the sake of His Son Who suffered bitterly, was crucified, died and rose again and ascended to the Father so that this may occur for us. Perhaps this is what Job understood when he said “Though He slay me yet will I hope in Him [Job 13: 15 – ESV – in KJV stated as “. . .yet will I trust in Him] -- all thing work to thte good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose . . . (Romasn 8: 35 -- ESV)