Suffering & the Will of God ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Suffering & the Will of God

What exactly happens when you “go out on a limb” and the bad thing happens instead of the good one? Does the limb snap? Do you slip and fall? Do people look up and see you, and laugh? I’ve never heard the “go out on a limb” scenario filled out.

Anyway, I “went out on a limb” earlier this week with my Second-Class Suffering post, and it looks like I may have gotten stuck out here. Or scraped my knee on the bark or something. Except for Dustin, I’m in this tree alone. But we’re starting a campfire and we’re going to roast some marshmallows. Hey wait, this just in: Andrew has shimmied up the tree as well, and now the bonfire has marshmallows and beer. But, as I was saying -

Whatever happens the the creaking limb beneath us, we’re going to take a swing at the Suffering Question.

In Second-Class Suffering, I pointed out that the Bible recognized a category of suffering that has huge rewards connected with it, namely, suffering for Christ’s sake. Over the last two thousand years, the pattern has changed little: believers in Jesus can generally expect to be slandered, abused, outlawed, and killed.

In light of this, I posed my own question:

Say that I love Christ, and want to obey him as much as is possible on earth—but my life doesn’t seem to amount to much. I haven’t been given the chance to achieve anything glorious for Jesus. I haven’t started a hospital or led a crusade or become a missionary or written a book. But my life still sucks.

That is, I’ve had my share of disappointments, sickness, death and loss. I don’t see my life as a shining triumph because I’m taking the hits, but they aren’t overtly
for Christ—and in the meantime I’m just getting by. So what should I conclude?

Sometimes we Christians in the West are led to believe that we are weenie-Christians because no one is trying to kill us. And maybe we are. However, I’m convinced that the presence or absence of people with guns is not the defining factor in whether our faith is strong and our suffering is meaningful.

I don’t want to take away from the glory that God promises those who suffer physically and die. Revelation 2:10 is pretty clear-cut on this point.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Jesus affirmed with his own words the fact that those who die because of their love for him will have a special reward. Those of us who live in the West today, however, can be glad that an absence of anti-Christ brutality does not denature our experiences of pain and sorrow.
If we think about this carefully, we’ll see why this is the case. Consider 1 Peter 4:19, for example, which implies that there is not an elitism of suffering within the Christian life.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Peter speaks of this additional “category” of suffering—“those who suffer according to God’s will”—and while this certainly includes those who are persecuted and killed, it is not limited to them. Why? Because anyone who is walking closely with Jesus is wonderfully enabled to “suffer according to God’s will.”

This is because being killed is not the great redeeming factor. Nor is taking physical abuse. It is possible to suffer and die as a Christian without giving glory to God “according to his will.”

What then is the defining element in our suffering that flips the switch from mere pain to meaningful endurance? Mere biting of the lip to storing up glory? Biblically, the answer is obedience. Those who obey God, walking closely with Christ, are the ones who will also suffer for Christ’s sake—and enjoy the rewards thereof.

I have a very small chance of being gunned down in Kansas City for my faith in Christ. But if I suffer the insults, disappointments, and ailments of daily living in a way that is ultimately submissive to God, and indicative of his greatness, then I don’t need to feel that my suffering is inferior to that of my bleeding brothers and sisters.

Therefore, I can claim these verses from Paul as mine, and savor their implications:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

For anyone who loves Christ, but is leading a fairly uneventful life, this is welcome news.

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Andrew Simone said...

I like your articulation, it is broad enough without the "why" or "why not me?" questions.

In fact, you teased out something I couldn't put my finger on; there is no calculus to determine what makes one suffering worse/better than another. There is no use comparing belly-aches.

Your answer is great Ariel, obedience in the face of suffering is suffering for Christ's sake. And this suffering should not be quantified, codified --as if it could.

Dustin said...

Even though I traveled a different road in my post, which I still stand by, I did find your post very thought provoking. When pondering the question you posed, the first thoughts to come to mind were of how often we, within American Christianity, decry that our rights are being violated or that some horrible atrocity has been visited upon us. Yet, I find this to be a bit patronizing and disingenuous in the face of the worldly circumstances of others within the body of Christ.

However, you are true in that suffering is not about "degrees," and maybe I focused a bit too much on that aspect. It is about obedience, because if there is no obedience than suffering is meaningless and can really truly have no explanation.

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!

Matt Coff said...

Noooo 61727 way!


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife