Obedience to the King

I came across this article via a Facebook share a few weeks ago and have been debating ever since whether or not to comment on it.  

On the one hand I sympathize with what I think the author is trying to do.  He properly takes issue with well-intentioned people who seek to dispel the suffering of others with glib Christian mantras.  How often we are tempted (and succumb!) to the temptation to try and rid ourselves of the pain of watching someone else suffer by trying to get them to quit suffering.  How easily we say things that ultimately seek to serve our own discomfort and provide no comfort to the recipient!  
On the other hand, I don’t think that the author is completely correct, either.
He is correct in that this particular phrase isn’t Biblical.  The closest we get is 1 Corinthians 10:13, and it doesn’t deal with suffering but rather temptation.  But I believe that this verse can be very helpful in reminding us of our proper relationship to the Creator of the Universe, our Lord and Savior, and the Holy Spirit of God which dwells within the Christian.  
Suffering has become the great bogeyman of our age.  In an era defined (at least in Western civilization) by unprecedented leisure and comfort and quality of life for more people than ever, suffering has become the one thing we will not countenance.  There is a battery of means to deal with the reality of suffering.  Therapists, pills and prescriptions, relaxation techniques, the list is staggering.  Suffering is real, suffering really hurts, and we have an amazing array of options for dealing with it.
(I’ll say at this point that I have no issue with any of these particular tools in theory, and that each of them might be not only beneficial but advisable to the Christian in the midst of suffering, depending on circumstances.  I will also say that I don’t believe that any of these tools singularly or in combination are ultimately the solution to suffering – that solution is only found in Jesus Christ, and that solution does not necessarily mean the cessation of suffering, but rather a transformation of how suffering is endured)  
To the point where if we suffer, we are convinced that we do so alone, that we do so without purpose, and ultimately that we cannot endure it.  When all other options have failed, then we increasingly demand the right to end our own suffering or the suffering of a loved one through euthanasia. 
This is dark, dangerous territory.  
Pop Christianity doesn’t help this predicament with constant depictions of a victorious life in Christ free of suffering and inconvenience, replete with physical health and wealth and constant happiness (not just joy).  Despite a clear Biblical depiction of the life of faith as one that often involves great suffering, pop Christianity focuses only on the figures and incidents in Scripture that support their skewed definition of victory.  The net result is that Christians, who of all people should understand the reality and likelihood of suffering (because we have a real and terrible enemy!), are some of the least prepared and equipped.  In the name of compassion and love and even Jesus, these people mistakenly embrace ways and means of eliminating or avoiding suffering.  
As the author points out, there is suffering throughout Scripture, and plenty of times where the author either poetically or truly feels as though the suffering is beyond their ability to bear.  Yet in every instance he lists, the person did bear up under it.  Did endure through it.  And this is what I fear is missing in the author’s article.  I fear that in justifying a reality – that suffering at times feels unbearable, as though we can’t go on – he is justifying (inadvertently, perhaps) the most serious of options for alleviating it – euthanasia or suicide.  However:
  • Paul survived the tribulations he is describing, and speaks of them in the past tense (even though his sufferings continue in a different vein).
  • The psalmist survived to write this psalm (and this is without a doubt far more poetic than necessarily descriptive of a particular person’s struggle – which is fine, because it describes real emotions and states of mind).
  • Jesus survives the very abandonment of God (something no other human being need face in Christ, now).  He survives to carry out his mission of dying for humanity.  
Each of the individuals the author cites clearly felt as though they could not go on.  Yet each of them did.  One of the most important things we can know about ourselves via Scripture is that our assessment of a given situation if flawed and limited.  We cannot see beyond the pain, beyond the terror, beyond the hopelessness of a given moment.  Not on our own.  For that, we must have a reason to believe that the pain, the terror, the suffering, the hopelessness is not the end, that an alternative is not only likely, but promised.
This is precisely what Scripture gives us.
Yes, it assures us of the presence of God.  But it also assures us that because of the supremacy of God (Genesis 1 & 2!), because God is the author of all things, if He assures us of victory through faith in the atoning death and resurrection of his incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth, then we can believe him.  The God who created the cosmos and raised Jesus from the dead as evidence of his promises can be trusted – nothing can thwart his plans!  
As such, for the Christian, suffering takes on a new dimension.  It is not only hurtful and awful and something we want to go away (and are invited to pray as such!).  It is also formative.  The power and presence of God transforms even suffering into an opportunity – both actively and passively – for us to be transformed by the power of God the Holy Spirit within us.  Romans 5:1-11 is imperative here.  
I’m particularly troubled by the next-to-last paragraph of the article.  True – God does not actively create evil, and a great deal of suffering is created by our sinfulness and the sinful nature of the people and world around us.  But God is not absent here, either.  In all things God remains sovereign – nothing happens without his permission, even if we cannot rightly attribute something actively to his hand – so if you want to trace the rabbit hole down far enough, you can’t simply lay suffering at the hands of evil and sin.  You have to lay suffering at the feet of the God  who allows suffering to continue.  Satan and evil only continue to plague us because God allows it.  
Which means either God is a sadist or God has a plan.  And Scripture makes it clear that God has a plan.  A plan He is working out from within creation, a plan that promises to reconcile creation from the inside out by his redemptive power.  A plan that culminates with his invasion into creation in the form of an baby who is also the eternal second person of the Trinity, the Son of God.  A plan that works itself out not in glory and power but in weakness and humility, to the point that God the Son willingly offers himself to suffering.  Physical.  Emotional.  Spiritual.  Sufferin
g that leads to death.  And in and through that death, God explodes and destroys the power of death.  The power of sin.  The power of suffering.  And the power of Satan who fosters all of these things.  A plan that we are incorporated into, we are a part of.  A plan that will be brought to conclusion in God’s timing, not ours.  
The whole point of Scripture is that God is working out his plan for not simply a response to suffering, but it’s eradication, until  even the memory of suffering is gone for those in Christ.  
So while God may not have planned your particular suffering, while He may not have intentionally pointed at you and said You, yes you, I’m personally going to see to it that you suffer, still God has allowed your suffering.  He will not abandon you in it.  Which means that yes, you may feel that you cannot bear any more.  But if we rest in his hands, He will carry us through it.  He will do what we cannot, if we will resist the urge to take matters into our own hands.  If we refuse to believe the lies of our own experience and trust to the author of all creation.  
Both as suffering Christians and the community of Christian faith around such suffering, it is our privilege and duty to support one another so that this testimony of faith can be lived out.  So that hope prevails, not despair.  This not easy.  It is not fun.  It is not glib.  But it is faithful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s