Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is Their A Place For Suffering?

The Western Church has a hard time with the concept of suffering, yet it is a natural character of a Christian. I am not referring to the miserable suffering that produces nothing but agony and complaints. That is what some of us have turned God's great intention into, an excuse to complain. We turn something beautiful into something ugly. Yet, God has used suffering for a long time to produce great things.

I am sure that Jonah considered his time in the belly of the fish to be suffering. Forty years wondering around in the desert would also fall in the column of suffering. There are lots of examples in the Hebrew Scriptures but we have plenty of examples in the New Testament as well. Obviously Jesus' beating and crucifixion would be placed in the category of suffering. So would the beating of the disciples, the stoning of Stephen, the great persecution of the Church, and Paul's many trials. But consider what God developed out of all of this, especially the cross.

I like the example of the 40 years in the desert simply because many of us can relate to it. For forty years God cut his people off from anything that would make them independent. He used this time to get rid of the bad seeds in this people he had called out as a nation. He made them completely dependent on him for food and water. He taught them obedience by moving them around; when he moved they moved. When they finally emerged from the desert they had become a strong nation in every sense; strong enough to move into the promised land. There was never another generation of Israelites that could compare to this valiant generation. There is always purpose in the "valley of the shadow of death" that God leads us through. Sometimes it is for our benefit and other times for the benefit of others.

Paul realized that much of what he went through was for the benefit of others:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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)

Paul recognized that the great suffering he and his comrades went through was for the purpose of the Church. Not many will suffer for the Body today. Not many will risk jail for preaching on the streets. Not many will turn their "castles" into hospitality centres  to invite people in and be generous with their supply. Not many will go the extra mile or give the shirt off their back to demonstrate the love of Jesus. But some do. Some give up their comforts of home, the joy of watching television or playing mindless games on FaceBook, to bring the Word to the streets and coffee shops of the city. They face rejection, beatings, and scorn.

There is also the suffering Church in many parts of the world, where being a Christian has a death sentence. There are many places where pastors risk jail or beatings or death for preaching the good news. There are many who would run from these great injustices but the ministers of the gospel must stand where God has placed them. They must face those beatings as others have done before them and they must even face death as others have done, to serve the Body and to present Jesus. We must do it with the same joy we see expressed in Paul because we know that something is being produced from these sacrifices that God has directed.

There are different kinds of suffering, most caused by the foolishness of our own actions. But I refer to a different type of suffering, one directed by God for his greater purpose and one we will understand and accept if we have the intimacy of friendship that we are suppose to have with God. God has never asked us to suffer blindly or needlessly but when we are intimate with him we know the mind of Christ, the will of God and we are able to walk in those shoes. Ours is always a relationship of trust with God, a place of dependence and even more so in times of suffering.

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