Making sense of our suffering

What has been your most difficult trial in the last couple of years?

Sickness, strained relationships, persecution, isolation, financial difficulties, family problems?

Today, as all through the ages, people have different responses to trials, suffering and hardship.

They may think, “God obviously doesn’t care about me.”

Or, “God has deserted and abandoned me.”

Or, “I must have done something wrong and God is punishing me.”

Or, “Christianity is just a farce.  If God really did love me this would not be happening.”

The Christians, to whom the Apostle Peter wrote the letter we know as “1 Peter”, were also suffering and facing many trials.

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Don’t live in cuckoo-cuckoo land

syriaWe don’t need the Bible to tell us about the reality of suffering and evil, it’s all too common to us.  The Bible says we live in a fallen, broken, scarred world where evil and suffering are prevalent.  In fact, the Bible is the only book in our world that can truly explain why the world is like it is.

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National Geographic and the wisdom of God

goat 1Imagine this terrible scenario: You are lying in a hospital bed being kept alive artificially by plastic tubes in your arm and nose. A killer hurricane has destroyed everything you own and all you’ve worked for – your house, you car and your savings. You family has not survived. You’re hanging on to life. You move through the normal stages of grief, but your prayers are tinged with bitterness, “If only God would visit me and give me some answers. What has happened contradicts everything I know about God. If I would just show up and explain why!”

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The message of Job vs the “prosperity” gospel

large__6790625269 (1)Christians sometimes experience the depths of despair In Job chapters 1-2 Job has lost his livelihood, his business, his employees, his children and has been inflicted with a loathsome, painful, debilitating skin-disease. Yet 3 times in these chapters it says he is blameless. In other words, he is above reproach, a man of integrity and not living in sin. He is also a believer. Blameless believers, who have not fallen into sin, may go through utter dereliction.

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Three lessons from Job

SufferingAs I mentioned in a previous post, one of our dogs died last week. Charlie, a dachshund, slipped a disk and started going paralysed and we had to have him put down. We were devastated. And even though Charlie was only a dog, I found myself asking, “Why did God allow this to happen? Charlie wasn’t a bad dog! Why not cause bad dogs to slip a disk? Why did he do to deserve it? What did we do that God is punishing our dog?”

 Many in our church have suffered greatly, losing loved ones, parents, siblings, friends and even children. We have all seen the suffering caused by disease, death and disaster. Because we are created in the image of God, we instinctively know that there is something wrong with our world and this is not how it’s supposed to be. Perhaps the most common question people have is, “Why does a good God allow suffering and sorrow and slipped disks? Why do bad things happen to good people?”

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What’s lacking in the death of Jesus?

Suffering must be part of normal Christian living.  Any theology or type of Christianity that teaches that Christians should live the victorious life and not suffer is at best unbiblical and at worst extremely dangerous.
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all of life and at times appoints suffering in the lives of his people. 

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering.  He saw suffering as a normal part of Christian living, in fact, he saw suffering as a gift from God.  He wrote in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.  Suffering is a gift that God gives to those found worthy enough to suffer “on behalf of Christ”.

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The irony of Jesus

At Jesus baptism, a voice speaks from heaven and says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:8)  The voice (aka God the Father) echoes Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.  What makes this astounding is the two radically different people these two passages refer to. 

Psalm 2 refers to God’s great anointed King who will rule forever over God’s people and shatter all God’s enemies.  It is a psalm about the enthronement of the godly king and the futility of rebelling against him.

 Isaiah 42 is quite different.  Isaiah 42 introduces us to the suffering servant of God who is crushed and bruised and beaten.  He dies for the sins of others and wounded for others’ transgressions. He is smitten, afflicted and led to the slaughter (see Isaiah 53).

 At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father makes it clear that both the king and the servant are combined in Jesus.  Jesus is God’s king who will rule forever and who will smash his enemies.  Jesus is also the servant who establishes his rule by dying and rising again.  Jesus dies for the sins of others so that others may join him in his kingdom. 

 Many first century people failed to see the irony of Jesus. They failed to see that glory and suffering must go together. Have you understood the irony?