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Thoughts on Suffering

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing were happening to you. Rather rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for Christ's sake you are blessed, for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Though they speak evil of Him, He is glorified through you. None of you should suffer as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or busybody in other men's affairs. 16 Yet if any suffer as a Christian, he should not be ashamed--instead, he should praise and give glory to God . For the time has come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if judgment begins with us, what will happen to those that do not obey the gospel of God? If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what shall become of the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore those that suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator, and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12-19, NKJV & NIV)

 Suffering was not present in God's original plan for the world. Genesis 1:31 says, "And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good."

 Suffering came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. After the sin of Adam and Eve was exposed, God pronounced judgment: "To the woman he said, '... in sorrow you shalt bring forth children'... And to Adam he said, Because you listened to ... your wife, and ate of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: the ground is cursed for your sake; in sorrow you will eat [of] it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you ..." (Gen. 3:16-19).

 The suffering of Adam and Eve was a fitting sentence for their crime against God. God always punishes wickedness by returning it on the heads of the wicked. Adam listened to his wife rather than submitting to God's express command -- so now the ground refuses to submit to him. Eve caused her heavenly Father extreme grief--so now her own children grieve her in childbirth. She ate the fruit out of pure selfish desire, so now her children are born selfish and demanding.
The guilty suffer when the trouble they intended to wreak on the innocent falls on their own head. There are many examples of this in the Bible, including Pharoah, Judas, etc. However, the righteous also suffer, and this is the suffering that we will consider now.

Because of sin, obedience to God's commands now intrinsically involves suffering. Originally, God's commands to Adam and Eve to "Subdue the earth" and "Be fruitful and multiply" were blessed and joyful responsibilities. After sin, Adam and Eve still wanted to do these things, because God had built the desire into their basic natures. However, what once was a blessed responsibility became tedious and burdensome because nature has been corrupted.
Paul expresses a parallel truth when he speaks of his heart's desire to obey the law of God and his inability to do so because of the fallenness of his nature. (Romans 7:14-23).
Here is a corollary to this same idea: Suffering is a sign of the resistance of fallen nature to the rule of God. So re-establishing the rule of God in this world necessarily involves suffering.

 Righteous suffering carries within itself the seeds of joy (Ps. 126:5-6, John 16:20-22)--because righteous suffering brings the fulfillment of, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".

The suffering of the righteous is consistent with God's justice in the context of eternal life. If there truly is eternal life, then even a lifetime of suffering is only a passing moment. Suffering can then be compared to the pains of childbirth --a brief moment of agony which is later forgotten because of the subsequent joy in the child who is brought forth. On the other hand, If there is no eternal life, then God is not just -- because the righteous suffer MORE than the unrighteous.

 The suffering of the righteous is the core of the Gospel message. Jesus Christ, the only truly and perfectly righteous person who ever lived, suffered more intensely (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) than anyone else. And this suffering was not just by chance, but rather by His explicit intention. The overriding purpose of His life was to lay the groundwork for His death, through which He opened the way for our reconciliation with God.
Those who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit through Him, so they may have the grace to suffer as He did. We receive the joy of anticipation in the midst of our suffering (Romans 5:2-5, 12:12)-- just like the woman giving birth, or the gardener grubbing in the dirt, or the champion running a race. Our lives will bear fruit which lasts forever--namely, people's spirits will be unbound, enlightened, enabled to attain the potential which God intended for them and which the Accuser attempted to steal from them.

Righteous suffering does not purify us from sin. Only the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (1 John 1:7). Suffering does not gain us access to God nor make us acceptable to Him, for access and acceptance were also purchased by Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19-20, 1 Peter 2:5). We do not become reconciled to God by crucifying our flesh, but rather because His Son was crucified in the flesh for us. Just as Jesus was God's beloved Son before He was crucified, so we to must first become children of God before our flesh is crucified by the power of His Spirit.

 Only those who know God's love have the privilege of suffering for His sake. In the same way, once we enter the bosom of the Father, once we are enveloped in His loving embrace, we ardently desire to suffer for Him. Accomplishing God's work in redeeming the world involves suffering, and God only entrusts His work to those who put their trust Him.

 Godly suffering is more a privilege than a requirement. (Acts 5:41, 2 Tim. 2:12). Most often, God asks us rather than compels us to suffer for His sake. Jesus told a parable of two sons, one who obeyed his father, and the other who didn't (Matthew 21:26-31). The son who didn't obey did not cease being a son -- but it was the obedient son who tasted the joy of his father's approval. Similarly, you may remain God's child without devoting yourself to His work -- but you are missing out on the best part of being a child of God. Suffering for God is the key to a truly joyful Christian life.

Godly suffering, like a medical degree, qualifies us to practice healing. We may comfort others with the same comfort we received in our own affliction (2 Cor. 1:4-7).

 Suffering is extremely brief, but its positive impact is unimaginably great. Jesus was on the Cross for a mere six hours -- but what He accomplished there changes the rest of eternity for all mankind. His crucifixion seems so terrible, but it was momentary, and from it we gain eternal benefits. Just like a woman giving birth goes through horrible pain, but the pain is only momentary, and yields long-lasting benefits. This was the result of the curse -- momentary pain, then long-lasting fruit.

 Jesus didn't suffer throughout His life -- but throughout His life He prepared Himself to suffer. Neither does God call us to suffer for our whole lives. Rather, we should always be preparing ourselves to suffer, so we may embrace the suffering when it comes.

 Practice the suffering of identification. "Remember them that are in bonds , as bound with them; and those which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body." (Heb. 13:2). This Scripture expresses a spiritual principle which has been almost entirely neglected by American Christianity. Observing this principle will shake up your whole life: the afflicted will become silent witnesses who constantly rise up to confront your worldliness. Can you imagine sitting down at a restaurant together with your sickly, starving brother -- you are served a $20 meal, while your brother is handed a bowl of thin soup and a moldy crust. Wouldn't the food kind of stick in your throat? Or imagine paying for a $100 dress at the checkout counter, while your barefooted, ragged sister stands out in the snow, watching you through the window? Or try complaining about your boss and your job to a brother who does hard labor 12 hours a day under constant threat of force?
You might say, "If I did as you suggest, I wouldn't be able to enjoy anything any more." But that's not true. Rather, the suffering of identification is the key to correct priorities, and responsible use of the blessings God has bestowed. Wasteful, frivolous pleasures are cut out, and the enjoyment of the truly good things in life is enhanced:

 Prayer: Lord Jesus, if we suffer with You, we shall reign with You (2 Tim. 2:12). You are our teacher(Matt. 23:8): please teach us how to participate in Your sufferings, to suffer for Your Name's sake. Amen.

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Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999

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