This past Sunday I preached the first of two messages on suffering at our church.Our current American culture struggles at best to explain the reasons for evil, pain and suffering finds itself wanting when it tries to offer any semblance of comfort in the midst of it.
Historically one of the most attractive aspects of Christianity was the witness of Jesus’ Followers in the midst of suffering. Today, however many Believers find themselves just as adrift at sea when it comes to suffering. The loss of a healthy, biblical doctrine of suffering in churches has left Christians just as directionless in the midst the inevitability of pain, loss and affliction in every human life. A robust, gospel centered theology of suffering is essential to the Christian life.
THE REASON FOR SUFFERING
Why? That’s the question isn’t it. Why is there evil, pain and suffering in the world? The current movie adaptation of NOAH, though far from thoroughly biblical, attempts, all be it incompletely, to answer this very question. For a fuller explanation than what I will give here, I’d encourage anyone to pick up the bible and beginning in Genesis 1 simply start reading. Here you’ll find the story of how God created the world, the history of humanity and the reason for what went wrong. Any reader bold enough to continue reading soon sees that the stories of scripture are stories of suffering.
In general we learn in the bible suffering is the result of human sin. God made a good world. A place of perfection. Man; however, rejected Gods law and Gods love, rebelled against our Creator, choosing to worship his creation and so wrecked what was once wonderful and good. Our betrayal resulted in the brokenness we experience all around us.
Particularly suffering is also often the result of our specific personal sins. My pour choices affect myself and others and I cannot not, and should not spend my lift blaming everyone, including God, for my dumb decisions.
Additionally, as Christians, we experience suffering because we have committed to following Christ. If you’re walking in the light you can’t help but encounter resistance from a dark world that seeks to extinguish The Light. Jesus experienced suffering, and we should assume the same.
The bible teaches us two primary truths when it comes to suffering: 1. God is sovereign and in control. We live in this tension of trusting that God knows what’s going on, allows difficulty, and ultimately, for his glory and our good, has an intended purpose in it. 2. God is not only God powerful, he is personal. We do not worship a God who sits above suffering, but entered into it. God himself, took on flesh, was born into darkness, suffered under evil and was ultimately crucified and killed by the hands of sinful man.
Central to the Christian interpretation of suffering is the Cross of Jesus Christ. The why and how of suffering is answered with the Gospel. Jesus’ affliction answers and empowers our own. He endured, he relates and he walks with.
Not only did Jesus suffer, he died. And not only did he die, he rose triumphantly from the grave! In his resurrection he ultimately defeats our enemies of sin, death and the devil. His resurrection offers us power in the midst of pain, joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of suffering. There is a promise in the resurrection that he is indeed making all things new and will one day make all evil and anguish come undone.
The Christian sees all of life through the lens of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. God suffered from us, God suffered for us and God suffered with us. This changes everything.
In my next post I’d like offer up 10 potential reasons God allows suffering into our lives.