Posts Tagged ‘NT epistles’

As promised in part I, here are some further reflections on suffering, with a specific eye to some categories.  After having a weekend to think this post over, the word “categories” might overstate my true intentions.  I really have a distinction in mind, since categorically speaking, all suffering is the result of sin, be it mine, yours, or Adam and Eve’s.  One may pigeon-hole the various kinds of suffering that fall under this umbrella any number of ways, but I’m mostly interested in distinctions among them.

The main distinction I wanted to point out in this post was what I might call ordinary suffering and faith-suffering.  Put differently, we could say that all people suffer to some degree; it is the way of our fallen world.  There is also suffering that is a direct result of one’s choice to followed Jesus.  The promised persecution and self-denial that Christianity entails is a special kind of suffering, and it seems to me that is what is most often in view when the NT epistles interact with suffering.   The best known examples are found in James 1 and Hebrews 12.

Here, the suffering is specific to the cost of being a Christian, and the purpose is framed in terms of strengthening one’s faith.  Here again we have an important consideration when praying amidst suffering, which I made in part I: our first priority is for God’s glory.  We oughtn’t be so hasty, then, praying that the persecution of Christians in China should stop.  Rather, like Paul in 2 Thessalonians, our prayer is that those persecuted stand firm, and God is glorified.

This is not meant to even hint that our hearts shouldn’t break for those who suffer for the name or Jesus, or that we have no desire be for their peace and well-being.  My point is that there is a greater good, nay, the greatest good, and that is for God to be glorified, and His Word faithfully proclaimed.  Should we pray for religious persecution to end in China?  Absolutely!  It’s evil and we therefore resist it and wish for its demise.  But, said demise shouldn’t be the only thing for which we pray.

One other very important aspect of suffering worth bringing to the fore is that  properly understood, it can point us to God.  I believe that instinctively, all humankind recognizes that suffering is not the way it’s supposed to be.  Pain is painful because the body is telling us that something is wrong.  Your head shouldn’t hurt like this, your arm oughtn’t be broken.  Something is not the way it’s supposed to be, and demands attention.  The same can be said for emotional suffering.  It hurts to be lied to, to lose somebody special, to be the object of fun, because things aren’t meant to be that way.  Humankind naturally expects good.  Even the liar feels betrayed when s/he is the victim of a lie.  The “bad” news that occupies the bulk of reporting is news because evil and suffering are intrinsically curious; they are out of the ordinary.  “Father Loves His Son” is not a headline; that’s normal.  “Father Abuses His Son” is a headline, because it’s abnormal.

The fact that there is so much suffering in the world points to the fact that something is fundamentally wrong, and humankind’s best efforts have yet to fix it.  For as much as our technical prowess has relieved countless millions from pain, it has equally inflicted pain upon countless more.  Enter the omnipotent, omni-loving God who since the introduction of suffering has stopped at nothing, (sending His Son to be tortured to death inclusive), to restore things to the way they should be.

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