Category Archives: suffering
Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.
We’re now working our way through 2 Corinthians and we’re in Chapter Four:
Suffering?! What Suffering? (A Study of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
What is “this treasure” (v. 7) to which Paul refers? The passage is clear. It is: “The word of God” (v. 2), “our gospel” (v. 3), “the light of the gospel” (v. 4), “we preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5), “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (v. 6). But being “jars of clay” which contain this treasure comes with a cost — suffering!
I. The Descriptions of Paul’s Suffering (vv. 8-11)
>>> “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”
III. The Benefit of Paul’s Suffering (v. 12)
>>> “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (v. 12)
Today’s Challenge: In a real sense, we believers are walking dead men. We carry with us the death of Christ who can become LIFE to those who believe. How in the world could we think that such a ministry would be accomplished with no suffering attached to it?! Count yourself privileged today to suffer . . . for Him!
“A needle in my eye?!! You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“No,” said the specialist. “You have the beginning of macular degeneration in your right eye.”
“So what does that mean, Doc?”
“It means that there are small capillaries developing in your eye that are leaking blood. Wet macular degeneration is a chronic eye disorder that causes blurred vision or a blind spot in your visual field. It’s generally caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the macula (MAK-u-luh). The macula is in the part of the retina responsible for central vision.”
“So, what’s the treatment?”, I asked.
“We give you an injection every four to eight weeks directly into your eye.”
And he did. As you can imagine, the first injection was terrifying, but they numbed my eye and all I felt was a bit of “pressure.” The injections are working and I won’t need another one for about three months.
Now whenever my wife and I talk about an unpleasant situation and we say, “Just stab me in the eye,” it takes on a whole new meaning.
Temporary suffering will keep me from losing my vision in my right eye.
We are thinking about the challenge to FOCUS our eyes on Jesus. And there are distractions that keep us from doing so. Distractions from the world, ourselves, and our archenemy, the devil.
Let’s think this morning (and in a later second post) about a major source which can blind us in our keeping our eyes on Jesus — suffering. In his excellent book, Why a Suffering World Makes Sense, Chris Tiegreen helps us who suffer from a poor view of suffering.
The blurb for Tiegreen’s book is helpful: “Did you know that the number one objection among skeptics and the number one reason for doubt among believers is the problem of suffering? Why did an all-powerful, all-loving God create a world that he knew was destined to fall? What’s in it for him? Why does he let us struggle? Christians and skeptics alike share these concerns. This unique book reveals that there is a point to suffering–and it isn’t about us, our pain, or our confusion. Though they are hard to bear, pain and suffering make sense when we consider what they reveal about God–his mercy, forgiveness, and healing can only be known in an imperfect world. Filling a void in Christian literature, Why a Suffering World Makes Sense encourages readers to let God’s hidden attributes be revealed in their pain, thereby helping them unravel the mystery of who God really is.”
In a sense, there are two kinds of suffering — self-inflicted suffering and suffering given to us by outside forces (Satan, God, the world). This morning let’s think about self-inflicted suffering. Is it not the case that much of our pain in life is caused by . . . ourselves? We overeat, we choose to worry, we take unnecessary risks, we perpetuate conflicts with others, we live with unconfessed sin, we determine not to forgive those who have offended us . . . you get the picture. We cause much of our own suffering. And these choices cause us to focus on our pain and not on the Savior.
If you are experiencing pain right now, may I ask you — Is it self-inflicted? Would you pray with me? “Lord, this pain that I’ve caused myself — would you let it direct my attention to you? I need Your help, Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The godly Archbishop William Temple once observed that people say there cannot be a God of love: “. . . because if there was, and he looked upon the world, his heart would break.” The church points to the Cross and says, ‘It did break.’”
“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time, after a while I have had to look away. And in imagination I have turned instead to the lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ)
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #17): Chapter 16- “Jesus’ Death”
Chapter 16 of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? is subtitled What about Suffering? Thielen gives several stories to illustrate both the problem of suffering and the fact that God is with us, in the midst of our suffering.
Our questions of “Why?” do not have a final answer — unless we look at our “crucified God” on the cross. He enters into our suffering. There are various sources of our suffering — human sin, the laws of nature, God’s allowing suffering, the possibility of demonic forces producing pain and suffering.
To the question “Where is God When It Hurts?”, Thielen says He is right smack in the middle of our pain. And Christianity is a religion of the cross. “The cross is the center of our faith.”
MY RESPONSE: C.S. Lewis said that “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world!” As someone who was a cheerleader in college, I learned a very valuable lesson: don’t stand next to the girl with the megaphone! We need the loudness of suffering to wake us up from the myths that life is safe, that good people deserve good things, that all is right with the world. Although there is much to be thankful for in this world (“This is my Father’s world”), much is WRONG with this world. And suffering can fix our eyes on God instead of the goodness we think we deserve.
Thielen is right to point to the Lord Jesus on the cross as proof that God is with us in our suffering. I wish he had said something about WHY Jesus died. But perhaps that will come in a later chapter. Might I suggest that as we listen to the stories of our non-Christian friends and neighbors who tell us of their suffering, we should be ready to pray for them. And when the occasion is right, to point out that suffering has a way of drawing our minds toward God and the things of God.
81 My soul faints with longing for your salvation,
but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail, looking for your promise;
I say, “When will you comfort me?”
83 Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,
I do not forget your decrees.
84 How long must your servant wait?
When will you punish my persecutors?
85 The arrogant dig pits to trap me,
contrary to your law.
86 All your commands are trustworthy;
help me, for I am being persecuted without cause.
87 They almost wiped me from the earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your unfailing love preserve my life,
that I may obey the statutes of your mouth.
“Frankly, I do not know who started the idea that if men serve God and live their lives to please him then he will protect them by special intervention from pain, suffering, misfortune, and the persecution of evil men. We need look no further than the recorded life of Jesus Christ himself to see that even the most perfect human life does not secure such divine protection. It seems to me that a great deal of misunderstanding and mental suffering could be avoided if this erroneous idea were exposed and abandoned. . . . The idea that if a man pleases God then God will especially shield him, belongs to the dim twilight of religion and not to Christianity at all.” (J.B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary)
Here is the sermon I preached a month or so ago. Comments welcome!
We’ve seen a bunch of principles from the book of Hebrews on the topic of suffering. I got to preach the final message in the series. (If you wish, you can access that message here):
I’ve been challenged by the principle that the Lord Jesus suffered the worst life can bring — Death! (2:9). How dare I ever feel that Jesus can’t understand my suffering? We’ve seen that God used suffering to perfect the Pioneer of our salvation (2:10), so how dare I resist His using suffering to perfect me? In principle #3 we saw that remembering our suffering brings believers together to support and encourage each other. How dare I waste my suffering by forgetting the past or by not standing with those suffering in the present?
We also saw the principle that experiencing loss focuses our longing on the next life’s better and lasting possessions! (10:34). “How dare I allow myself to be captivated by this world’s stuff?!” A fifth principle was that suffering loss in this world should not dampen our confidence in the rich rewards of the next world! (10:35). The question we asked ourselves was: How dare I act like a pagan and give all my attention to
this world and its things?! In our last post we saw the principle that Persevering in this life and doing the will of God will bring the pleasure of God and full salvation! (10:36-39). How dare I give up, shrink back, and not live by faith in the One coming back for me?!
Our final principle comes out of Hebrews 12 and is simply this: Principle #7: Making the Lord Jesus Christ my model motivates my choices, increases my endurance, and joyfully sharpens my vision for what really counts in this life! (12:1-4) There we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” The “How Dare I?” question is: How dare I live my life as it were my own, stand on the spiritual sidelines, and not fight sin with every once of strength that He gives me?! Are you fighting sin? I love this quote from the professional baseball player-turned preacher, Billy Sunday:
“Listen, I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ve butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition.”
― Billy Sunday