Christians seem to swing to two extremes of view on this important subject.
Christ suffered we must too. Suffering is redemptive and therefore the more we
suffer the better Christians we are. Suffering is understood to bring us closer
to God and therefore believers will even have themselves crucified or beaten or
they will endure multiple privations in order to cause the flesh to suffer.
is not restricted to Christians. It comes naturally to human beings to desire
to earn their salvation. Many religions involve "works" that the faithful
must perform in order to achieve their ends. For example the Hindu practice of
"PARIKRAMA" practiced in the region of Kathmandu involves devotees crawling
15 miles on their bellies, pulling themselves along by their hands towards the
shrine of the god of destruction. Only the most determined make it the whole way.
Christians who believe that it pleases God if they "mortify their flesh", will engage in a variety of physical punishments in order to grow spiritually. Such activities are borne out of a false dualistic theology that looks at flesh as being evil (or at very best weak) and spirit as being good (or at very worst willing).
suffered so we don't have to."
Christians have been taught that the New Covenant involves Jesus receiving all
the bad while we receive all the good. It's the "divine exchange". Consequently
it is believed to honour God the most by believing for health, wealth and happiness
at all times and in all circumstances.
particular extreme of viewpoint has become very prevalent in some Christian circles
today and is causing much confusion to young believers. The "name it and
claim it" teaching (or "blab it and grab it") involves "works"
just as fully as the "cross-tianity ethos", but in a different way.
Here, all our works are directed towards living the victorious Christian life
through our faith in the Scriptures. "God said it, I believe it, that settles
it" is the slogan. Anyone not living the "abundant life" is living
below their destiny and not honouring Christ's sacrifice. The subtle inference
is that those among us, who are not winning souls, are perhaps sick, unemployed,
in debt or for whatever reason not full of joy and peace are in some way not pleasing
God in their lives.
Because so many people have been converted under a gospel of "Come to God and get all your problems solved", many Christians spend their efforts on achieving satisfaction, fulfilment and spiritual experiences through their Christian efforts. They perhaps have been granted times of deep spiritual joy by the Father and spend their time trying to recapture this golden feeling. Some will go to endless meetings or follow charismatic "apostles" and "prophets" to experience wonderful manifestations in order to touch God afresh. They believe that unless they are "every day in every way, getting better and better" then they are backsliding.
do we view God?
truth is that God is love. His purpose in making all of creation is that he might
pour out his love towards us human beings whom he has made in his image to be
his children. He wants our very best and nothing will prevent him from giving
that to us, the objects of his divine love. Everything in creation is working
towards that end.
is in control of the cosmos. Nothing has happened or ever will happen that God
has not specifically allowed and ultimately caused to happen. The buck stops with
God. And everything is working for our good.
why suffering then?
if God is in total control and he is perfect love, why are we suffering? If I
love my children, I don't make them suffer. Why should God be any different?
Good questions and the very ones I will now answer.
alone gives spiritual understanding
Spiritual understanding isn't like natural (human) understanding. It is comprehension of a truth by our spirits as the Holy Spirit enlightens them. This level of understanding does more than enlighten us mentally to any particular truth. More importantly it empowers us. That is why
Paul was able to write,
we begin to live "by the flesh" our spiritual wisdom begins to leave
us and we fall into sin. The wisdom that teaches us to say "no" to temptation
is no longer present with us. (We still have the "natural wisdom" so
we know it's wrong but we don't have the strength in us to resist. It is inevitable
because in us, that is, in our flesh, there is nothing that can empower us to
only we had a revelation of how totally helpless we are without Jesus.
him to give you the understanding you need. He is completely willing to give it.
The next bit I am going to write is spiritual truth. If you are spiritually minded
you can understand it. It is capable of being totally misunderstood otherwise.
most people don't comprehend this truth, they fail to see the difference between
Christianity and every human religion (including Judaism which, although instigated
by God, does not share the unique nature of Christianity.)
All other religions take man as a given. i.e. "man" is the way he is. He has problems and weaknesses etc. and the religion is there to guide him in ways of conduct that will be for his ultimate best. This may be in a life after death, nirvana or any other sort of ultimate destiny.
religions are there to make man better. One way or another they are about what
doesn't try to make men better. Christianity recognises that man is unable to
please God ultimately because his nature is evil. Christianity is about the death
of the individual selfish ego rather than its improvement or enhancement. Christianity
is, at heart, a sovereign work of God in an individual's life, rather than any
work of man.
is naturally illogical and unfathomable to the intelligent human mind. There is
no way that one can acquire this understanding by human effort. Unless it is revealed
to a person it will remain forever a mystery. However, God has a plan and a timetable
to reveal this truth to everyone who draws breath.
teaches that man's ultimate and highest destiny is to serve God and please him
forever. It isn't a "man centred" philosophy that primarily seeks our
ultimate bliss. The truth is that serving God with all that we have and are is
what we have been created for and will actually be the very thing that does give
us ultimate fulfilment. However, if we try to go that way for that reason it doesn't
is impossible without the Holy Spirit empowering us moment by moment. Understanding
suffering and the place it holds in Christian life is illustrative of this truth.
Christians are not the same as "natural" people
|(2 Corinthians 5:17)|
|This is vital to grasp. We are actually different.|
We have different desires "
For it is God who works in you (Christians) to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13)
We have spiritual understanding "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us."
(1 Corinthians 2:12)
We have the ability to fulfil God's purposes
(See Philippians 2:13 above)
We can share in God's nature
" you may participate in the divine nature " (2 Peter 1:4)
is a suffering God
This can seem at first to be a terrible thing to say, but it is true, nevertheless. As a human being, Jesus suffered.
his Son was suffering on earth, surely you don't imagine the Father was unaffected?
Why should he be any different today? God cares about every single human being
and he feels our pain.
God's plan of salvation for all mankind required that Jesus be the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
was God's plan before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:20) and shows that
he intended to experience suffering in seeing that his purposes were fulfilled.
therefore, is a part of the divine lifestyle. And yet, God is almighty, all powerful,
all knowing and the omnipresent one. How can this be possible? Surely if God is
all these things he could stop himself from having to suffer, couldn't he?
Yes he could, but there's another way out of the problem. His divine nature enables him to suffer joyfully. Yes, really! Moreover, Jesus, because he walked in the Spirit and received that Holy Spirit in his fullness continually, was able to live this same life of suffering with inner joy.
is love. That is "totally unselfish desire for the other's good". There's
human love, but that is only a shadow or type of God's love and it is conditional
and often selfish (although positive and godly.) For example, a mother's love
is something that God puts into a mother. It's beautiful, but it has its limits.
God's love doesn't.
God IS love, he is able to suffer long with us. He gladly suffers with
us because we are his children.
Again, don't start to feel bad. Jesus was the most fulfilled joyful person who ever lived, even though he was, "A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering," (Isaiah 53:3).
because he was able to receive the divine nature. Just like you are
was 100% man and 100% God because he had a human mother and a divine father. He
didn't retain his all-knowing, all-powerful abilities when he became Mary's son.
He emptied himself of all his divine power and glory and became a humble human
being. He was made mature (Greek "perfected") through the things that
Jesus suffering and death on the cross was real. He really suffered physical, mental, and emotional agonies. But worse that all of these, he suffered spiritually. God abandoned him, who had known intimacy with God throughout his life, when he took all of our sins upon himself.
he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark
15:34) Jesus wasn't just quoting the appropriate Old Testament scripture.
He was calling out in spiritual torment and darkness such as only someone who
had (until that moment) lived his entire life in the full light of God's presence,
all appearances, Jesus died on the cross as a total failure. The kingdom that
he had come to introduce died with him. Not one disciple stood with him. They
all denied him (not just Peter). They all fled. The powers of darkness seemed
to have completely won. Apparently, the kingdom, which consisted of the men he
had spent so long training and putting so much of himself into, was destroyed.
Except that he was the kingdom and he remained faithful. All was not lost. All was won! By his suffering he smashed the power of darkness over all of mankind. This is what our God does. Not because he's powerful or all-knowing or omnipresent but because he is love, pure unpolluted love and in his weakest state love is more irresistible than every other force in the cosmos.
can share in the divine nature
2 Peter 1:3, 4)
doesn't just happen as we sit back and watch our favourite soap opera on TV. It
happens as we turn to God in prayer and he infuses us with his Holy Spirit. As
God's children we are called to follow Jesus' example. Jesus knew that without
the Father he could do nothing and so he turned to God in prayer for the strength
to live in the Spirit continually. We can and must do the same. We will stumble
and fall and we will need to receive grace daily, but we are, nevertheless, heirs
is through the very pains of life that we turn to God and receive his divine nature.
So Christian suffering is a blessing from God.
correct response of a Christian to suffering should and can be rejoicing. We can
only do this through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. It isn't natural
to rejoice when you suffer.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)
is how the Apostle Paul lived
was quite a long quote but think about what he was saying. How many self-styled
apostles or "televangelists" in our western nations today follow such
a lifestyle? "Hunger", "dying", "beaten", "sorrowful",
"poor", "having nothing"
And yet somehow full of joy
in the Holy Spirit. There is a dimension to Christian living that escapes the
natural understanding. It's miraculous. It is God at work in his children.
was able to suffer for doing right through the power of the Holy Spirit in him.
He urged Timothy, a younger man in the ministry with him to follow suit.
(2 Timothy 1:8)
this power of God working inside them something that just apostles and evangelists
had back then? Apparently Paul thought it was for all the Church.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
We can't live this way in our own strength. Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
This is still true today. We need to go to him daily so that we can receive the strength that only the Holy Spirit imparts. Only then will we do the will of the Father. Only then will we walk in the Holy Spirit. Only then will we have living faith that will empower us to live holy thought lives. He can do it in us. We can't! By the Spirit we can endure suffering, (yes it will still take enduring) but with joy in the Holy Spirit.
many western Christians lost the plot?
to the prayers at so many Christian gatherings in the West. They thank God for
all his love and the blessings they already have and then they start to ask for
more, for health, protection, security, for prosperity. They ask for their churches
to grow larger, for their families and friends to get saved. They pray for their
children to do well in their exams. They ask for God to be present in their meetings
(as if he isn't!!!) and by this they really mean that they want him to reveal
himself in miraculous ways to the lost and to them by saving people and healing
them and doing signs and wonders among them.
to the prayers of the suffering church. They give thanks and adoration to God
in the middle of their sufferings. They pray for the grace to remain faithful.
For the strength to endure. For courage and for love for their persecutors. They
cry out to God in their emptiness and he fills them.
am not trying to criticise any person, group or denomination. I want you to see
the truth. Can you see the prayers that God answers? He doesn't answer prayers
that ask him to take away all our sufferings. He answers prayers that ask for
his strength to endure sufferings and to know fellowship with him in them and
to experience joy in the trials.
apostle Paul suffered beyond his natural ability to suffer. It forced him to rely
on God. He asked for prayers from the brethren, but not for more money for his
evangelistic association. Listen to what he wrote to the Church at Corinth.
wrote from his prison cell to the church at Colossi to say that he rejoiced in
his sufferings. He recognised that it was "Christ in him" that enabled
him to suffer this way.
was a lifestyle he embraced gladly. He actually wanted to know Jesus more and
more and recognised that deep fellowship with him comes from "being about
his Father's business" with him. And that involves suffering.
must be real
suffering isn't about God taking us in the Spirit off somewhere where we don't
really feel the pain. As a man, Jesus felt suffering. When he died on the cross
he experienced the physical pain, the mental and the emotional pain, the rejection,
the hatred, the total loss of all his family and friends and disciples as well
as the separation from his Father as the full weight of our sins came onto his
didn't insulate Jesus from real suffering. But he did empower him to go through
it without sin. Jesus went through "hell on earth" yet without compromise.
promises never to leave his people. He will give us grace to live through any
trial without sinking into sin as long as our eyes are fixed on Jesus. It will
hurt like hell at times. It will feel like God is a million miles away at times.
Those are aspects of some trials that Christians have to face. But he is faithful.
In the Old Testament Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him." (Job 13:15)
is looking to bring many sons and daughters to glory. The masterpiece of his creation
is - us. Not as we were, but as he has transformed us by his Holy Spirit. He loves
faith. Faith and love are the gifts of his Spirit. All our works (even the very
best) are futile. Only as Christ is formed in us are our thoughts and actions
pleasing to God as Christians.
is the work of God on earth today. This is the kingdom. It is all God. If we believe
it when men tell us to come to Jesus to expect him to give us freedom from all
fear and want and sickness and lack, we are deceived. He hasn't come to make you
comfortable, successful, fulfilled, healthy, prosperous and respected. He has
come to form Christ in you. It is the narrow road.
disciple that Jesus loved and who was perhaps the most intimate with him as a
This is your lot and destiny too. It is the highest calling.
purpose of not "seeing God"
may well believe what I have written about suffering and realise that there will
be times in your life when you just can't understand what God is up to. Circumstances
will arise that will make you feel that God is nowhere near you and doesn't hear
your heartrending cries for help.
might determine in your mind that when you face such trials that you will remain
firm in your faith and trust God with that "Though he slay me yet will I
praise him" approach.
our trials are spiritual, not mental.
me, there will be times when no amount of mental effort will get you through.
It is only faith that will see you through and that will be a gift from God. Your
faith will be tried in the fire and you will be brought to a place where you come
to the end of yourself.
cannot say that I have acquitted myself well in such times of testing. All I can
say is that even when I have given up on God, he has not given up on me. It is
by grace I have been saved.
author of the "Cloud of Unknowing" well understood this phenomenon.
Spiritual maturity comes through realising how weak we are and how much we are
totally sustained by God.
our failures we come to know his victory.
result is "seeing God"
deeper revelation that comes to us as we seek God for himself and realise our
utter inability to find him by our own efforts is that he is our Father.
every moment of my life he has been with me. He has experienced every pain, every
sorrow, every fear. He was there when as a six year old I watched some bigger
boys bullying my older sister and out of fear, ran away rather than stand up for
her and get bullied myself. I went home full of shame and self loathing and he
felt it all.
was there when my wife miscarried and we cried out to him for a miracle (claiming
the promises of God) and yet the heavens seemed to be like brass.
was there each time I have fallen into old habits and sins and grieved his heart
through my selfishness and carnality.
was there when I have lost my temper, hurting those that I love more than I ever
realised at the time.
heart of compassion has always been towards me. He understands all my motives
and emotions and hopes and fears and his very bowels are full of compassion for
me. He believes in me. There is no way that he could ever give up on me.
He is my Father.
is spiritual knowledge.
He is yours too.
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