God Didn’t Make Me to Suffer (Part Three)
In this last part to our series, let us consider the final reasons for suffering.
According to the Scriptures, as I understand them, there are four reasons for suffering. The first is the fall-out of the choice for independence made by the first man and woman. Since we are part of the human family, we all bear the consequences of their Fall. So our bodies age, our minds get befuddled, our relationships get tangled, etc. This is all a natural consequence of living this side of the Curse. But we do not bear this suffering in despair. The One who gave the Curse has promised to come Himself and make a new heaven and earth that is without the Curse. So as we suffer, we have an eye upon the Heavens, waiting patiently for Him to keep His promise.
The second reason we suffer is because the same independent streak displayed in the Garden is still being displayed today. As we ourselves, or those with whom we are associated, act like Adam and Eve (declaring independence of God and His way), then a ripple effect from the sin occurs. Many innocent people get caught by the ripple. All sin affects more than those who commit the sin; there are no isolated acts of disobedience. Much, much pain exists in the world because of our stubborn rebellion. We are, indeed, children of Adam and Eve!
But if we will confess the ripples we cause, and respond with forgiveness to those ripples caused by others, then a healing oil flows over the situation. And though there will be life-long scarring, we can choose to embrace that scarring and welcome the residual pain. For it is often that scarring and residual pain that helps us to consider our own future choices.
We must consider our goal in life. To live without pain and suffering is not a worthy goal. But to live a life growing in holiness, growing in intimacy with our Savior, growing in solidarity with His plan – this is worth every price! And if the Lord can use residual pain from acts of rebellion by ourselves or those associated with us, then let us welcome that pain and yield to its purifying results.
The third reason that suffering may be our experience is because of our association with Christ Jesus. Now, obviously, those whose lives have no mark of the Savior will not suffer because of Him! But those of us who are dedicated to Him and His kingdom will be hated, mocked, ridiculed, belittled and persecuted by those who do not love Him.
Jesus Himself warned His followers that this would happen. And the book of Acts, as well as many sections of the Epistles, tell the stories of this suffering.
Today it is no different from then, although the suffering might be in a slightly “more sophisticated” vein. Today, those in our country who identify with the Savior might not be promoted in the workplace, or might be mocked on the playground, or might be brushed off in conversations. (In other countries, like Ethiopia, they are still beaten, left for dead, homes burned, etc.)
If we are not sensing any opposition from non-believers, then we must examine ourselves to see if we are indeed following Jesus. His way goes in the opposite direction of Society. Where Society says “fight,” He says “surrender.” Where Society says “hold onto it,” He says “let go of it.” Where Society says “take revenge,” He says “love and forgive.”
If we are truly living His way, then we will at some time be in sharp contrast to those around us. And then they will begin to hate us, despise us, disdain us. It is the conflict of two world views, two laws, two roads. How can we travel together through Life with those around us, unless we are agreed in our direction and method of travel? If we follow Jesus, and they don’t, only conflict will result.
And that conflict brings suffering.
So how do we respond to this suffering? With patience, with sympathy, with kindness. We do not seek revenge. We do not seek justice. We do not fight for our “rights.” We respond to those without Christ with humility, remembering that once we were like them. And, but for the grace of God opening our eyes to the Savior, we would still be like them!
So our suffering is mingled with the joy that we are “found worthy” to suffer for His Name. There is a quiet, radiant, inner warmth of joy inside that cannot be squelched by the mockery, the prejudice, the accusations, the disdain of those who do not follow to Jesus.
The last reason for suffering that I have found in the Scriptures is that which is shown so clearly in the Book of Job, as well as other sections of the Epistles. Simply put, it is this: There is someone who will fight to the death to destroy the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. He has many names: Satan, the Evil One, the Father of Lies, the Angel of Light, the Wicked One, the Deceiver.
He has many names, but he has only one purpose. His sole purpose is to destroy all that the Lord God has created – to destroy physical things, to tear apart relationships, to squash spirits, to break hearts. Everywhere he goes, and whatever he does, his purpose is to destroy.
This Wicked One can bring us personal suffering as he targets us or those associated with us. His way is so insidious, so utterly wicked, so abhorrent, so deceptive! He will lie in wait until we least expect him, and then he will pounce. Sometimes he springs on us after we have experienced a fantastic spiritual victory and are “riding high” in the Lord. Sometimes he’ll capture us when hormones or fatigue or pain are wracking our minds and bodies. Sometimes he’ll set his trap when we are just going about the mundane duties of life.
Always, he and his servant demons are waiting to destroy. And his focus is upon those who are active in the Kingdom. His ultimate hatred is the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. So if we are dedicated to the Savior, we have the very special interest and hatred of the Evil One.
Does this frighten you? Does the reality of the Evil One make you want to run away from the Savior and His way in your life? Are you uneasy about obedience to the Lord, knowing that with that obedience will come suffering caused by the Evil One?
Let me reassure you. The Savior has already whipped him! And all we need to do is (1) remember that the Evil One exists to destroy the Savior’s Kingdom so we must be alert to him, and (2) practice the instructions of the Scriptures in how to “fight” him.
The Scriptures teach very clearly that the Evil One is already doomed, that the Lord Jesus is the one to fight him (not us), and that we must simply put on His armor to be protected from destruction by the Evil One. Ephesians 6 outlines the armor of the Lord Jesus: know the Truth, live in Righteousness, be busy with the Gospel work, respond with Faith, remember the way of Salvation, obey the Spirit as taught in the Scriptures, have a running conversation with the Lord about your situation, keep diligent, be connected to the other soldiers (the Body).
If we will develop a lifestyle of “warriorship,” Jesus-style, then the Evil One will have difficulty in getting to us. I do not know that Job ever knew that his troubles were because of Satan’s attempt to discredit the relationship of love and honor between Job and God. From Job’s perspective, his life had become one big Trouble! He suffered in every way possible! But his lifestyle before his troubles was one of humility towards God, and his lifestyle after his troubles began remained unchanged. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
Our lives must be the same. We must be fully surrendered to the Lord and His way. We must be bound to Truth, obedient to the Spirit in following the Truth, and completely trusting the One whose Name is Truth!
Job suffered greatly because he was dedicated to the glory of the living God. He lost his children, his health, his wealth; he was mocked by his closest friends and his wife; he suffered the greatest form of disgrace. Yet he “hid” in the reality of His God and the utter trustworthiness of that God. And in the end, Job survived the onslaught of Evil One and was restored to everything good. And today he stands as a testimony to the faithfulness of our God in defending His own.
For myself, as I look at this cancer, not knowing the future, looking at bleak human statistics, I have settled the matter. My life belongs to the Lord Jesus. He may do with me as He pleases. If this cancer is due to the Fall and the Curse, I look to Him to restore my body to one without the effects of the sin-curse. To my knowledge, there is no personal sin in me or in any I know that has resulted in this cancer; it is not due to personal sin. It is not a result of my identity with Christ, caused by the hatred and persecution of those who hate Him. It has been suggested that this is because the Evil One has targeted me, because of the great work that God is doing in Ethiopia. Perhaps this is so; I likely will not know until reaching heaven.
But regardless of the specific reason for this cancer, I know one thing: the solution to suffering is the Son. Only He, who was called “Man of Sorrows,” fully understands all suffering and can carry us with His own power through seasons of suffering.
And in the end, when all of Life is closed, it is He who gets the glory, as the One who redeemed His creation from the Evil One and sin. To Him be all the praise!!!
(Recommended readings: Job 1:1-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18; 1 Peter 1:3-16, 2:1-12 and 19-25, 3:14-4:6, 4:12-19, 5:6-11; Hebrews 12:1-4; Revelation 20:7-10.)
August 18, 2009