Saturday, January 21, 2017

On "Suffering" ...

This is one of the most sensitive and difficult topics to talk about.


Yes, there is A LOT of suffering going on this world. For instance, remember what all refugees/people from Syria and Iraq have been going through over the last some years.


The broken nature of this world did not spare GOD either. Jesus had to spent SIX HOURS NAILED TO the cross, bearing an amount of pain and agony that I cannot fathom. Before the crucifixion, he was beaten so badly that his - “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness  (Isaiah 52:14)”. Isaiah 53:3 adds: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not”. (Remember, Jesus was AN INNOCENT and a righteous man). He/GOD choose to undergo this amount of suffering, in His time on earth (why?). Do you think Jesus can relate to your pain?

I believe suffering of God did not end at the cross. Jesus is the head and we Christians are His body (Ephesians 5:30 “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones”.). If any part of the body (say me) suffers, won’t the head be affected? Maybe that is why Jesus said to Paul: “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Maybe that is why Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 35:35). Ephesians 4:30 and Isaiah 63:10 indicates Spirit of God grieves. Luke 15:11-32 tells God is like a Father who is waiting for his lost children to return home. Imagine the amount of emotional pain such a father has to go through. In Ezekiel 6:9-10, God says He is broken because His people rejected His love for other gods.
Also recall, Jesus wept on hearing the news of Lazarus’s death (John 11:35). He also wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Do you think Jesus does not weep anymore?


And, God’s children are not exempt from suffering either. Jesus said in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33). Trials and suffering consistently existed in the lives of God’s people, even before Jesus said this, from the beginning (as seen in the Scriptures). For instance, prophets and apostles (those who were supposed to be very close and dear to God) endured great persecution. Acts 7:52 says about prophets:- “ Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One ...”. Eleven of twelve disciples of Jesus were martyred. Super-Apostle Paul (who God used mightily) has passages in Scriptures dedicated to how he endured great sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:16-33 - “ …  I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. … ”)
Overall, Jesus warns His followers in Matthew 10:16-28 - “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles …  and you will be hated by all for my name's sake …  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.


Now that we know from Scriptures that God allows suffering, what encouragement do we have from Scriptures in our times of suffering?

(1) As a child of God, know that Jesus Himself has prayed for you (Luke 22:32), even before the trial started, and He continues to pray for you earnestly (Romans 8:34)! Also, Romans 8:26 says - “ .. the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”. The Holy Spirit of God (John 14:26) gives souls wings of eagle (Isaiah 40:31)), peace (John 14:27) and strengths of many lions. Also remember Exodus 14:14 promises “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”. Overall, God never forsakes His children (Deuteronomy 31:6) but protects and saves them ,(John 10:28, Job 1:9). Also, know that God is a God of weak, broken, and lost. The lost and miserable Samaritan woman (John 4) did not even know that she needed Jesus - Jesus went to her with healing (showing how much God cares about people)! Luke 15:14 also reveals God’s big and caring heart - "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?". Finally, have the Word of God (Scriptures), which contains God’s promises and commandments for your life, as one of your best friends in the hard times.

(2) As a child of God, your pains and sufferings are not going wasted as per Romans 8:28 - “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”.
Let God redeem your pains and suffering, towards greater purposes (Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”). Also, James 1:2-4 says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”. Romans 5:3-4 says: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope”. Building of character could include growing in thankfulness/humbleness/dependence-on-God, better relating/ministering to the suffering of others, etc. Exodus 1:12 testifies how God turned around the tables with the enslaved and oppressed Israelites: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites”. In Acts 8-12 we see how the Church actually kept growing mightily under severe persecutions. Paul wrote letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) from prison that changed the world.

(3) Use these times to know God like never before. Job lost everything (children, wife possessions; Job 1:11-12, 2:6). Towards the end of his trial, Job said “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Also, it is easy to claim you love & honor God when things are going good, but how does your faith hold up in bad times? Along this line, Satan alleged that Job honored God only because he was blessed (Job 1:9-11). However Job, by God’s grace, demonstrated that he honored God even in his darkest of times. Can you keep honoring and praising God in bad times? Also, in Psalm 63:1-4 we see how David responded in suffering - “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.“

(4) Know that Jesus is the healing. Earlier, I wrote about great sufferings that Jesus went through on earth. All that happened so that there can be end to all the death and darkness. That redeeming work that started at the cross will be completed when Jesus returns - Revelation 21:4 says - “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  So, come to Jesus - Matthew 11:28 - “Jesus: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest(I once heard a quadriplegic person say her yoke was light - I was not expecting to hear that from her. Her yoke was light because she had surrendered to Jesus). God is waiting with open arms (Luke 15:11–32). So, coming to Jesus with your burdens and suffering is easy - Recall, how easily the thief on the cross was able to come to Jesus with all his burdens and sufferings (Luke 23:39-43). The miserable and lost Samaritan woman (John 4) did not even know that she needed to go to Jesus - In her case Jesus came to her with healing (showing how gracious and caring God is)! Overall, know that no suffering is unredeemable for Jesus. He can even bring back dry bones to life (Ezekiel 37:1-14).


(5) Watchout for Spiritual Warfare - a noteworthy source of suffering. In Luke 22:31, Jesus Himself testifies that Satan has asked permission to “sift” Peter. In the Book of Jobs too Satan is allowed to “sift” Job (Job 1). 1 Peter 5:8 warns: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Ephesians 6:10-20 advises how to tackle spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is so prevalent that some say that if everything is always going well with someone, then that person is at the side of Satan ;)

(6) Run from sin. It was one seemingly simple sin that led to the banishment of humans from God’s presence in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Sin continues to cause great trouble and misery in people’s life. It was our sins that kept Jesus nailed to the cross for SIX HOURS OF ETERNITY.  (Fortunately, God’s grace is bigger than any sin - Romans 5:20). Also, Jesus is much more interested in our eternal-destiny/spiritual-health, which may at times comes at the cost of temporal physical loss. This is indicated in Matthew 18:9 (“And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”). Also in Luke 13:1-3 Jesus talks about unrepentant sinners - “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.


(7) As a child of God, do not be surprised by rebukes from Father God because of sin/idolatry - Revelation 3:13: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”. David confesses in Psalm 119:67: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."

(8) God can also ordain suffering for greater purposes. For instance, sufferings of Job (Job 1-42) and sufferings of the blind man (John 9:1-3:” "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life””).


(9) Have an eternal perspective of life (John 3:16). In the light of eternity, take heart, God’s plan to redeem all our sufferings is underway. Romans 8:18-23 clarifies about the current conditions - “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies“.
When Jesus finally returns - “He will wipe away all their (His children) tears and there will be no more sorrow/pain for them (Revelation 21:4)”.
In Joel 2:25, God says - “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten”.

(10) Romans 8:16-17 calls us to suffer for the sake of the Gospel: “ … we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

(11) Do not walk with your burdens alone - seek refuge & fellowship in Church. Church is the BODY of God Jesus. In the church, God calls us to share one  burdens - John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”. Hence, also look out for those who need help in the Church. Romans 12:15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

(12) The Word of God suggests a radical way of responding to persecutors - Luke 6:27-29 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
Jesus Himself lived by this. To those who crucified Him, He offered them the gift of eternal life!


Outside the Scriptures, following are worth studying:- (1) Mother Teresa’s suffering from inside for an extended period http://time.com/4126238/mother-teresas-crisis-of-faith/, (2) “Practicing the presence of God” - by brother Lawrence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Lawrence - injured from war and not having necassary education, “he spent almost all of the rest of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen for most of his life and as a repairer of sandals in his later years. Despite his lowly position in life and the priory, his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him.”), (3) Testimony of Joni - http://www.joniandfriends.org/. Joni is quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down.   


Quotes:-
  • Men are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity. for when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success” - John Calvin

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