Sunday, May 8, 2011

Part 2, Theology of Suffering (WHAT DO I DO WITH THE PAIN?)

 Suffering: James wrote that Followers of Christ should “consider it pure joy” when we face trials because we know that this leads to perseverance, which then leads to maturity (James  1:2-4).  It is not that we enjoy the suffering, but we rejoice because we know that we are moving toward maturity. 

   From James, we can see one of the results in suffering—and I am talking about the trials Christians face, leads us to perseverance. Or we let it drive us into a black hole of self doubt and despair.  The trials are there to help us become mature in Christ…more than mature -- complete.

   Our faith being strengthened, our rough edges being worn down so that we are becoming more like Christ.  Mature and complete means the same thing in this context.  More than mature. All together. Full. 

   The stuff of suffering. Is it all about my comfort or my issues, or is it bigger than me?  I would tend to feel my comfort is important but not at the loss of what God wants in my life. I need to look higher than my life. Keep the standard high. We can’t allow our conduct and emotions carry us from the Teaching of the Cross.

One side note, if you please: The death of Osama bin Laden over the weekend. I would rather mourn the death of this man than to sing praises that he is dead. We, as Gospel Carriers, need to show a very cold and spiritually dead society that we carry the Message of God’s Love to everyone. I did not like the things he did…no question; he was an evil man!  But, to rejoice at the death of any person does not reflect the teachings of Jesus. 
Ezekiel 18:23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God does not take joy in the death of the person who is far from Him.  His will is for ALL to come to a saving Faith in the Lord. Revenge is not good. I just had to say that and add another voice in the sea of voices on this topic…

   People are asking how Christians should respond to tragedy and suffering like what happened in Tohoku. Let’s go to our Teacher.  How did Jesus handle a similar question in His day? Turn with me to Luke 13:1-5 
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

   Evil is with us.  We see hurt and despair all over the globe.  It is always disturbing. In truth, tragedy surrounds us on every side.  We have to really look for non-tragedies to keep our balance.  In the ancient world, it was a theory that when bad happens to ANYONE, it was only because of sin: the blind man, the woman who was bleeding, the young man born lame; all, they thought, were that way because someone sinned.  Every day, some assume that tragedy generally reflects the Judgment of God for sins committed.  If tragedy comes, the responsibility lies with the one who experiences the tragedy.  That is far from true.

   Those suppositions lead our Lord to respond to the comments spoken to Him about the recent hardships in their country.  (Only Luke addresses these items.)  As Jesus usually does, He takes something people believed in (falsely) and turns it into an open door for reflection.  Rather than talking about life in the philosophical area, He brings it right home.  Repent.

   What had these Galileans done to deserve such a death?

   They too were no worse than anyone else. When the tower fell, what happened was not some kind of punishment, but an accident, something really random. That point is perhaps underlined by one incident-taking place in the north, in Galilee, while the other occurred further south, in Jerusalem. Location makes no difference. Tragedies can happen anywhere, at any time.

   The BIG question is not why did it happen.  Life happens! Things like this will always happen around us.  Sometimes it touches home and it causes us some intense pain. Sometimes, it is far away from us.  The truth is: things will happen. I can’t explain WHY the tower fell on those people in Siloam nor can I explain why the waves took out so many in Tohoku. I can only say that this is what life looks like in the real world. We are living in a fallen world and these kinds of things go on.  From the time after the Fall, things went wrong. People died, got sick, lost, hurt. We move on.  We don’t just push it off as nothing!  As Followers of Jesus, we can care, we can help out, and we can become part of the healing process—as we need the healing as well.  But as Jesus teaches, there is a response that pleases God in all this: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Our Lord takes the situation to a higher personal level. It makes it a matter of the person’s personal heart issue.

   What am I going to do with this situation? What am I going to do with personal pain of the masses? I need to be sure I am standing in a right relationship with the Maker. Repent of my sins and receive forgiveness. His Good News is that we can know forgiveness through having Faith in Him!  IF a tower falls on me, then I’d be ready to face my Creator. The hardest part might well be to acknowledge that we have in fact done wrong and NEED to repent.

   That may be why so many gave so generously on Easter Sunday. That is why Scot, Andy, Dee and Ken are ministering up north to the needs of those who are in pain. People can help. There is such pain, and those with the insight of the Gospel can be there to help the people along toward healing of their deep pain.

   James teaches us a great deal about our response to suffering. As we said at the beginning: James wrote that we should “consider it pure joy” when we face trials because we know that this leads to perseverance, which then leads to maturity.  It is not that we enjoy the suffering, but we rejoice because we know that we are moving toward maturity. Toward wholeness and being complete in Christ. A process. We are not what we were…

   Was God glad when Osama bin Laden got shot in the head?  NO! It broke His Heart that one more left this world without finding forgiveness of their sins. Was He glad that Northern Japan got hit so hard with the loss of life being so massive? NOT AT ALL!

   Please look with me at two verses: Romans 5:2-3 
 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 

Romans 12:2 
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.  Use this as a filter for life.

We are only responsible for the questions we have been given the answers to.

   To be mature in Christ. It is the goal we, who are followers of Jesus, should all be living for! As your own Mother gave birth to you, cared for you, fed you, washed you, loved you—so that you would grow to maturity, the Lord is doing the same with all of us. That is our real goal in life!  

By the way: Happy Mother's Day!