This past Monday the Fellows looked at (among other things) the book of Hebrews and the topic of suffering. Scotty Smith and Jon Young were excellent, as always, and I could never imagine that our leadership lunch would tie in so closely to what we had been studying that particular morning.
During this lunch we heard from a priest about his fight against the sex slavery trade. Needless to say, after our time concluded I felt that all the light in the world had been extinguished. How could I bear the weight of such intense suffering, let alone the suffering that I experience in my life?
Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian church makes a bold statement about suffering, saying “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). So, is Paul wrong or naive about reality or is he fiercely, unyieldingly hopeful in the goodness of Jesus? Thankfully it was Paul who also said in 1:8-9 “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…” I more closely relate to this Paul, and yet he holds both of these statements as true.
As we were reminded in class: modern day western Christians are not good at suffering. We simply don’t experience it in the way the world has historically suffered! But that does not discount our experiences of suffering. Anxiety, depression, incurable illnesses, the death of loved ones, estranged relationships, and the 23-year-old crisis of “who am I and what do I want” are just about enough to sink me any day of the week. As we all suffer, perhaps a few brief takeaways/thoughts are in order:
As Paul says in the second half of 2 Corinthians 1:9 “But this was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” As I usually rage and wag my fist at God, crying “why are you allowing this to happen!” I rarely think about this reason. The God of the universe wants me to rely on him! He knows that I fall short even to satisfy and guide myself. Jesus claims in Matt. 11:28 to provide rest for the weary and heavy laden and yet so often I confuse dependence for weakness and hail self-reliance as strength, denying my heavy laden-ness, which leads to burn out and isolation and more anxiety. As Richie Sessions once said, “We are all looking for a soft place for our souls to land.” More and more I need to hear Jesus say, “and you will find rest for your souls.”
Secondly, my focus is often wrong in suffering. As Jon Young reminded me: I need to cease understanding suffering and learn to trust it. I have such a great ability to over analyze situations to the point of mind-numbingly faulty conclusions. My processing of suffering often leads to more confusion, fear, and isolation! As I try to humble myself to the point of not having to comprehend everything, I am reminded more of my dependence on God and can begin to breathe a little bit even in the unknown. Psalm 131: 1-2 says “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” As one of my favorite Spurgeon quotes reminds me “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
And what is the heart of God?
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:1-3)
Majesty, glory, power, turned to death on a cross – made a curse – for us. That he would send his only son to save unsaveable sinners. That he would take on lowliness instead of splendor and live life perfectly to the cross, suffering the whole way. Now I can begin to see a glimmer of what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians. What can separate us from the father’s love! In anticipation of Easter, I pray that God will help us continue suffering with the knowledge of the weight of glory purchased and secured for us by God himself. And that He grant us buoyant hearts in the midst of a tempestuous world.
“Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.”