Thursday, March 10, 2011
Why do people suffer?
The source of human suffering is found in the Garden of Eden, where our first parents elected
themselves God and chose what seemed right to them over what God had told them. So it happened that “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Ever since, suffering has been the lot of fallen humanity. Death — and consequently suffering of all sorts — is the result of sin.
Sometimes people say of someone suffering that he or she must have done something to anger God to deserve this punishment. This way of thinking makes some sense, for suffering looks (and feels) exactly like punishment — until you learn from Jesus, that is. One day his disciples asked Him about a blind man: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus pointed out that the man’s suffering was not a punishment for sin, but rather an opportunity for God to reveal Himself; then Jesus proceeded to restore the man’s sight.
That’s the way it is with suffering in your life and mine, even when God doesn’t take the problem away. When we suffer, He provides an opportunity for us to learn whole new dimensions of His love and mercy — which we often receive through the words and deeds of Christians moved by God’s own love in Christ.
What is the “theology of the cross,” and what does it mean to someone who is suffering?
Martin Luther once said: “Our theology is a theology of the cross.” By this he meant that all
thinking and speaking about God must conform to God’s own Word. And God’s Word, from start to
finish, is woven throughout with one scarlet thread: the Word of the Cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
Human reason and logic teach us that suffering is bad and glory is good. God turns things around: with Him what seems logical actually is foolishness, and those things people brand weakness in reality are strength.
How can a trial of suffering actually strengthen faith?
The apostle Paul, a great man of faith, was greatly troubled by what he called his “thorn in the
flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). Three times he earnestly prayed that God would remove the source
of his suffering. The answer Paul received to his prayer is instructive: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The power of God is carried out in the context of human weakness. When everything is going fine in our lives, we sometimes forget about God; we become self-sufficient. But when trouble and hardship come our way, we recognize that our own ingenuity and strength is not enough to see us through. It’s then, when we are at the end of our rope, that the sobering reality begins to dawn: all we are and all we have is a gift from our gracious God.
This is the great mystery of suffering: God sometimes sends it our way to draw us closer to Him in faith. But when Jesus comes again in glory, then the faith which is now sorely tested in suffering will result in praise and glory and honor. Until then we walk by faith and not by sight. Clinging to the sure and certain Word of our gracious Lord, we find strength to carry on from one day to the next, knowing and trusting the One who laid down His life that we might live in Him.
How is the theology of the cross comforting to Christians who are suffering?
When we understand that God Himself comes hidden under suffering and the cross, we will not be
surprised when we too suffer. Jesus gave us advance warning, after all: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The paradox is that Christ is never closer to us than when we suffer. As He Himself suffered, and by that suffering won freedom and peace for us all, so He has ordained it that all who are called by His Name should suffer for that Name.
Our suffering is not punishment. Rather, by the grace of God it is the way He intends to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). We certainly do not seek out suffering. But when it comes our way, we will not run away. Rather, we recognize that suffering is another opportunity to examine our sinful hearts, confess our sins, and find relief and peace in the wounds of Christ, who suffered once upon His cross that we might be released from guilt and shame and take our place within the shelter of His love.
We should not be surprised when God's love shows up under cover, masquerading as hardship and
suffering. To recieve His love, we take the suffering that goes along with it. The wonder and the mystery of it is that there’s blessing in that suffering — for there we find His love in disguise.
That’s the beauty of God’s love in Christ - sometimes it shows up in the strangest places.
(from Harold Senkbeil, LCMS Life Ministries)