Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Christians Suffer

PART 5

Grantley Morris

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Whatís the difference between suffering for Christ and other forms of suffering afflicting the righteous?

I am staggered and deeply thankful over all the revelation God has been pouring into me over recent weeks about Godís heart and plans concerning Christians suffering. What, more than anything, has opened for me the floodgates for all this revelation is the unexpected answer to the question just posed.

Maybe the answer is obvious to you: suffering is suffering. For me, however, it turns out that for most of my life I have been blinded by my supposed intelligence. The answer was too simple for a mind that goes into overdrive in wanting desperately to believe that if I could somehow muster enough faith and godliness I will be spared all suffering Ė except maybe persecution.

Surely, even the most casual reading of the New Testament prevents one from believing that enough faith could end all suffering associated with persecution. Nevertheless, I could comfort myself with the thought that it seems unlikely I would ever find myself living in a time or place where persecution is rife.

Moreover, the Bibleís insights into suffering tend to focus on persecution. It was so prevalent when the New Testament was written (even penned by some who were literally penned) that almost anyone considering becoming a Christian would have had to decide whether it was worth the loss and danger. From his conversion, Paul knew it would lead to horrific pain and suffering (Acts 9:15-16). Peter, too, knew the time would come when someone would force him to go where he did not want to go and he would be martyred (John 21:18-19).

Early Christians (and vast numbers since) desperately needed the encouragement to endure any suffering that could be avoided by spiritual compromise, and so it receives much attention. Itís time, however, to examine in the stark light of reality whether, for Christians, persecution differs from other forms of suffering.

Once I stared this down, I was shocked to discover that none of all the five reasons I could concoct for believing persecution is different from other sources of suffering Christians face is valid. Letís see:

    1.  Were it not for the bigger picture, the Almighty could intervene and stop any form of suffering. Indeed, he sometimes does, either by deliverance from persecution or through such things as healing.

    In regard to deliverance from persecution, consider Daniel in the lionís den (Daniel 6:16-22), his friends in the furnace (Daniel 3:19-27), the Jews in Estherís time who were about to be annihilated (Esther 9:1) and Jesus who was about to be hurled over a cliff and simply walked through the hostile crowd (Luke 4:29-30). Peter underwent a heavenly jailbreak (Acts 12:4-11). Indeed, on a previous occasion, all of the apostles did (Acts 5:18-25). Nevertheless, such interventions seem to have been outnumbered by times when persecution continued.

    2.  Persecution can become a huge temptation to compromise oneís commitment to Jesus but so can other forms of suffering. Even though it might lead to eternal regret, we can be assaulted by the temptation to imagine that suicide could end our distress. Any suffering can also provoke us into imagining that the affliction is Godís fault. Such delusions can, like persecution, turn suffering into intense temptation.

    Job, for example, might not have been tempted to sin in order to avoid his torment, but he was sorely tempted to sin because of his torment (Job 1:11, 22; Job 2:5, 9).

    Suffering raises the stakes enormously. Offering our Lord the slightest praise whilst afflicted is worth many times more than doing so when life is easy. On the other hand, affliction magnifies the pressure to go the other way and resent God, rather than glorify him.

    3.  There is no suffering in heaven. This means that, for Christians, all earthly suffering is actually suffering for the Lord, who sees us as currently having a mission on this planet. We might sometimes suppose our role down here is too insignificant to be worth the cost, but that does not mean we can see the full picture as accurately as the all-knowing Lord.

    4.  Unlike, for example, birth defects, persecution might be voluntarily entered into, but everyone has the chance to respond to any type of suffering heroically or shamefully. Some forms of suffering might be involuntary, but responding in a Christ-honoring way is always voluntary. Superficially, suffering persecution might seem more heroic than joyfully enduring other forms of affliction, but that is an illusion.

    5.  Even without there being a human persecutor, suffering can often be a form of persecution. Godís Word reveals that when Job suffered a painful illness, he was being persecuted for his faith (Job 2:3-7). To realize this, however, one had to glimpse the spirit world, because the persecutor Ė the one tormenting him because of his faith Ė was Satan himself.

    I said that to keep everyone on board I would not cite Job as authoritative. So letís jump to the New Testament. Those of us who do not like to think that the faith-giant, Paul, could have suffered sickness are particularly keen to presume that persecution was the ďthornĒ that tormented him. Regardless of its exact nature, however, Paul saw beyond any human agency and discerned it as ďa messenger of SatanĒ (2 Corinthians 12:7).

    Regardless of the presence or absence of human pawns, ďour wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the worldís rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly placesĒ (Ephesians 6:12). This again renders diverse forms of suffering spiritually identical.

    Trace it back far enough Ė perhaps as far back as Adam Ė and it turns out that, just like persecution, every form of suffering afflicting the righteous has its origin not in Godís perfect will but in someone (human or not) violating Godís perfect will and doing things that break his heart.

For Christians, persecution and other forms of suffering are twins. The same principles apply to every form of suffering that the righteous endure. And it is vital for our understanding and comfort that we never lose sight of this. I know, because for most of my life I had missed this, and it was a bigger loss than I ever imagined.

In the midst of any form of suffering, it is always heroic to keep rejoicing in God and faithfully serving him to the max (even though, like being in solitary confinement for oneís faith, that might be devastatingly little). It is important to realize that, even if no one on earth sees it, such faithfulness is worthy of eternal acclaim and will one day be acknowledged as such. As I have written elsewhere:

    Scott and his team, struggled to the South Pole only to discover their honor of being the first to reach the Pole was lost forever. Amundsen had beaten them by about a month. To add to the futility, they endured further blizzards, illness, frostbite and starvation only to perish; the last three dying just a few miles from safety. Yet today their miserable defeat ending with death in frozen isolation, witnessed by not a living soul, is hailed as one of the greatest ever epics of human exploration and endurance.

    Every fiber of my being is convinced that their glory is just a shadow of what you can achieve. Though you suffer in isolation and apparent futility, with the depths of your trial known to no one on earth, your name could be blazed in heavenís lights, honored forever by heavenís throngs for your epic struggle with illness, bereavement, or whatever. The day is coming when what is endured in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Look at Job: bewildered, maligned, misunderstood; battling not some epic foe but essentially common things Ė a financial reversal, bereavement, illness; Ė not cheered on by screaming fans, just booed by some one-time friends. If even on this crazy planet Job is honored today, I canít imagine the acclaim awaiting you when all is revealed. Your battle with lifeís miseries can be as daring as Davidís encounter with Goliath. Donít worry that others donít understand this at present. One day they will. And that day will never end.

To suppose something is heroic only if it is acknowledged by fellow humans is to deny the supreme importance of God. If, for you, God alone isnít enough, you donít know God. Many of us would do astonishing things for fame or self-satisfaction, but what will we do solely for Christ? Thatís the issue that keeps heaven abuzz.

The Story So Far

Not only are some of us inclined to create an artificial divide between the suffering of a martyr and other forms of suffering, some even feel pressured to edge toward the seemingly inconsistent extreme of acknowledging severe persecution as a mark of honor (since Scripture leaves us little option) while regarding other forms of suffering as indicative of a lack of faith or godliness, and hence a source of shame. If this is muddled thinking, I dare not be too critical because at times I myself have slid in that direction. In fact, as already hinted, it is the final shattering of the hold this lie has had on me that has made the writing of this webpage such a personal blessing.

To help us see things clearer, letís briefly consider the next question.

Continued: Part 6

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2018, 2019. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

 

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