Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Christians Suffer

PART 9

Grantley Morris

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Can it sometimes not be worth it?

We would expect most highly successful people to consider it worth all the sacrifice it took to reach the heights they are now renowned for. But what of all those who paid almost as high a price Ė maybe even higher Ė without ever making it to the bigtime? How many of them, I wonder, consider all the hardship nothing but a useless waste? Can the same apply to Christians? Arenít there some for whom the price was too high and the success too low? The cost is so real that Jesus advised us to weight it up before following him (Luke 14:28-32). Is it ever too high relative to the benefits?

Before diving into this vital matter, there is a rather vague but relevant factor I should try to explain. An easy, risk-free, cost-free life ends us more bland and less fulfilling than one might expect. With too much comfort, the thrill and sense of achievement leaches out of life. To help me convey this, ponder with me a couple of scenarios.

Imagine yourself overcoming great odds and winning such a victory that upon entering heaven angels fall at your feet and for all eternity everyone praises your heroism. Now, instead, imagine yourself receiving such a reception for merely combing your hair. The prestige might be same but wouldnít the acclaim leave you feeling hollow?

God can (and does) give us astonishing gifts that are totally undeserved. In some ways, however, his greatest gift is giving us the opportunity to face real hardship and become real heroes. Only through Christ as our trail-blazer, commander and ever-present help can we win such victories. Nevertheless, God is so selfless and loves us so much that he is willing to partner with us so as to grant us real glory, not just honor that is actually exclusively his.

Deep down, we tend to feel that anything that costs little is worth little. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., you have nothing worth living for if you have nothing worth dying for. This and a number of related sayings remain in circulation because they ring true. Hereís one: all sunshine makes a desert. Hereís another: too much of a good thing . . . Despite many of us supposing we cannot have too much sweetness, luxury or self-indulgence, these sayings, made popular by peopleís personal experiences, shout otherwise. More significantly, so does Godís Word:

    Proverbs 25:27 It is not good to eat much honey . . .

God is no killjoy. A little honey is fine, affirms an earlier verse; itís just that too much would spoil things by turning our stomach (Proverbs 25:16). Of course, being a proverb, this is highlighting a life-principle that extends far beyond honey. It is divine confirmation that it really is possible to have too much of a good thing Ė that by being overly pampered with them, even sweet, desirable things can turn surprisingly sour.

The good Lord never wants to deprive us. Instead, he longs for us to maximize our long-term well-being and live a regret-free life. We can get the most out of life and spare ourselves needless discomfort by trusting Godís leading, rather than having to learn by bitter experience. We can snuggle into the assurance that our wise, loving Lord truly cares.

We will quickly move on, but letís first briefly consider three other angles:

    1.  Maybe those with the deepest regrets are those agonizing for the rest of their lives over what they might have achieved had they exerted themselves a little more.

    2.  More often than we would expect, what we would think would be Ďliving the dreamí ends up living a nightmare. Consider, for example, records of all the winners of instant megabucks whose short-term ecstasy turned to tragedy (16 Tragic Lottery Winner Stories). We can be so disastrously wrong about what seems an ideal situation that maybe we really would be better off leaving it in Godís hands.

    3.  Whilst there is no denying that following Christ costs, we need to consider very carefully how exorbitant is the cost of not following him.

A fulfilling life needs challenges. A successful writer of soap operas said happy people are boring people. Letís plunge deeper into whether for Christians there can be times when it simply isnít worth all the effort.

We know that our Leaderís agony on the cross was of incalculable worth, even though at the time perhaps every spectator thought it a horrible and useless defeat, and even though millions since, despite the benefit of hindsight, have rejected the salvation he suffered so intensely to provide. Not only was his suffering not wasted, it is his greatest glory. In addition to achieving spiritual wonders as nothing else could ever do, the very thought of his sacrifice floods us with love, awe and admiration for him.

So it is with all who follow him: no matter how useless our efforts might seem in the short-term, all who suffer for our glorious leader have this divine guarantee:

    1 Corinthians 15:58  . . . be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lordís work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (Emphasis mine.)

Anything achieved without Christ will fizzle to nothing (John 15:5) but everything done at his command is of infinite value. This does not mean the priceless worth of our efforts will always be obvious this side of eternity.

Neither does it mean that in the lives of others, what we do in divine obedience will always achieve great things. Their response is in their hands, not ours, nor even Godís. What it means, however, is that our efforts will achieve things of critical importance and will win for us and for our Lord great honor and will be acclaimed as such for all eternity (Brief explanation).

No matter how much being rejected by everyone you are seeking to help can expose you to the snarling lie that your efforts are in vain, challenges can pile far higher than that. Think of an athlete hoping for worldwide fame who, instead, finds himself sentenced to undergoing tough, repetitive, seemingly meaningless training sessions in obscurity. Most of us can multiply that by ten because we have no idea what the divine masterplan is, let alone how our efforts could possibly fit into it. Think of Joseph languishing in prison with everyone convinced he is a sex offender.

Yes, your loving Lord ensures your efforts are never in vain but it might take everything you have to muster the faith to hang on to that truth. And all this adds to your glory, just like every humiliation your Savior endured added to his.

To be in submission to the eternal Lord of glory is to be caught up in missions of divine significance so superhumanly ingenious that the Almighty can confidently tell the greatest human mind:

    Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

And not only are Godís plans magnificent beyond word, they never fail:

    Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesnít return there, but waters the earth, and makes it grow and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.

As Godís rain never falls to the ground without bringing life to a desert, so his Sonís tears, sweat and blood never fell in vain. And so it is with everyone whose sensors are locked into following him.

Since the Almightyís plans are indescribably great and never fail, and he is glued to us by the blood of his only Son and the infinity of his love, not the tiniest speck of anything divinely assigned to us is ever wasted. Hereís another way of saying this:

    Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us.

    2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory

The never-ending glory is so breathtakingly beyond imagining that it renders light and momentary even Paulís enormous list of sorrows and agonies.

Why does God delay rewarding his faithful ones?

Some of us entertain the fantasy that life on earth should be a picnic and that leaving this Ďparadiseí is a tragedy. Nevertheless, there can be no denying among Bible believers that the next life is so very much better for Christians. In fact, not just once but in two very different letters, Paul said he would prefer to be in heaven:

    2 Corinthians 5:8 we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (NIV and many other versions.)

    Philippians 1:23 I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

The Story So Far

Scripture speaks of mind-boggling rewards, but why canít we have them now?

To be frank, I donít like making much of the reward because we humans have an appalling tendency to corrupt the most beautiful things and let greed spoil everything.

I recall a pastor saying that whenever he left his family to go on a preaching tour he would return with gifts but his children would get so rapt in his presents that they became barely aware of his presence. So that the focus could be on the joy of being together, he decided to delay gift-giving until a day or so later. Compared with you and the Lord enjoying each other, the most extravagant gifts are mere trinkets.

Nevertheless, eternal rewards are real and immense because God is the loving Lord who delights in showering us with gifts. Moreover, when we are in continual agony and suffering gross injustice, we need to know it is not forever.

The answer to why Christians suffer would be easy if it were because, through ignorance, disobedience, lack of faith, or whatever, they fail to appropriate all the benefits Christ purchased for us on the cross. However, we keep finding more and more biblical affirmation that this is by no means always so. In fact, the question becomes why good Christians suffer. Itís time to look into this.

Continued: Part 10

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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