After my class last night, a student talked to me about my recent sermon series on Job. She had been listening to them online, which I thought was pretty cool. Soon, the subject turned to suffering and the Christian life. It was a good conversation.
My night class is in Waverly, TN, about 60 miles from Franklin. On my way home I continued to think about that conversation and the whole topic of suffering. This blog is about where my thoughts took me:
One reason many Jews rejected Jesus was because they could not wrap their minds around the thought of a suffering servant. They had convinced themselves the Messiah would be a powerful person, who would overthrow the evil in the world and make everything better. Of course, “making everything better” meant prosperity and peace and health; heaven on earth. Jesus did not fit their ideal. Instead of making things better, He actually, temporarily, made things worse.
Likewise, today, I think many people have a hard time getting their minds around the thought of a suffering disciple. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that following Jesus will make everything better. When things, temporarily, go from bad to worse, we think something is wrong and so we ask God, “Why me?”
“…in this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33).
“…if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
“…if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20).
“…blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
“…consider is pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
“…but even if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14).
Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to look for trouble, or to bring persecution on ourselves, or to make ourselves suffer for no reason. But all through Scripture it is clear that the people of God will experience times of suffering. The good news is the only hell a believer will experience is hell on earth. The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
A popular pastor and author recently wrote a book titled, Every Day a Friday. The title comes from recent studies that have shown that, in the United States, people are happier on Friday than any other day of the week. The premise of the book is that by following certain principles, a person can be happy every day of the week.
I am all for being happy, joyful, and content; those are all biblical ideas. I am a firm believer in “your attitude helps determine your altitude”, and “while you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to what happens to you.” I have not read Every Day a Friday, and so I am in no position to criticize it or recommend it. I had not heard of the book until a few weeks ago. Someone told me about it, and when they mentioned the title, the first thing that came to my mind was, “that’s a mistake!” Joy, happiness, and contentment comes, not from Friday, but from Sunday!
A better book, I think, would be titled, Everyday a Sunday.
Think about it: Biblically speaking, Friday is crucifixion; Sunday is resurrection. Thus, it is Sunday that gives Friday its meaning.
All of life, good and bad, pain and pleasure, should be viewed through the lenses of resurrection. It is the resurrection that gives our lives meaning and purpose. It is the resurrection that gives us hope. It is because of Sunday that we have a reason to get up each day.
Because of Sunday, sufferings can be redeemed. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
A biblical worldview sees suffering as something to be embraced as a gift from God. There is something beautifully mysterious about a disciple of Jesus, with terminal cancer, who chooses to grow in their faith and encourage others. There is something wonderfully magical about a Christian couple who has lost a child through tragedy but continue to live and walk by faith, inspiring, uplifting, and loving others through their journey. There is something awe-inspiring about watching a young group of Iraqi Christians become more determined in their faith because they have had family and friends brutally killed for no other reason than they were followers of Christ.
How, and in what ways, do you think suffering should be embraced?