Why Suffering [Part 3 of 3]
Welcome marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and being-a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax. Let’s feast.
Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.
Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible
Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed
Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment
Part Three: “Why Suffering?” – What Fruit Does “The Cycle of Redemptive Suffering” Produce?
In Part One we stayed at the high view, the 30,000′ level in order to see the big picture why’s and wherefore’s of “Why Suffering?” This is the level where God has not left us with “mystery, mystery… it’s all mystery.” On the contrary, God made all things good; man spoiled it; but God put a plan of redeeming the world’s brokenness in place. Period. Unless we know,
In Part Two we moved way down deep into suffering at “the coalface.” E.g., what 19th Century Brits borrowed from coal mine workers, who were easily identified by their faces darkened by coal dust, to describe real-world every day living; and what I’m using to describe suffering in the trenches of life lived in a horribly broken world: every day, unassailable, the unavoidable pain of entropy, broken relationships, disease, racism, aging, warring, divisiveness, hatred, and enmity between God and man, man and man, man and nature, man and beast… the all together decay and stench of sin’s effect on the universe.
Please remember the gist of Parts One and Two: 1) God is not the author of confusion; there’s no mystery of “Why Suffering?” at the 30,000′ perspective; 2) granted, there can be lots of mystery at the every-day-detail level of “Why Suffering?”; 3) BUT there is not nearly as much mystery in our every day suffering as there needs to be! [My heart breaks at the thought of wasted suffering.] Why? Because if we will cooperate with God in our pain, if we stay put for as long as it takes to discover God’s ways and plans, and if we do so with the intentionality to mourn, to remember, to listen, to learn, to grow, and to be transformed in community—God will reveal MUCH to us in and through our suffering! [Or not. The choice is ours to make.]
Not all the mystery will be eradicated, but more than enough for us to be freed to witness the transformation(s) in our self and in others, to glorify God, and to comfort others in need of His comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) because we have been made more like Christ in and through the furnace(s) of this fallen life… sovereignly stewarded by an outlandishly loving and long-suffering God.
So, let’s look at Part Three: What Fruit Does “The Cycle of Redemptive Suffering” Produce?
Part Three can be best described as “Part One and Part Two – Over and Over Again.” The cycle of redemptive suffering is just that: a cycle, described as The Weeping, the Window, the Way by me, that WILL happen again and again! And, if “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” is allowed to get worked out and through in our life, we will be more transformed, more matured, made more wise each time (James 1:5-6). Each and every time we steward any form and/or magnitude of suffering in the proper and best way it accrues more and more to our sanctification, our holiness, our maturity, our Christ-likeness, and our wisdom and effectiveness as Christian light, salt, and the fruit of the Spirit in us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Please pause with me. Please consider that last sentence again: “Each and every time we steward any form and/or magnitude of suffering in the proper and best way it accrues more and more to our sanctification, our holiness, our maturity, our Christ-likeness, and our wisdom and effectiveness as Christian light, salt, and the fruit of the Spirit in us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)”
Do the memories of the principle and the practice that you have undoubtedly experienced [as I have untold times] of “passing by” or “getting over” or “hurrying through” [or seeing someone else do the same] a period of deep pain cause you to wince right now? Can you see afresh what is at stake when any person—let alone the church or an entire culture—wastes their tears or walk away from a broken heart without taking any time, talent or treasure to mend and transform it? Can you re-imagine what implications embracing “a culture of comfort” outside and inside the church can result in—by having much less of Christ in our midst than God desires… due to wasted, un-redeemed, un-reclaimed suffering?
“The Full Effect of Suffering”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis added)
Stay put for the full effect.
“The Many Fruits of Rejoicing in Suffering: We Know it Because We’ve Done It!”
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
The experience and growth of suffering has an accumulating effect. Why? Because the outcome of every cycle of suffering makes us more and more like Jesus Christ! Literally: The Holy Spirit’s supernatural transformation of our stony heart, combined with our cooperation, actually, really, materially changes us. That’s why the “Saints of old”—like way back not that long ago—remarked about suffering by essentially saying, “Bring It!” [When was the last time you heard that sort of masochistic insanity even in the church?]
Redemptive Suffering Aids in the Confirmation of Our Calling and Election
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-11)
At the end of Peter’s life he said much! But the Chapters prior to the amazing exhortation above consist of reminding, warning his readers, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4)
The wisdom gained in sanctified suffering deeply roots and animates our calling and election. And there’s little else we can say that is more important to contributing to our effectiveness as Christ’s disciples, light, and salt than that.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world! They’re both going to suffer. There’s the kind of person that suffering makes worse, because the source of their joy is being taken away. And there’s the kind of person who suffering makes better because the suffering is pushing them towards the one source of joy that is not subject to circumstances. Jesus Christ suffered not so that we might not suffer, but rather when we suffer, we could become more like him!” (The Sufferer, sermon by Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, March 7, 2004)