A Theology of Suffering

Blessings because, for the most part, we have lost a proper Biblical theology of suffering. Listen to these powerful words in Laura’s song: I remember preaching in an African American congregation on Philippians 3:8-10.  The brothers and sisters were talking back to me while I preached.  I have always loved that.  It’s like street preaching.  So following the text I asked these eager folks,

“Do you want to know Him?”
Fans waving, hankies waving, strongly, loudly they responded,
“Oh yes I want to know Him!”
I then asked,
“Do you want to know the power of His resurrection?”
Power is important stuff.  The assembly is on their feet, faces look at me like they are hurt and befuddled that I should even have to ask.
“Oh yes, Lord, I want to know the power of your resurrection!  Give it to me Lord!”
I raised my hand for quiet, I waited, they were eager to hear the formula to know Him & feel and use the power.  They pleaded with me for the “key” that would unlock the Christian life. Then when quiet was restored I said,
“You must participate in the fellowship of His sufferings.”
Total silence. It was as if collectively they returned to their seats and said,
“I don’t want to know Him that bad.”
But suffering, via dela rosa…the way of the cross…is an essential element to any Christian’s life.  Often personal suffering is the tool Christ uses to drive us again and again back to Him in humility.  Jacob’s limp hurt everyday for the rest of his life. Mean-spirited brothers may have wanted to hurt Joseph, but the trauma, torture, imprisonment, and sexual temptation were what “God meant for his good,” (Gen.50:20). As a counselor for forty years I have observed that God places suffering and hardship in at least one area of His sons and daughters lives to continually drive them to dependence on Him: kids, marriage, vocation, addiction, physical illness, etc. Again and again, God gives grace in the midst of suffering. This is the theme of the Book of Job. Next time you go to church just look over the assembled folk.  I think James did that in James 5:13-16.  At any given assembly, in every assembly in any century about a third of the congregation is “suffering hardship/in trouble.”  Another third of the assembly is “in good spirits/happy.”  The final third is “sick/weary.”  Folks may rotate through one category to another, but the categories will stay the same week after week. Unfortunately, most Protestant worship services act as if everyone is in the 2nd category or attempt to emotively get them into the “happy” camp. Two-thirds of the assembly are hurting and must find a way to Jesus in the midst of the pain. For many strugglers in sexual addiction, failures drive us in shame and guilt from the assembly.  We can’t be “happy” and honest to our heart condition at the same time.  How often have I heard: “I tried church, and it didn’t work.  It was irrelevant, shaming, and phony.”  An authentic community invites the strugglers to worship with integrity in their failure, loss, and pain. For many, addiction support groups provide the first community that receives them, embraces them, and allows them to learn more of Christ while experiencing the personal pain and consequences of their sin. James chapter 5 continues on to encourage us to admit our sin and to pray.
“Therefore confess (admit) your sins to each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. …My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone bring him back, remember this:  whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
We believe in the finished work of Christ on the cross, right?  All sins…past present and future…are forgiven in His blood, right?  But, if we are forgiven in Christ on the cross, why do we repent and admit our sin to God and others again and again.  Why confess sin again, why seek forgiveness again and again? Why do we need to “work the steps” over and over again? Why especially will we redo Step 4 over and over again? This has to do with a distinction between Judicial Forgiveness and Parental Forgiveness.  They are not the same.  Judicial Forgiveness occurs once the first time we come to the cross and admit our wrongdoings.  Parental Forgiveness occurs daily as we repent of our sins and desperately return to our Father. Consider the following diagram: Judicial and Parental Forgiveness Praying in confession of sin for the first time is like an angry, defeated foe who hates this new Sovereign.  Admitting sin repeatedly is before the face of a Father who loves His wayward sons and daughters. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” In what area of your life has your sin been pressuring you toward Christ? Take some time to survey with your Sponsor how many authentic communities (congregations) there are in your area? Can you understand the idea of “the gift of addiction?”]]>