Today marks the start of Holy Week as we await the solemnness of Jesus’ crucifixion and His glorious resurrection three days later. This week should be about Jesus. There are a number of verses in the Bible that discuss what Jesus was saying and doing in His last week. It is amazing to read that His disciples did not know what He has been talking about until it was too late. It made me think about how I read the bible and what I might be missing. As I considered what to write for this important week, I wondered about the people who know Jesus but like the disciples, do not understand what is happening around them. I’ve heard people say “Sure I believe in God and that Jesus was His son but I don’t get into the rest of the bible”. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I go to church and that’s enough for God to know that I believe in Him”.
I’m not warmed by either of these phrases but I will hold judgment because that’s God’s call not mine. However, I really do know what Jesus did for us and continues to do on our behalf. St Paul in a letter to the Philippians said “12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). St Paul is suggesting that we obey God’s word whether we feel His presence or not. This is such a profound statement that I can also hear Jesus saying this to me. Re-read the verse again but think of Jesus saying it instead. This verse means much more now doesn’t it?
We owe our salvation to Jesus, who intervened on our behalf, but we owe our eternal lives to God, who through His grace and mercy sent His Son to be punished for our sins. We can do nothing more at this point but believe in the word of God that assures us that we are saved through Jesus. Mark verse 9:24 says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus taught us how to live our lives, what is important in this world and what we can do to enjoy eternal life with Him. If you have ever doubted, simply read the verses about Holy Week and give thanks for ALL that God has done for you. You will overcome any “unbelief” in no time.
We all know someone who is suffering, even if just a little bit. People react differently to what they perceive to be suffering. A teenager is “suffering” when they go on vacation to a place without cell phone coverage. I’ve done work in an organization that saw suffering. No one in management would listen to the workforce, suggestions were ignored, benefits were minimalized and employee terminations were inconsistent; they were working in a culture of fear. Look in your contact list; I’d imagine that you could identify a number of people who are suffering from a financial or medical condition. How many people in your contact list would you like to trade places with? We all have troubles. Some people thrive when they are under pressure to push through difficult times and come out stronger while others crumble. How do you react? Knowing before it happens may have a big affect on how you manage the situation. When my wife and I used to (notice – used to) golf together she was always finding something good about a bad shot. When I hit the ball into the water she’d say, “at least it isn’t in the sand” and when I hit it into the sand, she would say, “at least it isn’t in the water”. I suffered during that round. What about the real suffering that goes on? Why does it happen? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life, I would guess that you could find a connection to another event that occurred later. You were stronger because of it or you learned something or you met someone. Something better comes out of our suffering.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
God has told us that we aren’t promised a trouble free life so suffering should not be a surprise. None of us wants to hear our suffering or pain compared to another person’s worse case. Why are we suffering? People asked after the attacks on September 11th how could God let this happen? However, we heard story after story about people who got to work late that day or who made appointments when they normally would be at work and survived. Two buildings that normally house tens of thousands people collapsed and less than 3000 died, God was there. Again, think about St. Paul sitting in jail suffering and enduring punishment for his faith telling his Roman followers not to worry about the suffering. He knew that by sharing his faith, God’s Glory would be revealed and millions would be saved. Paul suffered so that millions would read his letters and come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Would you react/respond differently to suffering if you knew that others could be saved? A few weeks ago I talked about being worthy, this is yet another way that says, “You are worthy!” When we suffer and still show our faith in Him, God uses us to be His messenger of what a life in Christ is like. No matter what you are suffering with, your reward is in the promise of eternal life.
Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s my take on it. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I’ve witnessed suffering first hand throughout my 27-year career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory. Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a long list of disappointments before becoming president but he also suffered. He lost his young son and his wife was tormented by depression. Despite all that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?
19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:19-21
Why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what we did or what we do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case. We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He needs. People get medical conditions so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that his great recovery to date is a result of those prayers. This message is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.