Friday, April 30, 2010

Suffering Sucks!

So I want to just quickly touch on two more points about suffering. We have talk about the idea of tolerance being an endurance and that endurance being a form of suffrage. {Click here and here to read those posts.} We live in a world that we are no longer citizens of is always going to be strange and uncomfortable. We learned that to suffer means to be affected by people. How do we respond to the people that affects us? Are we part of the remedy or part of the disease? Are we Christ like--always loving, always forgiving, always tolerating? So I would say tolerance is an indirect suffering . Basically it goes with the territory of being a Christian. We are commanded to tolerate and love one another.

The other more direct suffering we are commanded to do is "suffer the flesh". Now this is a phrase that I personally believe has been grossly misinterpreted. We must get one thing straight when it comes to suffering and that is...God does NOT cause suffering. If you want to believe in a God that is the author of suffering there are a bunch of other religions out there that have malevolent gods. God does not cause death, disease and misery just so He may be glorified. He doesn't cause death, disease and misery to test us. He doesn't cause death, disease and misery to purify us. I've never heard anything more twisted in my life! God's plan for you always has been and always will be fullness and life. Anything that happens in your life that is not life and fullness is NOT from God. God has NOT called you to a life of pain!

"The Lord said, "Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress." Jer 15:11

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness{prosper,welfare} and not for evil{harm,calamity}, to give you a future and a hope." Jer 29:11

"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." John 10:10

What God does do is work existing suffering as a result of being now strangers on this fallen planet, for his good and glory{Rom 8:28}. There is a huge difference. Sin, evil and the devil are the author of suffering, God is the facilitator for working a good result from the suffering. In that way he is glorified because the plan of the enemy to destroy has been defeated. Warfare! That is why we are called to rejoice in suffering because in doing so we are thwarting the devils plan. He has no hold over us.

When we read in the famous suffering book of 1 Peter he is talking about three different types of suffering. {read the whole book for an interesting take} One is the tolerance that we have already discussed. Two and three is to suffer the flesh. There are two types of suffering flesh...1}we do to ourselves 2} others do to us. So lets start with the first; another command in suffering.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:11

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24

"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles--when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries." 1 Peter 4:1-3

What these verse are saying is that we are to suffer our flesh of sin. We are to starve the flesh and feed the Spirit of our new creation. Just as Jesus starved his flesh and did not sin, so we are called to "suffer our flesh" not to sin. These verses have nothing to do with physical suffering. This suffering is turning from our former way of life. This suffering is no longer following the crowd. This suffering is following Jesus and uprooting any sin that may be in the way. These verses are NOT having cancer for Jesus. These verses are NOT self flagellation for Jesus. These verses are NOT starvation for Jesus. Do you see my point. This isn't something Jesus is doing to you, this is something you are doing spiritually in your walk with Jesus. So starve the old flesh{creature} desires and feed the Spirit or new creation desires. Again "starve" being metaphorically not actual starvation ok?

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." 1 Peter 4:12-13

This is suffering directly and maliciously caused by others...aka persecution. The book of 1 Peter was written in about 65AD during the reign of the infamous Ceaser Nero. It is believed that Peter was actually in Rome when he wrote this letter to the other believers scattered all over the Roman Empire. It is also believed that he was crucified there in about 67AD. Nero was considered the first Roman emperor to really turn up the heat on the persecution of the Christians. Torture and death were very real consequences for the people reading Peter's letter. Hatred was a given. Here is Roman historian Tacitus' take on the scene of that time.

"Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of "hating the human race.

In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man." Tacitus {c. 55 -117 AD}

So again this is not suffering caused by God this is suffering caused by the enemy via man. Persecution is a bit foreign to us here in the western part of the world; in fact almost totally foreign. But there are still millions of people around the world that face death for their faith in Jesus. It is just as real and serious to them as it was for the Christians in the Roman Empire. So as a person living in the ease of western society lets not patronize our brothers in Christ who are actually suffering persecution by saying that we are as well. Because we aren't. Plain and simple.

On that same note don't feel that because you are not suffering persecution that you are letting God down. God doesn't call people to a life of persecution. Persecution may be a result to where you have been called, but not the initial calling. Persecution is a enemy reaction to your new life and testimony of fullness in Christ. God is not glorified in the torture and death of persecution. But you say..."the apostles counted their torture as glory to God." Yes, but it was in the overcoming of the persecution that God was glorified. When they were not beaten to death they glorified God that they had overcome death and could go on preaching. When they were actually put to death the glory was that they weren't actually dead, they were seated with Christ in life everlasting.

What I am trying to get at is that we don't glorify suffering, we glorify God. Did you know that the ancient Greek drama/tragedy was started as worship to the god Dionysus? Dionysus was the god of wine. He was known to inspire ritual ecstasy or inflict ritual madness and despair. The Greek word tragoedia means goat-song. Goat refers to the half man /half goat satyrs like the god Pan. This is how in very ancient times the actors would dress while offering their tragoedia to the god. At the same time actually sacrificing goats to the god. The offering of tragoedia later developed into contest between three playwrights to see who could offer the most suffering to Dionysus.

The tragoedia always consisted of a spiritual conflict between a god and a mortal. When the mortal had gotten too prideful or successful the god would inflict suffering to put him in his place. It was called a reversal of fortune, what was high was brought low, a twist of the fates. The pity and fear inflicted on the hero was to cause empathy in the audience in hopes of producing a cathartic experience or emotional purging due to witnessing such suffering. In the end the tragic hero was made hero by accepting his fate and living with his "unhappy ending". Accidental misfortune was thought as meaningless. Misfortune inflicted by the god was cathartic and therefore glorified the god---usually Dionysus{ie. the devil}.

So I personally believe we as Christians need to be very wary of not worshipping tragedy and suffering in our lives as a means to glorify God.  We don't worship Dionysus.  We glorify God by facilitating his grace and power in OVERCOMING our tragedies and sufferings that He had no part in initiating. Are we called to suffer? A loaded question. My personal answer...yes and no. We are called to suffer as citizens of the kingdom of God living in this world. Meaning that we must tolerate{suffer} people that have different political, religious, sexual etc views than us. We are called to love, tolerate, be affected and intercede for these people without any expectations. We are also called to suffer our flesh. Meaning to starve the flesh of the old creature and feed the Spirit of the new creation. Turn from the sins of the person we used to be. To be holy as Christ is holy.

We are not called to persecution per se. In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul says the you will face persecution because of your godly life in Christ. Remember that Paul and Peter were writing these letters to people with an acute understanding of actual persecution. Persecution is a response from the enemy via man for our righteousness. Christ is glorified in persecution because of the overcoming of the schemes of the enemy. Just as Christ overcame death on the cross so man over comes death in persecution. His being willing to suffer unto death is testimony and glory to the power of the Holy Spirit in him. So in living with lives rooted in Christ we will face the attack of the enemy which is sometimes displayed via persecution. If your life lacks persecution you are no less worthy to God.

Finally the suffering of disease, misery, distress, despair and death are NOT calls from God. I don't see how anyone could believe that our loving, merciful God would do that to one of his children. When a father inflicts pain and suffering on a child to "teach them a lesson" it is called abuse. That is not our God! Our God does however work all things for good. That is his grace and his mercy. So can a person have a deeper intimacy with God through the pain of cancer? Absolutely, but God didn't cause the cancer just for the intimacy. Can the death of a young missionary testify the gospel? Absolutely, But God didn't cause that death just so he could be a witness. Can a natural disaster shake the spiritual climate of a nation? Absolutely, but God didn't cause the natural disaster to do so. He uses the things that the devil has initiated to destroy to work His good and glory. It it when we see this that we ourselves overcome and live this life in the victory that Jesus purchased for us on the cross and facilitated in His resurrection!

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