Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Responses to Suffering.

The experience of suffering is a common theme in the Bible. It is also something that all people must go through. But most people don’t want to talk about it. Who wants to rehearse experiences that take away our joy, contentment and pleasure? Who wants to recall the moments of agony, despair, discomfort or delusion? So how do we respond to the suffering in our life? What should our attitude be? The Bible gives us a window to help us understand how we can respond to the suffering we have experienced in our own lives.

Before beginning a look into the topic it is important to cover a few key points. The first is that suffering is a vast topic and this is in no way an exhaustive view of how to respond biblically to suffering. Instead, this look will be limited to a few areas in the Bible.

In the Bible, we encounter many people who experience suffering including Paul. Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He also said, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11).

In response to the initial despair, Paul encouraged giving thanks. He states, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (2 Cor 1:9-11). He was able to encourage giving thanks knowing that the prayers from others would be answered. We to can respond in the same way as we invite others to pray on our behalf.

Paul had another unique response to the suffering in his life. His response was, “…delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” (2 Cor 12:10). He was able to respond in this way because the Lord said, “"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (1 Cor 12:9). He was also able to, “…boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (1 Cor 12:9). Paul response was routed in the fact that God’s power was made perfect in weakness. We to should be reminded of the same when we face similar sufferings in our life.

Another noteworthy response from Paul's is that he never responded in Self-Pity. He does honestly express the emotion of the pain in his suffering with despair and even tears (Philippians 3:18) but never do we see him wallowing in self-pity.

Not only can we learn from Paul’s response but we can learn from Jesus as well. He was someone who experienced much suffering as predicted in Isaiah:
“He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (53:3).

And

“He was oppressed and afflicted, (53:7)

and there are many more verses.

But Jesus response is quite startling. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23). What makes his response startling is that most would want to retaliate and take vengeance. Most people would want to respond by inflicting the same kind and level of pain as experienced by those victimized. But not Jesus. He trusted God enough to judge the situation righteously.

Not also did he not retaliate but he also prayed those who were causing him to suffer. Jesus said, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). He was able to, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). Jesus also did not “…repay anyone evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17). Jesus modeled Paul’s words: “9Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12).

We can learn adopt lot of different responses to suffering. Like Paul, we to should encourage giving thanks, and delighting knowing God's power is made whole in our weaknesses. Self Pity was not an option for Paul, instead he would honestly express the pain even with tears. Jesus would not retaliate or make threats but left vengeance and judgement with God himself. He even prayed for those who hurt him.

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