Suffering And God’s Blessing Are Incompatible?


Uh, I don’t think so. Suffering is very much a part of the experience of a child of God who also experiences His blessings. I explored this myth in a June 2013 post which I’ve revised below.

– – – – –

Most people probably wouldn’t want to admit it, but if they’ve taken the time to read the book of Job, they’re inclined to think his friends make a lot of good points. I mean, can we really disagree with Eliphaz when he says,

According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
(Job 4:8)

Of course, we have the prologue in the first chapter that tells us Satan is testing Job, but without that information, what would we honestly think about him?

He was rich beyond measure, well respected in the community, generous to the poor and needy, godly in every respect. And then one day, his world collapses. He loses practically everything he owns, his children die in a freakish storm, and then he himself gets sick. Horribly, painfully sick.

Would we conclude that God’s favor is on this man?

Again, I understand how the idea that suffering and God’s blessing are incompatible got a foothold in evangelical circles. After all, there is some Biblical foundation. Take Psalm 1, for example.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish. (emphasis mine)

Clearly, in this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, God is saying there are advantages for the righteous. Those advantages could easily be interpreted as here and now.

However, there are also any number of passages that indicate suffering has nothing to do with wickedness. Christ Himself suffered, and we are to experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Peter and John suffered because they wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus. Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” which God would not heal. Stephen suffered to the point of death.

In the end, the Christian who believes the Bible and doesn’t just give lip service to it, must take into consideration its entire counsel if we are to understand what God wants to teach us about suffering.

A brief summary shows that suffering

    * may come as a part of persecution
    * can be a blessing
    * may be a result of Satan’s opposition
    * sometimes exists solely to bring God glory
    * is something in which we can rejoice
    * is experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world
    * can be experienced by those who are doing wrong

One thing that seems absent is the idea that suffering is a sure sign of sin. Peter says it’s far better for us to suffer for doing right rather than for doing wrong, and he commands believers to make sure they don’t suffer as “a murder or thief or evil doer or a troublesome meddler.” But if we suffer as Christians, he says we’re not to be ashamed.

So Peter highlights the fact that suffering can be a consequence of sin or a result of persecution. In other words, there is no automatic, “this is what suffering means” answer.

Peter actually seems to look favorably on suffering. In his first letter, he starts chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that last line, but clearly, he was looking at suffering in a completely different way than do most western evangelical Christians.

I think about the newly converted Paul having to leave Damascus in a basket because his fellow Jews were trying to kill him for preaching Jesus. I suspect today if someone had a similar experience, they’d write a book about being disappointed with God for not smoothing the path for their preaching or they’d give an interview about how they lost their faith because God couldn’t be counted on.

The fact is, we put God on trial and judge Him based on whether He gets us, out or keeps us out, of uncomfortable, hard places. When we walk through the fire, we think God has messed up, but the prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

There’s no promise there that the waters won’t be overwhelming or that the fire won’t come near. Instead, God does give the promise of His presence, His direction, and even His protection in the midst of suffering.

James says, “When you encounter various trials,” not if you encounter various trials.

The real question doesn’t seem to be “will we face suffering,” or even “why do we face suffering,” but “how will we face suffering.”

As long as western evangelical Christians buy the myth that suffering is incompatible with God’s blessing, I don’t see how we can respond with the kind of joy Peter and James both talk about.

Advertisements
Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Persecution


Umpqua Community College, Oregon

Umpqua Community College, Oregon

There’s been another school shooting, this one at a community college in Oregon. USA Today reports that ten people lost their lives. What sets this shooting apart is that the gunman was apparently hunting for Christians according to the New York Post.

Several sources who were present or who talked with someone at the scene reported the gunman’s systematic approach:

“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christian,” she wrote. “If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.

Of course there will be the usual discussion about gun laws and mental health, but in this instance, it seems necessary to also address persecution, particularly of Christians. Some believers are shocked or outraged, as they were at the pictures of the beheadings of believers in Syria. Some are doubtful. After all, not many news outlets have included the “Christian targeting” aspect of this shooting.

Murder and intentional injuries inflicted on strangers at a college campus are both shocking and outrages in and of themselves. But if in fact some died because of their faith, a new horror has begun here in our own country: people targeted for no other reason than that they were Christians.

Undoubtedly many will chalk this incident up to one crazed individual, but what believers should not do is to discount the real possibility that persecution—and I don’t mean store clerks wishing us a Happy Holiday instead of a Merry Christmas—will be something we’ll face one day.

I tend to think that a lot of Evangelicals, raised in the theology of the Rapture assume we won’t be around to suffer persecution. In many ways this has fed into the comfortable American Christian mindset. We live in a country that protects religious freedom and we’ll be taken from this world before any judgment will come down on those who reject God. Consequently, the most important thing—and I’m not saying it isn’t important—is to protect our rights, particularly our religious freedom.

But Scripture doesn’t convince me that we are supposed to live a life free of the cost of discipleship, even if that cost is high.

Jesus Himself set the standards:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 6:43 pm  Comments (19)  
Tags: , , ,

Evangelical Myth #3 – Suffering And God’s Blessing Are Incompatible


america_arrestMost people probably wouldn’t want to admit it, but if they’ve taken the time to read the book of Job, they’re inclined to think his friends make a lot of good points. I mean, can we really disagree with Eliphaz when he says,

According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
(Job 4:8)

Of course, we have the prologue in the first chapter that tells us Satan is testing Job, but without that information, what would we honestly think about him?

He was rich beyond measure, well respected in the community, generous to the poor and needy, godly in every respect. And then one day, his world collapses. He loses practically everything he owns, his children die in a freakish storm, and then he himself gets sick. Horribly, painfully sick.

Would we conclude that God’s favor is on this man?

Again, I understand how the idea that suffering and God’s blessing are incompatible got a foothold in evangelical circles. After all, there is some Biblical foundation. Take Psalm 1, for example.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

Clearly, in this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, God is saying there are advantages for the righteous. Those advantages could easily be interpreted as here and now.

But there are also any number of passages that indicate suffering has nothing to do with wickedness. Christ Himself suffered, and we are to experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Peter and John suffered because they wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus. Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” which God would not heal. Stephen suffered to the point of death.

In the end, the Christian who believes the Bible and doesn’t just give lip service to it, must take into consideration its entire counsel if we are to understand what God wants to teach us about suffering.

A brief summary shows that suffering

    * may come as a part of persecution
    * can be a blessing
    * may be a result of Satan’s opposition
    * sometimes exists solely to bring God glory
    * is something in which we can rejoice
    * is experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world
    * can be experienced by those who are doing wrong

One thing that seems absent is the idea that suffering is a sure sign of sin. Peter says it’s far better for us to suffer for doing right rather than for doing wrong, and he commands believers to make sure they don’t suffer as “a murder or thief or evil doer or a troublesome meddler.” But if we suffer as Christians, he says we’re not to be ashamed.

So Peter highlights the fact that suffering can be a consequence of sin or a result of persecution. In other words, there is no automatic, “this is what suffering means” answer.

Peter actually seems to look favorably on suffering. In his first letter, he starts chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that last line, but clearly, he was looking at suffering in a completely different way than do most western evangelical Christians.

I think about the newly converted Paul having to leave Damascus in a basket because his fellow Jews were trying to kill him for preaching Jesus. I suspect today if someone had a similar experience, they’d write a book about being disappointed in God for not smoothing the path for their preaching or they’d give an e-zine interview about how they lost their faith because God couldn’t be counted on.

The fact is, we put God on trial and judge Him based on whether He gets us out or keeps us out of uncomfortable, hard places. When we walk through the fire, we think God has messed up, but the prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

There’s no promise there that the waters won’t be overwhelming or that the fire won’t come near. There is God’s promise of His presence, His direction, and even His protection in the midst of suffering.

James says, “When you encounter various trials,” not if you encounter various trials.

The real question doesn’t seem to be “will we face suffering,” or even “why do we face suffering,” but “how will we face suffering.”

As long as western evangelical Christians buy the myth that suffering is incompatible with God’s blessing, I don’t see how we can respond with the kind of joy Peter and James both talk about.

Persecution Of Christians And False Teaching


When I was a kid, I only thought Christians in America would face persecution if the Russians took over the world. We used to hear scary things about Soviet Russia — only registered churches could exist, Bibles were almost non-existent, and Christians were less likely to get jobs in government or any other influential part of society.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision the US winning the Cold War and then Christians coming under attack. Not that I’ve specifically heard of physical attacks, but certainly verbal attack is routine.

Actions based on false teaching that make Christianity odious

What’s just become clear to me is the role that false teaching plays in this process.

Today’s local paper, the Whittier Daily News, has an article, originating with the Associated Press, entitled “Perry’s presidential run casts new light on dominionism.” The story is all about how Presidential hopeful Rick Perry is tied to a group of “Pentecostals” who want to establish a Christian government because of “a God-given mandate to run the world.”

The term that journalists and scholars are using for this thinking is “dominionism.” I did a little research and learned that some in the media equate this “movement” to Islamic beliefs:

In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches. Think of it like political Islamism, which shapes the activism of a number of antagonistic fundamentalist movements, from Sunni Wahabis in the Arab world to Shiite fundamentalists in Iran. (from “A Christian Plot for Domination?” by Michelle Goldberg)

More recently the Huffington Post published “5 Facts About Dominionism” by Daniel Burke, an article with a more balanced perspective. Even so, the article generated over 1600 comments, including ones like this:

The Religious Right do NOT want a state-spon­sored church, as they are sometimes accused of advocating­. But what they DO want is probably a lot worse.

What many want is for Biblical Law (primarily Leviticus) to be legislated into the US penal code. That means, for example, that anyone that doesn’t profess Evangelica­l Christiani­ty as his or her religion would be executed. The same punishment would apply to gays, working on the “sabbath,” adultery, disobedien­t children, gluttony, and many other offenses.

Don’t be fooled when they say they don’t want a state church, because that’s just a cover for what they really do want.

Or how about this:

Keep your god out of my Government­.

The First Amendment of the Constituti­on. I would defend it to the death.

[That would be the amendment that guarantees freedom of religion, if memory serves me correctly.]

The point is this. False teaching flying the flag of Christianity doesn’t turn society against the false teaching or the small niche from which it comes. It turns society against God and against “Evangelical Christianity.”

Can genuine persecution be far behind?

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , ,

A Christian Worldview of the Church, Part 3


Announcement: for those wishing to vote for the November CSFF Top Blogger Award, click here. By the way, I’ve extended the voting through Wednesday because I had omitted one of the eligible participants. If you haven’t checked out their posts on Shade yet, I encourage you to take some time in the next couple days and see what they had to say.
– – –

You might be wondering why I’m delving into Revelation and John’s writing about the seven churches. I mentioned this topic has been on my mind. For a couple reasons, actually. This month I have an article coming out in Victorian Homes magazine about a series of Tiffany stained glass widows depicting the seven angels from this passage. Writing the article made me take a closer look at what these verses say.

In addition, I’ve started praying for the church in America and decided, since I know from the passage in Revelation what God wants or doesn’t want for these churches, those might be good things to pray about. So I’ve looked at several of the warnings. As I’m writing, I realize it is just important to pray for the areas of strength the seven churches displayed because we don’t necessarily have those things as strengths in the Church today.

Detouring back to the verses about Smyrna, the main concern seems clear: do not fear. How appropriate for the Church today. Not just because the economy isn’t healthy. Not just because society isn’t healthy. The Revelation passage makes it clear that persecution was on the way. And certainly numerous places throughout the world today face persecution. Should we who still worship in freedom not take on the responsibility to pray that our brothers and sisters who face abuse and imprisonment and ostracism and prejudice will not be afraid?

Seems like the least we can do, though by praying we actually are doing the greatest intervention possible.

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 2:38 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: