Friday, January 6, 2012

Rejoicing Insofar - Typing out loud about suffering.

This is going to sound gooshy. Gooshy to the point, the threshold, of bragging. I'm warning you now.

I have an incredible wife. It's true. If you met my wife after meeting me, you would soon use the words "married up" in your inner monologue. And I would agree. If we want to discuss deserving, I admit I don't deserve her. The guy who was once called King of the NCMO (Non-Commital Make Out) by his friends, who didn't have a savings account until he was 25, who drank too much and cussed out strangers? That guy doesn't deserve a beautiful, intelligent, and lovely wife.

That's why I often tell my wife she's evidence of God's grace in my life. Not only has God forgiven me of all my youthful (and adult) foolishness, he gives me wonderful gifts.

In Raised With Christ, Adrian Warnock tells this story. "I remember trying to explain grace to a room full of children. Without warning, I took a large chocolate bar and gave it to the child who had been misbehaving the most all morning. The look of surprise and pleasure on the child's face told me he understood that this was far from what he deserved. A chorus of howls from the other children of 'That's totally not fair!' told me they had grasped it too. 'Exactly,' I said. 'That's grace!'"

But what about when terrible things happen? What about when you or a loved one is sick or hurt? What about disappointment, heartbreak, or betrayal? Does God give me that, too?

Pastor Mark Leech asked that question at The Livingwell House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "How many times have I had this conversation, even with myself, when you start to feel an ache in your body or something begins to go wrong in your finances? Immediately, our brain goes to the Accuser and says, 'What have I done? What is God trying to teach me? I must have done something wrong. He's punishing me for this sin.' He's not. If He was, you'd be dead. Because there is no other punishment. There is no other judgment. The wages of sin is death. So you'd know if God was exercising judgment because you would be dead."

I know this bell rings a lot here, but I feel like many Christians (and I sometimes include myself in this group) don't understand why God would let us suffer. For some reason, we tell ourselves it doesn't seem fair to have eternal life and yet still have to deal with pain like everyone else.

1 Peter 4:12-13 says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."

This passage used to baffle me. Rejoice in suffering? Christian masochists? But then I caught the word "insofar". When I had my big toenails pulled off for the third time, and the anaesthetics weren't working, I didn't rejoice at the pain. I didn't love the suffering itself. But I'll admit that at one or two points while the doctor used her foot on the table for leverage, I thought to myself, "If this is bad, I wonder how bad it was for Jesus." Maybe that's rejoicing "insofar" as sharing in Christ's suffering. Whether I'm wrong about that or not, I hobbled away appreciating more of what He did for me.

This isn't a simple topic. I know it isn't. But here's where I've landed while I think about it today. If we've sinned, and we have, then we deserve death. But I'm still alive and I have so much good in my life. I feel like God demonstrates His love for me constantly. I don't understand why the hard stuff happens, but I know He loves me and wants to do good for me. I know that Jesus cried when His friend died, even though He knew He was about to resurrect the guy.


Anonymous said...

I think the hard stuff just happens because it's part of life. God gives us life and then He lets us LIVE life. It is what it is. He does demonstrate His love dearly... but without a little chaos in the mix, it's possible we would appreciate it as much as we do.
(Just my .02 -> Julia)

Anonymous said...

we "wouldn't" appreciate it as much. (Duh.)