How to Untangle a Knot

How to Untangle a Knot

Tangled stories

Jesus was “never without a story”.  He used them to help His audience gain a greater understanding of God and to resolve real-life problems.  The Apostle Mark describes this as “sorting out tangles” and “untying knots.”

When He was alone with His Disciples, Jesus went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.  Mark 4:34 (The Message)

Today we will examine the benefit of listening to God’s voice through His Word to sort out the tangles and knots in our life.

Learning to sort out my tangles

Have you ever been faced with a knotted shoe lace or tangled necklace?  It can be frustrating trying to find the biggest knot that will result in the ultimate resolution to your problem.  Knots can impede the full use and benefit of our possessions or abilities,  i.e., knots in a tie or tangled chords of a wind chime.

How did we learn to untangle and untie knots?  While I can’t remember my “first knot” or most “frustrating tangle”, I do recall that if I had problems with either of these, my mother was always there to help me based on two things:  First, I had to realize my limitations—I was unable to resolve this challenge on my own.  Secondarily, I had to trust her–she was both available and able to help me with my problem.

Life is full of knots and tangles

Our world is full of knots and tangles.  The challenges of life appear to be “insurmountable messes” which we are unable to resolve.

  • Life cycle knots—work, family, and relationships.
  • Personal tangles—financial challenges, health problems, dying and death.
  • Societal snarls—turmoil, instability, and uncertainty.

Some knots and tangles are the natural result of living in a fallen world; others may be of our own creation. What is the answer to these kinks and twists of living?  How are we to manage these real situations in our lives?

The World and Life Knots

The world offers futile solutions to life’s knots and tangles.  It suggests resolution through substances (alcohol, drugs, and food), through systems (affiliations, power, and influence) and through stuff (materialism and riches) (1 John 2:15-17).

These answers are temporary and subject to change (2 Cor. 4:18). However, God’s Word is eternal and provides needed insight into His nature and the realities of life, inviting believers to trust, peace, and contentment (Ps. 37:1-6, 23-27).

It’s In the Word  

There’s an old gospel song entitled, It’s All in the Word that retorts:  “The answer to your problems, if you haven’t heard…it’s all in the Word.”

For those who are willing to listen to Jesus’ voice, there are many promises and privileges (John 10:27).  As we connect to God through His Word and the Holy Spirit, we have access to wisdom and knowledge so desperately needed to navigate these perilous times (Eph. 1: 8).

The Psalmist put it more eloquently in saying “God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path”.  God’s close proximity keep us from stumbling.  It is also broad and sufficient to protect us from potential danger and pitfalls (Ps. 119:105).  Psalm 19:7-11 speaks to the great worth of God’s Word.  “Warning and reward” are key benefits in embracing God’s Word.

What about my knots?

God may not choose to always remove the knots and tangles in our  life.  Some knots and tangles are needed to mature and strengthen us.  They help us when we choose to be “trained” by them (Hebrews 12:11).

However, we can always depend on God to be available and ready to help us “find the big loops” (John 16:33).  Jesus is ready to help us  with the tangles and knots of our life.  What are the things that you’ve been unable to resolve?  Draw near to Him who is willing and able to help.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving Gratitude

“In everything give thanks.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are instructed to give thanks in everything.  What does that look like in our homes and cities as we continue to deal with challenges on every hand.  Especially this Thanksgiving.

As we prepare for our family gatherings, the impact of inflation, rising gas prices, and supply shortages may cause us to question, “is there really anything to be thankful for?”  What gratitude are you bringing to this year’s Thanksgiving celebration?

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation and thankfulness for what one has.  Is there anything we appreciate or are thankful for?  While we are very good at expressing our displeasure for what we don’t have, regrettably, we often miss the mark in articulating our gratitude.

Failure to show gratitude

We, in general, are slow in offering gratitude.  We will sometimes express gratitude when prayers are answered, or catastrophes are avoided.  However, even in those special circumstances, we are more likely to attribute our good fortune to luck than to God’s benevolence.

In the busyness of living, we take for granted those things God provides through His grace to all mankind:  the sun and the moon (Deut. 33:14), the regularity with which the seasons change (Gen. 8:22), and the marvels of created life (Rom. 1:20).

We fail to recognize our blessings and therefore fail to express gratitude.  Gratitude is the only “proper response” to beneficence:  the generosity and kindness from a benefactor.  In our case, exuberant gratitude is the best response to our gracious and loving God.

Gratitude and salvation

With salvation, we as believers experience a multitude of blessings, both now and in the future.  First and foremost is our deliverance from the power and penalty of sin (Rom. 6:9).  This release from our sin nature provides instant access to God the Father (Rom. 5:2).

We are given a new identity in Christ, both as children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).  As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we are gifted with the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers us with the same dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19).

Finally, eternal life is God’s special gift to believers.  It is a gift that cannot be acquired through works, or any other path.  Yet it is readily available through belief in Jesus the Christ (John 3:16).  Through eternal life, we can experience God’s presence, peace, and provision.  As heirs of God, we await our final inheritance reserved for us in heaven, when we return to our true home (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

It is God’s will that in everything, we give thanks.

It is not God’s will that we express gratitude for “gratitude’s sake only”.  We know that in giving thanks, His power can be released into our life in ways never before seen.

This includes the formation of incredible joy, unshakeable hope, and unbroken peace (1 Pet. 1:2-4).  The outward expression of appreciation to God, works to bring new power and access that, under other circumstances, would be unattainable.

As we prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving, are we grateful for what we do have?  According to the Greek writer and philosopher, Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Let us, therefore, bring to this Thanksgiving dinner an “extra serving” of gratitude.

Do we need revival?

Do we need a revival?Revival?

When I say the word, revival, what comes to mind?  Perhaps the first thing we think about is something from the past becoming popular or important again, such as the revival of board games or the revival of drive-in theaters.

From a religious standpoint, however, a revival is the “reawakening of religious zeal or enthusiasm”.  I remember as a child when revivals were held in our community.  Sometimes it was initiated by our pastor who felt his members needed a “spiritual jumpstart” to either usher in the new year or finish up the old one.

During the summer, it was not unusual to have traveling evangelists come into our community.  With large tents and wooden platforms, they would preach “fire and brimstone” in true “Elmer Gantry” style, until someone came down front to “repent and turn from their wicked ways.”

We hear of revivals even today, but probably with less frequency, as people choose more convenient and less demanding ways of “stoking their spiritual fire.”  The question is, however, is what we’re doing enough to truly “maintain the spiritual fire” we need in our souls?  Do we need revival?

Why revival?

In both my prayer circle and Bible study group, “the buzz” is all about the need for revival—in our nation, in our churches and in our homes.  Although the actual word “revival” is not used in the Bible, there are many instances cited where revival or spiritual awakening occurred (1 Sam. 7:1-6; 2 Kings 18:1-7)

Revivals are not new in the economy of God. The largest recorded revival occurred in Nineveh where it is recorded that 120,000 souls repented and were saved from God’s wrath (Jonah 3:4-10).   Revivals are often preceded by a major moral crisis that has plowed the soil of people’s hearts, readying them for the fertile seeds of revival: God’s Word and God’s salvation.  Are we currently experiencing similar crises in our nation?

We have become desensitized to the social needs of people in our community.  Our entertainment choices reflect a tolerance for moral depravity and disregard for human life—not much different than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Man has “deified” himself over God.  Society continues to attempt to redefine God, trivialize family, and devalue Christ’s church.  And what have we gained in return? Broken and wounded people feeling hopeless, in despair, without joy.  Are we in need of revival?

Preparing for revival

To this point, we have described revival as a noun; an event that stirs up religious faith. Revive can also be a “verb”, which in Hebrew, means to bring to life or cause to live.  Do we need to be revived—brought back to life?

As I look around, I believe we are in desperate need of “spiritual CPR.”   We need new breath and true life that can only come from God (Ps. 85:6-7).  Using Jonah 3:4-10, below is a “CPR” acrostic to communicate how we can prepare for revival.

Confession.  Readiness for revival always begins with confession of sin. The people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast of which everyone participated, “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” (v. 5) Confession recognizes the need for change and realization that the only true source of change is God.

Prayer.  Prayer is the most powerful force God has given us to implement change.  The city of Nineveh, “both man and beast were covered with sackcloth and cried mightily unto God.” (v. 8a) Prayer prior to revival prepares the way for the preaching of God’s truth. God’s truth defeats the lies of Satan and provides light to expose the darkness of sin (Acts 26:18).

Repentance.  Repentance requires two actions: the turning away from sin and the turning to God.  The people of Nineveh “turned from their evil way.” (v. 8) The turning away from sin begins with accepting Christ as both Savior and Lord.  Repentance should lead to transformed living—one of good works and service (Eph. 2:10).

Where do we begin?

I heard a minister state that individuals should “draw a circle on the ground and then step inside it—it is here where revival begins.”  Confess, pray, and repent. Revival starts with us. Are we ready to begin?

Altars of Earth

An Altar of Earth

It’s all in the instructions

I am notorious for ordering items online.   When the box arrives, I’m excited to see my item in the perfect spot I’ve chosen for it.  However, when I open the box, all I see are parts and pieces in plastic bags with the INSTRUCTIONS on how to put it together.  Thank the Lord, I have such a kind and knowledgeable husband who is good with instructions.

Today we explore a  set of instructions God gave Israel following His presentation of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:24).

An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

 God’s  “thunderous” manifestation of his  presence  impressed upon Israel that He was the “Living God” and not some impotent idol they had worshipped in Egypt  (Exod. 20:18-20). God was the Creator and not the molded creations of man’s idolatrous mind.  God was moving closer to His people.  He would come to them and bless them.

Why an altar of earth?

An altar of earth, a simple structure, or of stone (unhewn), was  to be constructed. God wanted them to build a plain altar of stone with no engraving. I’m sure many of the Israelites had seen the engraving of the statues and monuments in Egypt.  They may have even been engravers themselves.  But God required a higher yet simpler standard that would recognize who He was.   The moment a tool was put to the stone, it would be considered “polluted”.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of the altar was for worship.  That worship was to include specific offerings—a burnt and a peace offering.  There was no mention of presenting a sin and trespass offerings which were given to Israel later.

The peace offering revealed man’s need for  sacrifice that would reconcile him to God.  Jesus Christ accomplished that by His blood on the Cross.  The burnt offering speaks of God’s  worthiness and ability to save.  Christ was the perfect sacrifice and the only one able to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (2 Cor. 5:18)

Where’s my altar?

Everywhere Israel journeyed,  they made an altar of earth.  The altar was to be placed  in those places where  “God recorded His name.” One commentary states it this way:   “cause My name to be remembered”.

God would reward Israel’s offerings in those places where God was worshipped in sincerity.

Afterwards, God chose one particular place (Jerusalem) to record his name.  But now that has been taken away under the gospel, when men are encouraged to pray every where.  This promise revives in its full extent, that, wherever God’s people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them, he will honour them with his presence, and reward them with the gifts of his grace; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.  More than this we need not desire for the beautifying of our solemn assemblies.[1]

This portion of the Exodus text caught my attention.  I then began to ask myself the following questions.

Where are my “altars of earth” to the Lord?

Where are the places in my life where God has caused me to “remember His name”?

Am I watchful and recognize when I am “out of fellowship”with Him?

Am I presenting offerings that worship God?

Do I bless God for all His benefits? His presence,  power, provision, and  protection?

Altars and offerings are no longer needed to be in right relationship with God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection eliminated that requirement.  However, it is important that we Christians spiritually create our personal altars to worship God in recognition of His love and gift of life through Jesus Christ.

I close with the following  scripture texts in the hope that they  will “cause His name to be remembered” by each of us.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.(Rom. 12:1) 

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb.13:15) 

Give to the LORD the glory due his name; Bring an offering, and come before him.  Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!  (1 Chron. 16:29)

[1]  Matthew Thomas Commentary

Throwback Wednesday: Recapturing Our Thoughts

Throwback Wednesday for a New Year

A Great Read

I recently finished a book which has proven very insightful for me as I strive to be “more conformed” to the image of my Lord and Savior.  The book is entitled, “Watchfulness: Rediscovering  a Lost Spiritual Discipline, by Brian G. Hedges.

Hedges proposes that Christians could benefit spiritually by exercising greater “vigilance or watchfulness”  over their hearts, minds, and souls.  Why?  To protect ourselves from Satan’s snares, the world’s bendings, and our flesh’s weakness.  We need to be more intentional.

Throwback connection

With this book I mind, I thought it would be a great refresher to revisit  for this Throwback Wednesday, “Recapturing Our Thoughts.”

Our thoughts are vulnerable to attack by the world and by Satan.  Our flesh is continually weakened by marketing and media; by every sound byte we listen to.

Begin your “watchfulness journey” by recapturing your thoughts.

Our Theology of Suffering: Where is God in our Suffering?

 

Suffering Summary

We began our study on suffering by discussing its definition and its implication in the life of the believer.  While no one wants to suffer, it is a fact of life that we must manage every day. We mentioned early in the series how we try to alleviate our suffering. Living in a fallen world, however, we will experience some form of suffering.

We examined the practice of pain management and the strategies we use to ease our pain and suffering. For believers, we agreed that our pain management comes from our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Armed with that knowledge, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness. (Ps. 27: 1-3).

We concluded that having the right theology of suffering will help us to not only manage the pain, but also sustain us through our suffering.   Suffering is best managed first, by putting our trust in God and secondarily, by having a Christian worldview.

Where is God?

With all we’ve discussed about suffering to date, there is yet one question we have.  “Where is God in the midst of our suffering?”  Through the COVID pandemic, in natural disasters, and during mass shootings; with these and many more events in mind, where is God?  This is where the right theology of suffering is important.  

If we believe that God is our spiritual “Superman” who will rescue us from suffering, then we will always be disappointed. God loves us and is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. His glory and His power can best be recognized not in His rescuing us “from” our suffering BUT INSTEAD in His provision for us “during” our suffering. God is where He has always been and where He will always be—actively participating in our suffering. 

How does God participate in our suffering?   By sustaining us (Ps. 55:22; Phil. 4:19).  By strengthening us (Ps. 27:1; 2 Thess. 3:3).  By comforting us (John 14:7; 2 Cor. 1:3-5).  By providing and protecting us (Isa. 54:10).  God is not observing our suffering from afar. He is ever near (2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 30:21).

As our Sovereign, God controls all events, people, and circumstances that flow into our lives. By faith we trust God, knowing that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  And that purpose may include the experience of suffering (2 Cor. 12:7). Without God we can’t fit suffering into the fabric of life.

Look for Jesus in the midst

In reading God’s Word and through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, I have learned to not only, trust in God, but also, “look for God” during my suffering.

While working with a soul healing team, we witnessed how the Holy Spirit would reveal Jesus in the midst of a person’s painful experience.  The Holy Spirit helped individuals see Jesus during their situation.  They realized they were not alone.  Jesus was there with them!  Sustaining, comforting, strengthening, and protecting.

Jesus is always with us!    We must learn to practice looking for God during times of suffering.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus with you during times of suffering.  Look for Him with your spiritual eyes.

Closing words on suffering

F.B. Meyer, noted theologian, wrote these words about suffering.

Suffering in the will of God challenges us to persevere in our faith. God desires to use such suffering to advance his Kingdom and righteousness in many ways, including further conforming us to the image of God. We need to keep the right perspective about such suffering.

Andrew Murray had this to say about suffering:

 By faith alone are we able to bear suffering, great or small, alright to God’s glory, or our own welfare. Faith sees it in the light of God and eternity; It’s short pain, it’s everlasting gain; it’s impotence to hurt the soul, it’s power to purify and to bless it.

While I appreciate both writer’s input, I commit to memory the following from my Lord and Savior Jesus.  Especially its closing promise.

These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In this world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

The Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 2

Just the Facts

We understand that suffering is a part of life.  As we know, suffering is not part of God’s original divine plan but is a result of sin.  Because of that, Christians acknowledge that we live in a sinful, “fallen world.” As believers, our response to suffering—pain, distress, and hardship—is shaped by two key factors.  First, our trust in God (Ps. 62:5-8) and secondarily, our Christian worldview (Eccl. 9:11).

An “enlightened” response

The Bible also informs our response to suffering.  Although it offers no “magic pill” to overcome pain and distress, it does reveal how God operates on our behalf during difficult times (2 Cor. 1:3-5).   Jesus demonstrated how man can operate knowing he will suffer.  For Jesus, suffering was needful and “purposeful” (Heb. 2:10).  It resulted in the salvation of mankind and the elimination of the power of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  In His suffering and death, Jesus modelled for us His trust in and obedience to God.

How we choose to respond to our suffering will determine its purpose and possibility in our life.  As I said earlier, our response to suffering can either make us “better or bitter”, it all depends on our trust in God and our worldview.  These create an enlightened, faith-based response.

Better or bitter?

In 2010, a well-known Bible teacher and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The thing that made this news so heart wrenching for me was the fact that Joni had for the last 43 years lived as a quadriplegic—and now this?  Questions raced in my mind.  “How much suffering can a person take?” She dedicated her life to Christ and helping others—and now this?  The old cliché came to mind.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Can any good come from suffering?

Certain types of suffering may result from our own wrong choices or because of the wrong choices and acts of others.  But regardless of the cause (sin), it is our personal response that really matters.  A faith-based response will not only enable us to cope during the suffering but also rekindle our hope (2 Cor. 4:7-9).  It will also strengthen our resolve and build our resiliency (2 Cor. 4:15-17).

Suffering—purpose and possibility

Our suffering is purposeful.  As a ship is proven seaworthy by the beating of the waves and the whipping of the winds, likewise, our suffering aids us in becoming mature Christians.

The Apostle Peter states that after we have “suffered a while, we will be perfect, established, strengthened and settled” (1 Pet. 5:10).  Paul eloquently witnessed to the value of his many suffering experiences and the future reward of his obedience and faith: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

How we respond to suffering is a witness to the power of God and His sustaining Presence (The Holy Spirit) in our life.  It will result in His praise, honor, and glory (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Our suffering offers possibilities.  Possibilities is defined as “unspecified qualities of a promising nature”.  In Latin, possibilis means “able to be done.”  All things are possible, even in the midst of suffering, if we build our full reliance and trust in God.  Is anything, including our suffering, too hard for God? (Jer. 32:27)

Possibilities build our hope.  As Christ trusted Himself to His Father, so should we believers commit ourselves to our faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19).  He remains our strong tower and defense regardless of the challenges we face.  In addition, our hope is anchored in the firm expectation that we will reign in heaven with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12).   We are to fix our eyes on Christ and the future He has for us, even though we may suffer all kinds of trials in these present times (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Can any good come from suffering?

What would Joni Eareckson Tada say?  How would the Apostles Paul and Peter respond?  If we read their writings, we’d find they would answer yes.  Why would they respond in that manner?  Because they had developed the right theology of suffering.

That theology was not based on their current condition (suffering) but on their trust in God and their Kingdom worldview.  We are told that in everything we are to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18).  That includes our suffering.  We know that in that suffering experience we are guaranteed the presence of God to sustain us and the exceeding promise of His glory, both now and in the future.

Next week, we will conclude our study on suffering by answering this question, “Where is God in suffering?”

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 1

Our Theology of Suffering: Purpose and Possibilities, Part 1

Why suffering?

Pain and suffering have been themes for many great philosophers.  But when we enter a time of suffering, all the wisest speculation of the philosophers seeing empty and meaningless. We simply hurt.  And the mystery as to why we experience suffering often remains shrouded and hidden.

Beginning with Adam and Eve, human beings have suffered because of their wrong choices AND/OR because of the wrong choices and acts of others. As we shared earlier, suffering is the natural consequence of sin and therefore, an integral part of the human experience.

Biblical perspective of human suffering

Unlike the ancient Greek Stoics who viewed suffering as a man’s fate in an impersonal universe, the Bible affirms a world ordered by a personal God.

In the Old Testament suffering is set in the context of morality and the divine purpose. There is no hint of chance or fate. From a morality standpoint, suffering is a consequence of sin. God establishes a moral order in creation and retribution is metered out in life experiences.

Pain and suffering are concepts that draw attention to how human beings are affected by the tragedies of life. It is not the loss of a home or a loved one, nor physical agony, that seems devastating. It is how such an experience affects us within, causing doubts and fears and trembling as the pattern of our lives is shaken and our expectations fail.[1]

The prime Old Testament example of one who endured pain and suffering is Job. Although he was a person whom God Himself called blameless and upright (Job 1:8), he lost everything in a single day. However, even after Job was restored, there is no answer as to why he suffered.  But in this revelation, we see, it was Job’s faithfulness and trust that resulted in blessings that were even greater than before his loss (Job 42:12-17).

In the New Testament, we discover God’s attitude to suffering expressed in Jesus. Not only did God sympathize, sharing in our hurt and suffering, but God in Jesus even entered humanity and took on to Himself the full weight of sin (Heb. 2:14-18).  And with that weight came suffering.  Christ presents to us a model we can use to “embrace” suffering.  Jesus’ attitude reflected trust, obedience, patience, and hope.

So what are we to do?

Scripture offers no magic remedy when suffering surprises and overwhelms us. There is no verse to read that will instantly heal us or even dull our pain. Grasping what the Bible teaches us about suffering (and how to meet it) will not relieve it.  Nor will it release us from circumstances beyond our control.

However, the biblical perspective on suffering, will enable us to better cope and even to overcome those difficult times. The sufferings of the prophets, the apostles, and others, just like us, “reveal” the goodness and the greatness of Almighty God.

It reaffirms our trust in God and encourages us to “go deeper” in our relationship with Him.  While we may not understand the reason for our suffering, we as believers can be assured God is with us to both comfort and strengthen us.   The God of the mountains—our good times—is the same God of the valley—our times of suffering (1 Kin. 20:28).  It is in the valley that we rekindle our hope and trust in Him; that we will KNOW that He is our God!

Our theology of suffering

With every incident of pain and distress, we are continually “updating” our “theology of suffering”.  What did we learn about ourselves or about God in this experience?  Are we getting “bitter or better” in managing through suffering?  How are we responding?  With anger, fear, or trust?

The mystery as to “why” we experience suffering remains shrouded and hidden.   However, our best strategy and response is to develop a theology that draws its strength, faith, and hope from Eternal God.  Perhaps one day, in eternity, we will discover the purpose for our suffering.  But once we see Jesus, will it really matter?

More on suffering, its purpose, and possibilities, next week.

[1]   Encyclopedia of Bible Words, Zondervan Publishing House

Our Theology of Suffering: Where does it come from?

 

Our Theology of Suffering: Where did it come from?

Suffering is part of life

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but suffering is part of living in this fallen world.  Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As humans, we continually look for every possible way to either avoid suffering or move through suffering as quickly as possible.

As we discussed last week, Satan introduced sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-19). Suffering is a natural consequence of sin.  However, we often direct our frustration, not at its source, sin, but instead we ask, “Why did God let this happen?”

However, if we look behind the pain, distress, or hardship, we will discover “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  These things make up “the world system” that is at enmity with God.    Take a moment and reflect on the latest sufferings.  Even the extreme weather can now be attributed to man’s abuse of the ecology.

Our theology shapes our view of suffering

Our theology of suffering is shaped by our understanding of who God is.  It is important to know who God is and conversely, who He is not.   While God IS all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present, God does not exist to act as our Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Batman—running from here and there stopping evil.

God is the rightful ruler and authority over His universe (Col. 1:16). His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.  God is the sure foundation on which we can stand in times of uncertainty and times of suffering (Hab. 3:17-19).

Our trust in God shapes our view of suffering

Trust in God is another key factor that shapes our theology of suffering.  In review of the biblical record, there are many incidents of suffering—pain, distress, or hardship.  Incidents which required the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  Sometimes God would remove the object of suffering.  More often, however, God allowed the suffering to continue to grow the believer’s trust and faith in Him (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

In his letters to the new churches, the Apostle Paul often spoke of the need to trust and believe God, regardless of their current suffering.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Rom. 8:28, NLT)  

 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Cor. 4:15-17, NLT) 

Our worldview shapes our view of suffering

Our worldview—our beliefs, values, and behavior—also influences how we view suffering.  Many of us believe that we are in control of the events and circumstances in our life.  We go to great efforts to manage and manipulate those things, which we feel, are in our control.  That, however, isn’t always true. Remember COVID 19?

The Preacher (King Solomon) makes this assessment of “control” in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Regardless of personal capacity or ability—speed, strength, wisdom, cleverness, or skill, “time and chance” happens to us all.  Suffering nullifies both personal capacity and ability.

Believers operate from a different worldview.  We operate from God’s “Kingdom” worldview.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, though we “temporarily” reside on earth (Phil. 3:20).  This view acknowledges the reality of sin and suffering but offers an “alternate” response to the suffering we face.

The kingdom view recognizes that:

    • God always loves and cares for His children (Ps. 23).
    • God sovereignly rules over the universe (Ps. 103:19).
    • God is always with and for us (Gen. 28:15; Matt.28:20).

Holding this view, we are able to persevere and live confidently even amid suffering.

Conclusion

Suffering is a reality of living.  We will be better equipped to deal with suffering when our theology is correct.  It begins with: (1) the correct view of God, (2) placement of trust in the “right” Person (The Triune God), and (3) an “eternal” Kingdom worldview.

Next week we will look at suffering:  its purpose and possibilities.

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

Our Theology of Suffering: An Introduction

No suffering please

How do you feel about suffering? What are your beliefs about its cause and effect?  Its purpose and possibilities.  I, for one, am not volunteering for any unnecessary pain.  However, if it hasn’t become evident at this point in our life, suffering is part of our journey as human beings.

Suffering was not part of God’s original divine plan.  However, Satan’s introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in its creation (Gen. 3:16-19).  As humans, we continually look for every possible way to avoid suffering.  And if we can’t avoid it, we try to move through suffering as quickly as possible.

That’s why it is important for our spiritual growth and development to understand the what and why of suffering.  This includes learning to best strengthen our resolve and focus when suffering occurs.  Because “I guarantee you” that we all will suffer in the future.  But the question is, what is your response to suffering?  How well do you manage your pain?

What is suffering?

Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. As we look around, we might conclude that we are living in a continual state of suffering.

Pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional is evident in our society by the number of individuals seeking relief through food, drugs, and alcohol.  Distress is extreme anxiety and sorrow.

Anxiety disorder is the class of mental disorder in which anxiety is the predominant feature. This disorder, an illness characterized by constant and boundless worry that interferes with the daily life, is the most common psychiatric illness in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults.[1]

Hardship (deprivation) is caused by any number of reasons:  acts of nature resulting in loss of life and property or man-made (political/social/economic agendas and policies).  Hardship presents itself in the growth of the lower economic class, which is one-third of where Americans are today.

The lower economic class, also known as the working class, is the socio-economic group with the least income. They are often categorized as families whose income falls below poverty line. These are the people who live hand to mouth, or paycheck to paycheck. They barely earn enough to cover their expenses and a huge expense often sends them into debt.[2]

What do we learn from the definition of suffering?  Suffering affects more than our physical well-being.  Suffering is not just episodic.  It occurs more frequently and “routinely” than we want to admit.  We have, unfortunately, accepted it as “part of life”.  And to some degree it is part of life BUT how we respond and manage it, makes the difference between successful living and thriving OR stressful living and surviving.

Pain management

When we experience pain that cannot be alleviated with medication, surgery, or rehabilitation, our physician will often prescribe pain management treatment.  The intent is to teach us strategies which will help us maintain control or influence over our pain.  This might include for example, breathing techniques or mindfulness-based therapies.

Key to successful pain management treatment is the realization that the pain will not be eliminated, however, we can exercise control over the degree the pain will hinder or disrupt our life.

For believers, our pain management for suffering lies with our knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (2 Pet. 1: 3-4).  Since we live in a fallen world, suffering will continue.  However, armed with knowledge of God, we can live confidently, trusting in His goodness and His greatness (Ps. 27:1-3).

This is especially true during difficult times—times of suffering—when fear and doubt challenge our faith.  When this happens, we can stand firmly on what we know about God and those things which He has revealed to us as His children (Rom. 8:17).

Knowing these things can not only help us better respond to the suffering happening in our life but also react appropriately to the disruptions in the world around us.  How we respond to things revealed become the entry point for God to provide His power, His provision, and His presence.

Next week, we will continue to discuss and develop our theology on suffering.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] Ibid