…a contemplation by Mads Bak Pedersen
What a suffering task to write about suffering! Hopefully not, because the Bible is full of it. I believe that there so many dimensions inside the suffering realm, but I also believe that suffering without a cause is waste of time and does not lead to any good at all. The great thing for me to reflect on and find out is how suffering and pain are presented in Bible in 2 Cor. 1 and if it works anything good into anything. Can you praise while experiencing pain? Does it make sense for those experiencing it? At last the question: how can I then apply it to any kind of church?
We know from the OT prophecy about Jesus Christ in Isa. 53 that he in many ways was meant to go through all these sufferings according to Gods will (vv. 10). He experienced our pain and suffering, was crushed, pierced, oppressed and afflicted. He was then raised, lifted and exalted. After he had suffered, he saw the light of life and was satisfied vv. 11. It seemed foreseen that this indeed was the will of the Father. So this was how Christ lived and we are called to live like him (1st letter of John 2:6). It is not only in holiness and righteousness, but in death and in life (2nd Cor. 4:10-12). It is appointed for a Christian to suffer in light of scripture.
The two main reasons for it in 2 Cor. 1 is; for God to comfort and those comforted by Him to be comfort others, and secondly to not trust in our own, but in God. In Paul`s situation, suffering did not seem like something, he was questioning God about. We know from chapter 12 in the same letter, that Paul three times asked God to take away the torn in his flesh but he got the confirmation that “My grace is enough”.
In Ph. 1:19-21, we see that he knew that no matter if he died or lived his main purpose was to display Christ in everything he did, and that’s why he knew the great reason for his suffering. He also knew that other Christians were meant to suffer (that’s why he writes that his comfort will help his brothers and sisters).
– in Scripture
Paul proclaims God´s compassion and comfort before talking about suffering. In the midst of suffering, suffering does not stand out as the main outcome. Paul wanted the fellowship of suffering with Christ (Ph. 3:10). Why? To be one with him and so close to him that nothing else mattered.
God especially is known as a God of compassion. Psalm 145:9 says “the Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made”. Even those who are not reconciled with God, he shows compassion. “His compassion never fails” (La. 3).
– in 21st century
In 2007, 23 South Korean Christians were kidnapped by Taliban. Some of them died down there, while others were set free. This is a summary (my own) from the teaching on “suffering” by Francis Chan, where he takes up the situation from Afghanistan with the Taliban.
“Everything was taken from them. But one of the girls still had a bible or some scriptures she handed out to her fellow brothers and sisters, so they could be encouraged. They stood in a circle and surrendered their lives to Christ and some of them were saying: “no matter what brings you glory and honor, I will do it. If my death brings you honor, let it be so. If my life brings you honor, let that happen to me”. They experienced sacrificial love towards each other. Nobody wanted to be the last to say: “I will die first”. The amazing thing about this story is not that some of them died (we know that Christians die for their faith every day). But here is the thing: When those who survived came back to South Korea, one of the pastors experienced people from the trip to come to him, saying: “don´t you wish that we were down there in the hands of Taliban? Because I was so close to Jesus, so intimate with Him. I have tried to pray and fast, but it is not the same. I want to go back there””.
It blows my mind hearing and writing this, because I want it. I want to experience as Stephen said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Ac. 7:56).
“You gotta see this (suffering with Christ) as a good thing, because it brings you closer to Christ”. Francis Chan
When I look at churches in general in Denmark, I am asking myself this question: Why are we not experiencing the same kind of persecution as in the Bible, the First Church and in other countries today? Could it be that people around us do not even know we are Christians? And if they do know, are they then confronted with our faith? I believe that each individual person have to ask him- or herself these questions. An application could look like this:
Did Jesus say that people following him would suffer? (Mt. 16:24: Mt. 10) Are you suffering?
Do you only read those scriptures that you want to read?
Or do you also take them in, you do not even want to believe in?
Are you living for this life or the next? (Php. 1:21)
Did Christ come to save, so you could have the best life ever now? (John 14:6)
My conviction and what I believe the Bible testifies is that to suffer for Christ is biblical for all Christians. That does not mean we cannot be happy and rejoice. Gods comfort and compassion, the Gospel itself and that all the means of suffering are serving us to conquer by him, “who have loved us” (Rom. 8:31-37). As John Piper puts it, “What I think more than conquers means is that a conqueror has his enemies lying subdued at his feet. More than conquers do not only mean that they are at my feet, they are serving me. They are not only in chains, in prison, they are serving. My persecution, my famine, nakedness and my loss as painful and tearful they are, they work as my servants. God works them all together for my good (vv. 28). That good is the foundation of my happiness.”