Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Enduring Afflictions as a Good Work in the Lutheran Confessions

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, art. XXIV.67

"We have already said that a eucharistic sacrifice does not merit reconciliation but comes from the reconciled, just as afflictions do not merit reconciliation but are eucharistic sacrifices when the reconciled endure them."

Ibid., art. IV.192-93.

"Through these works Christ shows his victory over the devil, just as the distribution of alms by the Corinthians was a holy work (1 Cor. 16.1), a sacrifice, and a battle of Christ against the devil, who is determined that nothing happen to the praise of God. To disparage works like the confession of doctrine, afflictions, works of charity, and the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ's rule among men."

Ibid., art. XXIV.25

"The rest are eucharistic sacrifices, called 'sacrifices of praise': the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, yes, all the good works of the saints."

Ibid., art. XXIV.30, 32

"With the abrogation of Levitical worship, the New Testament teaches that there should be a new and pure sacrifice; this is faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession and proclamation of the Gospel, suffering because of the Gospel, etc. . . .

"The proclamation of the Gospel produces faith in those who accept it. They call upon God, they give thanks to God, the bear afflictions in confession, they do good works for the glory of Christ. This is how the name of the Lord becomes great among the nations."

I think that we tend to narrow the scope of "afflictions," thinking that they are approved of God only when we're being boiled alive by cannibals. But in the ordinary context of everyday work, Peter writes that submitting to an "unreasonable" boss (not exactly, but close enough) "finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly" (1 Peter 2.19).

Or when Paul writes, "never pay back evil for evil" (Ro 12.17), he's talking about ordinary human relationships, not about receiving evil specifically for being a Christian. But, as a Christian, we would receive evil without seeking compensation.

But why suffering? I don't have a complete answer; here are a couple of thoughts.

First, if Jesus was perfected through suffering (Heb 2.10), then it shouldn't be a surprised that the members of his body are perfected through suffering as well. (Not that I entirely understand what that means.) Secondly, we perhaps suffer for other Christians, as Paul did (2 Co 1.3-7). We are also afflicted for our own good (Heb 12.4-11).

More generally, I wonder whether, when we suffer in this world, God is, as it were, only allowing us to see its true nature – that this present world holds nothing in itself but death and uncleanness. This world never mediates life to us – although that is the lie that humans have believed from the beginning. Through suffering, God reveals to us the true nature of this world, thereby teaching us not to trust in it for our life, but to trust only Christ, looking to the world to come, which is where life truly resides in the presence of God. By revealing the reality of the fallen world, afflictions thereby cause us to despise the cheap counterfeit of "life" that this world offers us, and instead directs us to the true life provided by God.


Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

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August 29, 2006 8:21 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

It was an ad for something, not a real comment.

-- Jim

August 31, 2006 7:23 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Having gone ten weeks without a job earlier this year, and still waiting for my house to sell while my family and I live in a new city in a new state, I feel somewhat qualified to answer the "Why suffering?" question.

Let me qualify that by saying I know nothing of *real* suffering. I've never been imprisoned for my faith, lost a child, or lost all of my possessions in a fire (or any other such "tragedy"), but this recent (and ongoing) experience has been a good lesson for us in a lot of ways we didn't expect.

OK... Anyway, going two months without a paycheck showed me that God is faithful, and that I am wholly dependent on his provision. While I had a job, it was easy to believe the lie that I was the one putting food on the table. Ha! Good one. Through circumstances well beyond my control, God provided for us through that entire period, and when I got my first paycheck at my new job, we actually had more money in our bank account than the last day I worked at my old job!

Now, as William Mauser of the ICGS says, I trust God for things that I didn't trust him for before. And, as I've told my wife on a number of occasions, this is the kind of thing that nobody wants to go through, but that most people are glad that they *went* through. It hasn't been fun or easy, but I feel like our micro-suffering experience has caused us to grow and deepened our faith.

I think you are also on to something when you say that suffering shows us the true nature of this world, and I would go a step further by adding that it makes us long for a world restored by its Creator.

When I hear of tragedies, one reaction is a longing for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. Children born with all sorts of health problems, newlyweds killed in a plane crash in Kentucky, and hurricanes that flood entire cities... these are all the result of our sinful, fallen world. They remind us that this isn't "it," and that we should not love this world, but that something much much better is coming.

Come, Lord Jesus!

August 31, 2006 8:46 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hey, Mike, thanks for the comment.

It struck me writing the post how philosophers are always going on about the "problem of evil" in this world. ("How can a good God . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.")

The bigger philosophical conundrum, it seems to me, is the "problem of life" in this world: How there can be any life in a world so firmly grounded in the principles of death, sin, and corruption.

But then we'd be in the position of blaming God for the good things that happen to us, rather than blaming him for our suffering.

August 31, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Matthew N. Petersen said...

Why suffering? Psalm 1 prophesies that Christ will be a tree planted by a river of water. This is taken up in Ezekiel and Revelation as the tree of life along the river flowing from the temple. But the tree of life is the cross. But if we are faithful we should expect to be a tree planted by the river of water. Psalm 1 promises this. But what sortof tree? "The call of the gospel is a call to come and die." If we follow Him we shall like him take up our cross and be a tree planted by the river of water. But if it were not for the fact that we are Christ, this would be to preach a false gospel. But I am the body of Christ, "God shall soon crush Satan under my feet" (there is perhaps something wrong with the singular there, but that doesn't affect my point.) Therefore when I suffer I am with my lord in the same way as I am when I receive the Lord's Supper. Here on my cross which is at the foot of his Cross I am beside Him Himself, and experience Him more fully than through these transient elements. Yes, suffering tells me this world is transitory, but more because it causes me to taste true meat and true drink.

September 04, 2006 1:20 PM  

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