Monday, February 19, 2007


It seems funny to me when people turn on God when we suffer rather than turning on the world. Isn't that just a replay of the original deception? God says that eating of the tree brings death. Satan contradicts God, suggesting that the real aim of God’s command is not to protect Adam and Eve, but to deprive them of good things, of life. Or even worse. The serpent suggests that God is selfish and gave the command so Adam and Eve would not share what he has.

Adam and Eve eat, suffer, and die, just as God said they would.

While promising life, the world delivers nothing but suffering and death. When we suffer, the ugly nature of the world is revealed to us, is revealed in us, and is revealed through us. You think we would have figured it out by now. But instead of hating this world of suffering and death, and turning to the life that God offers us in himself, we instead blame God, or upbraid him. It's just like us to draw exactly the wrong conclusion from our suffering, turning against God and toward the world. But there's nothing new there; we're just like our parents.

Perhaps no where more do our minds resist a message, than this one: "To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing." How dare we, particularly in this day and age? What an embarrassment it is when we offer oppressed people only "pie in the sky, bye and bye."

And that’s what Christ does offer.

"Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly" (1 Peter 2.18-19).

I don't want to talk about larger issues here, like the obligation of other Christians to seek their freedom, or proper treatment, etc. I stipulate to all of that. Yes and amen. But none of that gets around the rub, that while they wait for the rest of us to get our act together and rescue them, they (or we) are blessed when they bear up in this type of situation.

It seems to me that the critics of Christianity have it absolutely correct. Christianity offers burdened people the hope of blessing for bearing up under unjust suffering in this world. The critics call it foolishness, and so it is, if Christ did not rise from the dead. Paul bluntly admits it in his letter to the Corinthians, "If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Co 15.19).

I don't see any way to get around it. And there's no getting around the related question when we suffer, "Do you find God trustworthy?" If we do, then we bear up in suffering. If we do not, then we do not bear up because we do not believe that there, really, is anything to bear up for. We instead believe that God has brought us into the wilderness only to let the world kill us.

It is abject foolishness to the world. And I completely understand that conclusion. If the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the power of God to us who are being saved, I don't expect that as we pick up our crosses and follow Christ, that the world will think of us as being any less foolish.

But the world's criticism is rather more pointed. It’s one thing that someone created a religion that teaches that sort of foolishness, it’s quite another thing to spread it around, particularly when you’re not one of the suffering.

The truth is that I suffer a lot less than many others. I realize my own absurdity when, every week, I face the guys in prison, telling them that they are blessed when they suffer. I'm not talking about suffering as a result of their crimes. Rather I'm talking about the many other indignities they suffer in prison, particularly as a result of being Christians, from the other prisoners as well as from the guards. And about the many, many troubles they will face, even (or especially) from the church, if and when they are released.

For many in the world, I am the worst sort of deceiver, commending patience to these men on the basis of a pie-in-the-sky hope, rather than urging them to resist, let alone assisting in their resistance. How dare I? How dare I?

I have no defense at all against this accusation, but that, God help me, I am the fool as well.


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