|CHRISTADELPHIAN BIBLE POSTAL COURSE No. 47|
THE BIBLE TEACHING ON SUFFERING
Reading : Hebrews 12
It is important that you have already studied the lesson on Prayer for the things you have learned there will help you in an understanding of this subject.
Suffering is a problem in life that can affect anyone. A child is born blind, or deformed and we ask, Why is this? The child has done no wrong. Men and women equally young and elderly, rich and poor suffer from pain with hopeless diseases that can only end in death. Why should they suffer?
Pain torture and death have been inflicted on helpless millions by the tyranny of man and the destructiveness of modern warfare. Lives are lost in acts of terrorism and crime. There have always been these scourges throughout the history of the world but, with much larger populations and the increased capability for destruction, the scale of today’s disasters is often overwhelming. People ask why does God allow these things to happen?
This question apparently accepts that God does exist and expects that God will always act in a benevolent way. What it ignores completely is the reason for the suffering on the earth. This reason can be summed-up as follows.
1. In Eden, mankind chose to go their own way rather than God’s way and brought upon themselves the promised penalty of death. This was however only part of the penalty, look at Genesis chapter 3 verses 16 to 19. Life became very difficult for the first man and woman.
2. The greater part of the suffering of men and women has always been the brutality of others. From the first murder by Cain of his brother Abel, the Bible records war and terror, murder and deceit. A state of affairs that we are very familiar For every brutal action there is a responsibility for the disaster that follows. The consequences are inescapable. This is the simple law of ‘cause and effect’. Added to this are the activities of one generation that bring disaster to a later generation. Things such as chemical warfare, that poison the ground, the seas or even the heredity of people causing deformity and damage to sight, hearing or mobility, are man-made. Suffering that we bring upon ourselves cannot be attributed to God. Whole tracts of country strewn with land-mines and anti- personnel weapons were put there by an army acting under orders from human government.
3. Mankind lives in a universe controlled by very precise physical and chemical laws. Cause and effect are natural to our environment and the great natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, drought and flood which bring untold suffering upon human beings are not selective. They affect the good and the evil. If we do feel that God is directing these powerful forces do we want him to somehow use them selectively so that only the bad people are killed and the good survive?
In the gospel of Luke there is the record of Jesus being questioned about the link between sin and suffering. You will find it in chapter 13 verses 1 to 5. The teaching of Jesus is clear even to us today. Disasters do not seek out the sinful and happen only to them. These things are not the result of sin. Bad workmanship or earth tremors perhaps, in the case of the tower in Siloam and harsh cruel Roman rule in the case of those killed in the temple. Jesus is careful to immediately point out that the duty of man before God is not to build a superstition around such happenings but instead be warned by them that human life is fragile and repentance and baptism should not be put off for another day because there may not be another day for any of us.
I want now to turn to another aspect of suffering. Proverbs chapter 3 verses 11 and 12 tell us that there are to be trials in the lives of those who are faithful. This is because God loves them and chastens them as the children in a family are occasionally chastened by a father or mother who cares for them and wishes them to be well trained for future life.
Chastening which in this lesson is another word for suffering is a form of spiritual training and has to be seen as the evidence of God’s love for us.
Paul used this quotation from Proverbs to make this point clear in his letter to Hebrews chapter 12 verses 5 to 13. The point he made in that letter is explained even more clearly in his second letter to Corinthians chapter 12 verses 7 to 10. Paul the chosen apostle to the Gentiles, the man who had more than once received a direct vision of Jesus instructing and helping him, had some permanent disability that was so distressing that he pleaded with God three times that he might be healed. In Paul’s case, he received an answer from God verse 9. My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul clearly accepted these words from God and continued his work of travelling and preaching until the day he became a prisoner of the Romans.
We also should learn that lesson from those words of God, weakness or suffering is something we have to accept in our lives. We should not allow it to ruin our lives and we should not allow it to intrude into our worship of God and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We can even understand suffering to be a way of stripping away the pleasures and distractions of the world around us so that we can reach a closer relationship with God and with Jesus.
This was certainly true for many of the servants of God in Old Testament times for they were severely tested in their lives yet their faith in God became stronger because of that testing. Many of those men and women we have already met in these lessons and you will remember their names. Job, Abraham, Joseph, Elijah, Daniel and Jeremiah are just my selection from the many examples.
So far we have looked exclusively at the sufferings of mankind, now I want you to think about God himself. Did he suffer when Israel his chosen people rejected him? Does he suffer today because of the hardness of men’s hearts and the brutality in their treatment of their fellow men and women?
Turn in your Bible to the gospel of John chapter 3 verses 14 to 17. Here is surely the greatest suffering of God, that he had to allow his only Son to be beaten and put to death by crucifixion so that the sin of mankind might be forgiven and men and women of faith might have the confident hope of resurrection and immortality.
Jesus came in the nature of man, he shared our experience and endured the temptations from within and the afflictions from without that are the common lot of all mankind. This special life, lived for our benefit, is described in Hebrews chapter 2 verses 10 to 18. Here is another powerful lesson for us. Jesus was made Perfect through sufferings verse 10, so that he is able to help all those who are tempted, verse 18. In Hebrews chapter 5 verse 8 we read that Jesus Learned obedience by the things which he suffered.
If then God suffered and if, in obedience to the Father, Jesus suffered, the whole problem of man’s suffering is raised to a new level. Without faith in God suffering is an evil to be endured. With faith and the example of Jesus before us, it is clear that suffering may purify our faith. It can be the means by which God brings the suffering disciple closer to himself. The chastening of the Lord has to be seen as a divine education. If we are spared it then be grateful and worship God, if we have suffering in our lives then endure it and grow closer to God knowing that he also suffered and intends us to find strength from our experiences.