Friday, September 16, 2005

Share In The Suffering


Suffering together, a novel concept?




"17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." - Romans 8:17


Today we discuss the idea of suffering. Those born only yesterday are excused from the discussion since you do not yet know the suffering that abounds in this world. For the rest of us, we must engage this discussion because it is essential to the calling and purpose of those who claim Christ as Lord. Christ was called to suffer. Christ's purpose was to suffer. If we are to embody Christ as the example for our lives, what then does the idea of suffering mean for us here in the 21st century? Suffering has been with the world since the beginning and has only increased over the centuries. We have reached a breaking point in the 21st century. Physical and spiritual levees are breaking all over the world unable to contain the immense suffering which has flooded the land and the soul with a suffering that seems never ending. What is the Church to do in the face of such suffering? Do we avoid it? Or do we share it?

What does it mean to suffer? Most people typically think suffering comes in two parts. First, we are surrounded by those whose suffering is physical. Some suffer from broken bones, but the majority suffers from terrible diseases that seem like an unstoppable force that can't be contained. I can't tell you how many people I know personally who have some form of cancer. Diabetes is rampant here in America and becoming more common in children. I haven't even mention the AIDS crisis in Africa which is blazing through Africa with no end in sight. Second, we are in the midst of people whose suffering is emotional. Most often we suffer emotionally for some one else who suffers physically. Funerals of course are the most ripe with emotional suffering. The loss of homes and jobs, like in the Gulf Coast, also bring on intense emotional suffering.

How does the Church respond? We embrace Romans 8:17 and we start to embrace suffering around us. It is human nature to avoid suffering. If you had to choose between relaxing and suffering, which one would you choose? Me too. Our desire to avoid suffering naturally increases when you have a family to keep safe. Parents, obviously, try their hardest to keep suffering as far away from their children as possible. The problem is how to embrace suffering and still keep our families safe. The answer might come in a new understanding of suffering. We need to extend our concept of suffering beyond the realms of the physical and emotional. Maybe we ought to let suffering touch the financial and spiritual areas of our lives. Instead of taking expensive two week vacations to Disney World, maybe our families choose to pay the electric bill of a single parent family who can't afford it. Instead of time shares on the beach, maybe our families share time with the widows that fill our assemblies. Instead of waiting for some one to ask for your forgiveness, maybe our families were the first to apologize for misunderstandings that are always mutual. Instead of clinging to our pride, maybe our families made themselves vulnerable to humility.

Extending the realm of suffering serves two purposes. First, it allows us to still protect our families from physical harm. What physical danger is spending time with a widow? What physical risk is there in paying for all the textbooks of a single parent family? Second, it teaches our families how to be more like Christ. Imagine the lessons our children can learn from spending time with those who are totally alone. Imagine the growth of our children when they are able to provide for a family that has nothing? Our families don't have to become martyrs to understand Christ better. If we allow our bank account and pride to suffer instead, then our families will be safe and taught life changing lessons they will never forget.

Remember, we do not suffer needlessly. Whether it be physical, emotional, financial or spiritual; there is a purpose to our suffering. Purpose still exists no matter how hard it may hide itself amid the hellish circumstances. What is the purpose to our suffering? It is Romans 8:17. We share in the suffering so that we may share in the glory. There is no Exodus without Egypt. There is no resurrection without the cross. Though we suffer now, I am convinced one day it will be redeemed.

So this week I encourage all of us to become aware of the suffering around us. This Sunday, especially, when the suffering most likely will be sitting right next to us. Like sandbags absorb the flood water, may we as disciples of Christ start to absorb the suffering around us. Our confession of Christ as Lord requires us to become more like Christ everyday. We must, as Christ did, begin to share in the suffering.


CJE



Coming Next Week: The Lenses of Perception

7 comments:

Anonymous,  8:50 PM  

Good post Chris.

I think suffering presents a nice contrast of Godly verses worldly relationship.

In our American culture, your suffering elvates me above you. I am better because I niavely believe my self-sufficience prevented me from being where you are.

In Godly, Christian culture, your suffering bonds us together. It elevates you above me because I am here to serve those in need.

Anonymous,  8:52 PM  

I was so focused on your wise words that I forgot to sign the post. That was me chris.

allen

Ace,  2:06 PM  

Excellent Chris - somehow I wish that this could be printed in church bulletins across the land tomorrow, so that when we read about the latest plight of our sister with cancer or brother without a job, that we'll actually be moved to do something about it.

Adam 5:29 PM  

I was pretty hard on you with my comments on Joshua's blog so I will take it easy. We are still friends remember.....

I always thought of the Romans passage as sharing in Christ sufferings on this earth. Maybe I need to go back and read it again, but from my perspective it is talking about suffering the hostilities of this world because we profess Christ above all else. Not sure. All said excellent post. I think you possess the gift of writing, even if I don't agree with everything you write. HA!

Chris Ewing 7:06 PM  

Adam,

Thanks for the comments. I agree that Romans 8:17 is telling us we will experience suffering because we proclaim Christ. I guess I was trying to come from the angle of encouraging us to always be willing to sacrifice for those who are suffering. That sacrifice might bring us to suffer as well and not to be shocked when our sarifice for others hurts us in the wallet or in the heart.

As for disagreement, don't worry. I actually enjoy it. Like you, I am able to separate disagreement from personal attack. Now if you start with Mama jokes, we might have a problem. You and Emily will always be my brother and sister. Take care and hope to see you in October for the Boyd wedding.

CJE

J-Wild 6:48 PM  

I agree that this post should be printed on the church buletin. Better yet, you have a perfectly good sermon right there, so keep it in your back pocket.

What I find fascinating is that the people I raise up as true sufferers for Christ (Mother Teresa, St. Francis, Justin Martyr, MLK) view their suffering a lot different than I do.

"I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love." - Mother Teresa

They suffered for other people, not themselves, but for others. In order to do that they first had to be filled with almost an inexplicable love. That's what I need.

Great post.

Adam 5:55 PM  

Chris,

You will see us in just a couple of days. I look forward to it. You mom and dad came to Louisville for a visit last week. It was great to see them, and they report that you are doing well. Thanks for all your thoughtful posts. I enjoy reading them.

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