Difficult situations come to all of us. If you havent been through anything that makes you question the goodness of God, brace yourself because it's coming. Some people have it harder than others but suffering in some form comes to all of us. That is why I think this topic is relevant for everyone. We all need to be equipped to help one another as we go through the struggles of life. I hope these posts help to equip you and your comments help to equip me as we minister to one another and to others.
To get this ball of thought rolling in an effort to answer the difficult questions of the previous post, we need to lay down some foundations to build on. First, I think it's important to remember that all suffering comes as a result of the fall. If there were no sin there would be no suffering. Now, that is not to say that all of our suffering is a consequence of some sin we have committed. It may be someone else's sin that brings us suffering or it may be suffering that comes simply because we still dwell in a fallen world (such as a disease or genetic disability). Still, the root of all suffering is the curse that resulted from the first man's sin and the human race continues to perpetuate this sinful nature which results in more and more suffering.
Now, this is where some are likely to disagree or get upset. The suffering we go through is just as much a display of God's mercy as it is a display of His wrath. I can say that because of what God says we deserve for committing sin. We deserve death. Not just death somewhere in the distant future and not only spiritual death. Death like rotting corpse returning to dust and eternal separation from God. Anything less than a lake burning with fire is grace. I don't think that means we should go around telling others that they deserve a lot worse than the suffering they are going through, that would be the truth but it would not be love. It does give us a better perspective as we endure our own trials knowing that it is really God's grace that we are being bombarded with. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it? That has to do in part to the fact that we really don't understand the weight of our sin against our Holy God. He offers us life but instead of taking it we shake our fist in His face and choose death and in spite of that He continues to grant us the breath of life. His grace is amazing, even in grace in the form of suffering.
In line with the "two sides to every story" theme, I've argued in this post how suffering is both a result of the fall (a curse from the wrath of God) yet less than what we deserve (grace granted instead of death). It is both wrath and love. The most striking place to see this point is at the cross of Christ. On the cross we can see this same dynamic of love and wrath reaching their climax by the death of Jesus Christ. He became sin who knew no sin that we might become his righteousness. Christ triumphed over suffering and death and brought us life. In Christ we have triumphed as well and as we endure the trials and tribulations of life by faith in Christ we display his sufficiency. We share in Christ's sufferings because we share in his life.
Since suffering is a result of the fall and the cross is God's answer to the fall, all suffering points to the cross. So, ultimately our sufferings are meant to display the glory of God by his grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. As with all things, it's all about Jesus, suffering included.
I think that gives us a good lens through which to look at suffering. In the coming posts I'll tackle the paradox between God being in complete control (sovereign), plotting mans steps according to His will (predestination) yet changing His mind and allowing us to be a part of His plan as it is carried out. Of course I don't understand it all but I hope you'll join in as we think through these huge questions. We'll be better epuipped if we think through it together.
What else do you think is an important foundational principle when facing suffering?