Friday, November 11, 2011

Three types of suffering

Another danger of believing that if Christians would just have enough faith then there would be no sickness or heart ache is that there is a tendency to tell ourselves that if we are suffering it is because we did something wrong. That is certainly a possibility, but not always the case. There are three types of suffering the Christian encounters. These three are 1. Suffering caused by our own sins 2. Suffering caused by the sins of someone else 3. Suffering that moves us on or prepares us for where God is taking us. There are many examples of these in the Bible.
The first type of suffering can be found in 1Samuel 15 when God rejects Saul as king. Basically the story goes like this God spoke to King Saul through the prophet Samuel. God told King Saul to attack the Amalakites and leave no man, woman, child, or animal alive. However, Saul decided that after he attacked them that he would spare the Amalekite’s king and take the spoils. God gets pretty angry and talks to Samuel about it. God then says to King Saul via Samuel that he is ticked off and has rejected him as king. The result of not following God. There are plenty of modern day examples of suffering because of our own sin. Whenever we face the consequences of our decisions and it results in something we don’t like. Our jails and prisons are full of suffering because of our own sin. However, our situation does not have to be that extreme for us to see this many health problems, financial problems, weight problems, etc are a result of us not taking care of what we needed to take care of and we suffer for it. I will quote the Apostle Paul:
Do not be deceived: God can not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction, the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8
Sometimes when we suffer it is a result of us suffering the consequences of our sin. The thing we need to do if we find ourselves in this type of suffering is to repent. We need to confess our sin to the Lord and then change our behavior. A good example from the Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba. David is looking around and notices a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. So David discovers Bathsheba is married, but he approaches her anyway. One thing leads to another and they have an affair. Then Bathsheba ends up pregnant. Now David has a problem—a woman married to another man is pregnant with his child and he can not hide this because her husband is a soldier and is away at battle. David at this point could have confessed his sin and dealt with it. However, he chose instead to call Bathsheba’s husband for a break from the battle field. The plan failed though because Bathsheba’s husband decides that it would not be fair for him to sleep with his wife when the other soldiers did not get to sleep with theirs. When David found out he still had a chance to repent and make things right, but he chose deception once again. He order Bathsheba’s husband be put in the very front line of battle and he would be killed. This time his plan worked. So David (a man after God’s own heart) is now guilty of adultery and murder. The prophet Nathan approaches David about a man who covered up his sin. David was outraged and ordered that man be killed until Nathan said to him “That man is you.” At this point David repents and marries Bathsheba. God does forgive him, but there is still a price to pay for his sin. As a result the baby Bathsheba is carrying will die. David and Bathsheba went through the heartache of loosing a child as a result of their sin. Sometimes we really do suffer as a result of our own sin.
However, sometimes we suffer because of someone else’s sin. This can be very damaging. Think about those who have been abused as children or a rape victim. These people suffer for years and many times the rest of their lives because of someone else’s sin. Jesus is the ultimate example of this type of suffering though and he suffered more than any of us ever will. He suffered because of your sin and my sin. In Isaiah 53 the coming of Jesus is prophesied:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our trangressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:3-6
Let’s look closely at this as it is the whole essence of the Christian faith. We sin, we do wrong things, at the very core of all of us is the potential for commiting evil wrong acts. All sins are sin. We tend to want to think that some sins are small and some are big. The Bible does not distinguish between the two. God sees this and it breaks his heart. He sends his son Jesus. In Isaiah it says that he was a man of many sorrows and familiar with suffering. It also says he carried our sorrows. He came down from heaven where there is no sorrow or suffering just so that he coul d pierced for our trangressions and crushed for our iniquities. So that he could take the punishment of our sins on himself. He took it all for us. This is an important distinction as well—Jesus did not just die for the sins of the whole world. He died for my sins and your sins. I had a Sunday School teacher in high school who used to remind us frequently that if you or I had been the only person on earth that Christ would have still gone through all that suffering just for you or me.
Think about that for a minute because this is a huge point. Jesus was beaten beyond recognition, nailed to a cross while being mocked and ridiculed, had a spear poked in his side, and given vinegar on a sponge to drink when he cried out in thirst. God the Father could not even bear the sight so he turned his head and Jesus cried out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.” This was all done for me and for you so that we did not have to suffer the consequences of our sins. In Romans it says the wages of sin is death. This death is to eternal damnation in hell. He did this for you and would have done all of it if you were the only person he was doing it for. Jesus loves you so much!!!!
Did Jesus deserve this punishment? No he was without sin so this was not his consequence—it was ours. Scripture says that if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord that we will be saved from the eternal destruction of our own sins. I want you to consider now for a moment, do you believe in your heart that you are a sinner who needs a savior? Do you believe in your heart that Jesus came to be that savior? Have you confess with your mouth that you are a sinner who needs a savior and that Jesus Christ came to same you? Then accepted him into your heart as the Lord (supreme ruler of your life)? If you have not I encourage you to take this life changing step. I would also urge you to get involved in a local church so that they can help you understand the commitment that you have made and to help show you how deeply Christ loves you.
Now that we have looked at Christ—the ultimate example of someone who suffered because of someone else’s sin, now lets look at some other examples of how many are suffering as a result of others sins. These can be very painful and I do not want anyone to think I take this lightly. There are those who have suffered horrible abuse in their childhoods or women who have experienced terrifying rapes. These events can be devastating sometimes for a whole lifetime. These women and children were innocent victims. They did not deserve the suffering inflicted into their lives, but the ones who did the inflicting were commiting sin. So they are suffering the result of someone else’s sin. There are many examples of others sins inflicting pain and suffering into our lives some are not as serious as this I realize, but I want those in severe pain to know that there is hope. I want you to know that Jesus suffering covers you as well. Jesus wounds were also afflicted so that you could be healed. You were not abandoned by God, quite the opposite he cries with you. Scripture says that he will never leave you or forsake you. These events can leave you feeling hopeless, broken, devastated, and sometimes it feels that life can not go on. However, let me share some comfort from God’s word.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3
Many times during acts of violence, victims are told they are worthless. There are even times when these victims are told it is their fault and that God rejects them because they are so worthless. If this is you let me assure you Jesus was wounded so we could be healed. God sees your suffering and lovingly accepts you just as you are. He wants to show you how he sees you, the purposes he has for your life, and comfort you along the way. I want to encourage anyone who has suffered at the hand of another to also seek our professional help. A good Christian counselor is trained to help you find hope, healing, and wholeness.
A third type of suffering is the type that moves us from one stage of comfort to another place that God is leading us too or another version of this is God preparing us for something in the future. It is no because of sin at all. The Israelites in Exodus chapter one did not become slaves because of sin. They became slaves because God was blessing them so much. Exodus 1:9-10 says:
“Look,” he (Pharoah) said to the people, “the Israelites have become numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with so they will become even more numerous and if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
God gives children as a blessing. So just like any good parent who wants to give their children good things, God (the ultimate parent) gave his chosen people (his children) the gift of children. So they were having children and being blessed in the land of Egypt. Life was good. Then the Pharoah in verse 11 makes them slaves and oppresses them with forced labor. However, even with all this oppression God continued to bless the Israelites with more children in fact in verse 12 it says, “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread”. The Pharoah’s plan had back fired. He want to stop their multiplying, but instead it increased.
I believe it is highly likely that had the Israelites not had to suffer slavery they would have stayed in Egypt as opposed to going to the promised land. Why would they? Life was pretty good and comfortable life in Egypt, why would they want to leave. God allowed their suffering in order to prepare them to leave Egypt so that they could go somewhere better. Sometimes in our lives we are so comfortable that unless something comes and upsets that comfortable we will never move on to the best thing that God has for us. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. I once heard James Dobson on the radio say that the roughest years of his life brought about the most productivity and fruit. It is the same with us.
Almost four years ago my husband had a brain surgery that corrected his seizure disorder. How we got here was not a pleasant road. My husband’s cognitive function had been declining for years. It had gotten to the point that he was struggling to keep working his job. So we applied for him to get disability through Social Security. When we went to his next neurologist appointment the doctor said that Social Security would require us to go to Vanderbilt before they would give Vic disability. So we changed neurologists to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. That led to my husband’s surgery. They took a lesion off his hippocampus. He has been seizure free ever since.
Also before his surgery we had these times of trouble and were really struggling. We decided that we wanted to move from Middle Tennessee to Jasper County, IL. So I started looking for work here. It all happened at once on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. On Friday the doctor’s told Vic that they wanted to do surgery in February and then on Monday I got a job offer phone call. Vic’s surger was February 19th. The U-Haul was loaded in Tennessee and unloaded in Illinois on February 23rd. Then I started my new job on March 3rd.
Things have turned around quickly for us since we have moved. We had previously been comfortable and happy in Tennessee, but the Lord had something for us here. So, we were allowed to suffer in order to be moved from where we were to the next place he wanted us to go.
Another way to suffer included in this type is the suffering that the Lord uses to prepare us for something. Take a look at Joseph. He went through many ups and downs, learning many lessons in his preparation to be second in command over the most powerful nation at that time—making him the second most powerful man in the world at that time. First he was his father’s favorite son which so enraged his brothers that they threw him in a pit with the intent to kill him. Then they changed their mind and sold him into slavery instead. Remember though that God is in charge and blessed him in his slavery. Joseph became the highest amongst the slaves and trusted by his master. This situation lasted for a little while until his master’s wife decided that she wanted to seduce him, but he rejected her every time. Well then one day no one was in the house and she once again made her advances. Joseph did what any respectable man would do when another man’s wife is trying to come on to you—he ran. However, his coat was left behind so she lied and said he tried to rape her. So Joseph went to prison. While he was in prison the Lord once again blessed him and he became highly respected by the prison officials and given responsibilities. Then there were two men (the baker and the cupbearer) that had dreams and Joseph interpreted both of them. The baker would be killed and the cupbearer would be restored to his position. The cupbearer promised to tell the king about Joseph, but he forgot.
If any man had a right to complain it was Joseph. He was first hated by his brothers and an intended murder victim. Instead became a slave, but then became a leader with favor in the eyes of his master. Then he fell from his high position to a prisoner. He was back on top again, but then forgotten. Life just did not seem like it was going well for Joseph. Things are about to change for Joseph and we are about to see that he is right where God needs him to be. God is about to use Joseph as a key player to save a nation. The king has disturbing dreams, none of his magicians or wise men were able to interpret the dreams. Then the cup bearer remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams and the king asks for Joseph.
Joseph is able to interpret the kings dream and tell him of seven good years followed by seven years of famine. This enabled them to prepare for the famine. So the king made him second in command in Egypt. During the last seven years of the famine his brothers come and he eventually reveals himself. At this point he makes one of my favorite statements in the Bible.
“Come close to me.” When they had done so he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharoah, lord over his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
What forgiveness, what humility, and what restraint. I wonder some of the things scripture does not say here. I wonder if Joseph was tempted to get revenge. Did he realize that the dream he had of his brothers bowing to him had come true? Was he tempted to gloat because of how high he was and how low they were? Even if the temptation was there he did not respond in anyway, except as a humble man who had integrity. God was using him to save two nations—Egypt and Israel. He had gone through God’s preparation for this very time. For every low point Joseph had he learned a deeper level of humility and forgiveness. This was to give him the humility he needed to rule Egypt. Then at the critical time to forgive his brothers. God’s school of preparation had taught him well.
Imagine if Joseph had decided not to forgive his brothers and said, “I am your brother Joseph; I am angry and bitter toward you. This food is for Egypt to sustain us during th famine. Go get your own food and if you don’t have any then starve. Why should I care about you when you did not care about me.” The consequence would have been tragic for the Israelites and they would have been wiped out.
What about you? Are you suffering when you did not sin and no one else sinned either? Perhaps God is saying you are so comfortable and I am trying to move you to another place in your life or prepare you for something. Tell the Lord that you are listening and will go wherever he leads. God has big dreams for our lives. We never know what God is up to. Maybe he is planning to save two nations with your life. I don’t know what he is doing, but let me assure you God is doing something and if you hold on you will eventually get to see what it is.

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