Is It Nothing to You?

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me,
That the Lord brought on me in the day of His fierce anger”

Lamentations 1:12

 

Part of a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem (including Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC, and of course the whole works again in AD 70), this verse illustrates how the Jews didn’t so much have a Babylonian or Roman problem as a “God has had enough” problem. He (and Jeremiah) did not fail to garner the attention of His rebellious people, and contrition and repentance are evident at the end of this book. A few years later in AD ’89 (1989) a young man just out of college felt like he’d gone his own way and prayed for God to “get his attention, whatever it took”. The young man (Okay OKAY, it was me!) had been saved in high school, but after a nice “regenerative year”, started college with a minor in Backsliding.

So, having graduated from college, and feeling like most of my Christian walk up to that time had been more of a stumble, I prayed that prayer (above), and soon after was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma (aka cancer). “Dear Lord, I’m not saying I didn’t mean it- that thing about you getting my attention – but really? Cancer?” He had my attention. It’s amazing the kind of stuff one dives into when deciding to give God this sort of attention. I joined a Navigator’s study at my church and memorized tons of scripture, including the “Roman Road” verses, became more active in the body (for instance) helping out with AWANA, started accountability fellowship with a more mature believer, etc. In short (brace yourself this will blow you away!) I started doing the sort of stuff I should have been doing all along.

As thick in the skull as I am, I am comforted by the fact that I have beside me a book with 66 books worth of compassion, for me and my People (the stiff necked, thick skulled ones). Sometimes the best thing God does for us is to hand us down a new chapter that is not at all to our liking. That chapter for me grew my family much closer, really introduced me to the Body of Christ, and put me back on the right track spiritually. And all of that with a backdrop of feeling quite rotten physically. Though in one sense I was under God’s judgement, I really got to know him as the God of Psalm 91- faithful in protection, comfort and deliverance.

This verse in Lamentations is also one of those gems that foretells Christ’s suffering-the physical abuse, being put on public display for sins not His own, the spiritual agony of taking all sin apon Himself- and that at the instant he was separated from the Father. None of us can begin to fathom suffering of that sort. I praise God that we only need to understand that it was so for our own salvation. Even we believers with extra-thick skulls.

~Kerry Garrett

Confrontational Communion

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Isaiah 50:6

On a daily basis I do everything in my power to avoid confrontation. I love peace and I love pacifying. I like the Christ who calms the waters; he and I could be really good friends.

However, a distinctly different Christ is waiting to be found within Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant. The verse gives us a vision of one who does not merely endure suffering and confrontation, but one who offered his body up for the suffering. We see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision in Christ, who consistently refuses to capitulate to the expectations of those around him: the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, Herod, Pilate, and even the Devil. Christ gives his back to be beaten, he presents his beard to be torn, and he offers his face for mocking and spitting. All of this occurs without resentment, bitterness, or revenge.

What, then, is our response?

We cannot be Christ. We cannot turn ourselves over in the same way, free of sin, free of resentment. Rather, we receive that which he offers. We respond to Christ in the Lord’s Supper. There we receive the beaten back, we drink the spilled blood, and we proclaim as king what others so loudly denounced. In the Supper, we cannot avoid confrontation. We cannot avoid the fact that our Savior was rejected. We cannot avoid the fact that apart from Christ offering His own body we would still be enemies with God. We cannot avoid the fact that we participate in an act that is foreign and confusing to the world.
At the Lord’s Table we offer ourselves: our backs, cheeks, and faces. Yet we acknowledge that Christ gave an offering sufficient once and for all. Our offering is gratitude. We offer ourselves to Christ, regardless of what confrontation might come.

~Ben Gibson

He Knows the Trouble We’ve Seen

” a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…”

Isaiah 53:3

 

At first glance, this might not seem like a very encouraging verse: our Lord despised and afflicted, but I think there is a hidden comfort in this. Some of you may be familiar with the song ‘Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen’, but even if you aren’t, most of us have heard this phrase.

I think that in the midst of life’s troubles, it is easy for us to forget that Jesus is well acquainted with suffering, and that he understands our struggles better than we think He does.

~Wyatt Garrett

Called Through Suffering

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2

Disclaimer: I have been attending my mother’s Sunday school class for the past few weeks discussing Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the book of John and I have so appreciated her teachings that I am going to steal one of her most memorable points and paraphrase it here (sorry mom; they do say that mimicking is the highest form of praise, don’t they?).

During her teachings, my mother made a comment that has been echoing in my head for weeks: she said that God is not primarily concerned with our comfort, or our prosperity, or our ease, or our success. He is chiefly concerned that we see and know him. All of our needs and wants and desperate prayers are valuable to and heard by God, but they are secondary to God’s desire for us to see and know that He alone is God.

She was speaking particularly about the passage of scripture in John 9 where Jesus heals the man who was born blind. The disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Their question reveals their framework for understanding suffering: they perceived affliction as being punishment, the righteous consequence for a previous sin, either individually or generationally. Jesus completely turns this notion upside down with a simple sentence: “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God may be displayed in him'” (John 9:3). What a radically different perspective! The blind man’s suffering was not an act of an angry God disciplining and rebuking, but the act of a merciful and gracious God who desired this man come to see and believe in Jesus and therefore allowed him to suffer. God was not ignorant of the man’s blindness nor was he maliciously inflicting the man’s blindness to right past wrongs. God’s desire was to call this man to Himself. Without his blindness, he would not have come to seek healing from Jesus. Without his suffering, he would not have come to belief. If he had been perfectly healthy, Jesus would have no reason to interact with him and their paths might never have crossed. Without the season of being blind, he would never seen the true light.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). We go through seasons of darkness that we may recognize the light when it is revealed to us. God does not allow us to suffer out of punishment or malice, but out of the depth of compassion, a compassion that wants so much more than comfort, or ease, or success, or fame, or prosperity for us. God’s primary desire is to draw us to himself through his son, Jesus Christ, even if that involves seasons of distance from God, like the Psalmist, or periods of blindness, like the believer in the Book of John. May we take comfort during suffering in the knowledge that God is pursuing our greatest good and drawing us to himself.
~Hilary Mulhern

The Purpose of Pain

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5: 3-5

Simply put, I would say the purpose of pain is to indicate that something is wrong. When my finger hurts, the pain tells me that I need to take my finger off the stove. God designed our bodies that way. Pains in LIFE indicate something is wrong too, with the world. It’s affected by sin. But, God doesn’t STOP it. He ALLOWS it, sometimes even SENDS it. Ask Job.

A friend’s recent e-mail contained the following: “When GOD solves your problems, you have faith in HIS abilities. When GOD doesn’t solve your problems HE has faith in your abilities.” I would add the qualifier, “He has faith in your abilities,” PUT there by His “training” and His Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:3-5, talks of “exulting in our tribulations,” because they bring about certain thinking, which results in certain behaviors and HOPE.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s  devotional, “God is on the Cross,” says “In suffering, the deliverance consists in our being allowed to put the matter out of our own hands into God’s hands”

Job never did get an exact answer to the WHY of his suffering but he learned much from it that wouldn’t have been learned without it. To me, the story of the silversmith gives understanding and hope, though many answers are still lacking. Malachi talks of the silversmith who sits over the fire while the silver is in it. If he doesn’t let the silver in the fire long enough, he won’t burn out all the impurities. If he lets the silver in the fire too long, he will ruin it and either way, it will be worthless to fashion into something of value to him.

So how does the smith know the silver is ready to come out of the fire? The silver is ready, when the smith sees his image in the silver.

Then He can fashion it into what He wants it to be. But first, He has to cause the heat, the pain, and what appears to be neglect; He has to cause all these things to work together for………well, you know.
~Lee Mielke

As If We Were There

Surely he took up our pain 
and bore our suffering,
 yet we considered him punished by God,
 stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
 the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

And how shall we pray those psalms of unspeakable misery and suffering, the meaning of which we have hardly begun to sense, even remotely?  We can and we should pray the psalms of suffering, the psalms of the passion, not in order to generate in ourselves what our hearts do not know of their own experience, not to make our own laments, but because all this suffering was real and actual in Jesus Christ.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We just passed the third anniversary of the 3-11 (earthquake/tsunami/nuclear) disaster. Many of us who are personally connected to it still feel a very immediate and emotional bond and let that bleed out into our social media posts. But I observed that the overall reaction was generally limited, even tepid, in comparison to other years. And there was some discussion (not on mine but observed) equivalent to: time to let it go and move on with your lives. And this is true on some level. We shouldn’t wallow in it or make it about us. But we do need to remember that it really happened, and it still is having a profound affect on Japan, the Japanese, and on us.

All the unimaginable horror and suffering of 3-11, 9-11, and the rest of the nightmares we have observed or experienced in our lives, pale in comparison to what Christ endured for us. If we can’t even begin to imagine the horror of someone caught in the Oso mudslide, how do we begin to comprehend and interact with Jesus’ experience? Perhaps it is best kept in the abstract: out there, holy. If it is unspeakable, why talk about it? But Bonhoeffer gives us a formula for interacting with this “unspeakable misery and suffering.” He calls on us to not only read, but to turn into the active act of prayer the words of Christ’s suffering and passion. Not, he says, so we can be empathetic or to seek understanding about what can’t be understood. Not so we can make it about us. But because it happened. Really. And it affects us every day because as a result of His suffering, we are healed. Treat Christ’s death as if we were there. Treat it like it was this morning. Say the words prayerfully, respectfully, and with awe and tears. Gratefully.
~Brian Vander Haak

Enduring Suffering

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him.
If we disown Him, He will also disown us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
For He cannot deny Himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13

 

I don’t like suffering – thinking about it, talking about it, much less actually suffering. But God’s Word pulls no punches.

There is much we must endure.

A friend’s business fails. A brother’s cancer returns. A sister loses her job. My child loses his hearing. Suffering is our daily reality in this sinful, broken world. Suffering must be a curse – the enemy.

Elisabeth Elliott turns my thoughts right-side up.

“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. The cross was the proof of His love – that He gave that Son, that He let Him go to Calvary’s cross, though ‘legions of angels’ might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”

Did we really think that “take up your cross” meant wear a really pretty necklace?
~Julie Garrett