Rev. John Campbell
United Presbyterian Church, Oakdale
The question for this month is one that we all face at some point in our lives: “Must we, as Christians, suffer?”
Possibly a common dream among many is to have a life without any suffering. Unfortunately, it is in reality only a dream. The question as it is asked seems to arise from this type of a dream. As part of the generation that came along in the 1950s, I see this dream coming from the expectations of American society developing the answers to the world’s problems thus suffering would be eased. The issue of suffering is a complex one, since there are many kinds of suffering, many possible reasons for each kind, and often many perplexing mysteries.
Perhaps there is the feeling that if one is a faithful Christian, God will somehow protect them from all suffering. Some may think that with God they will escape serious suffering. They will just simply rebuke it in Jesus name or by calling upon God, and they will be delivered. God is able to do great things, yet we are not always able to understand all of the possibilities. The Christian life is certainly not free of tension. The world news has brought to light the existence of real suffering in the persecution of Christians by groups like Boko Haram.
Christian believers are not immune from suffering. The Bible is realistic in its approach to suffering. From the book of Psalms, we read: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (KJV). It exists – remember the book of Job. Yet it does not stop there, it continues to say that God delivers them. There are times one has to live with the suffering, as St. Paul did in regards to his thorn in the flesh. He did receive the words of hope: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
It seems that Christians would like to overlook the words of Jesus: “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” We do not want to hear the words of 2 Timothy: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Life in this present age is one of struggle and steady opposition. The Bible also says: “if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory.”
A comfort (and a discomfort?) for many believers is the passage in James: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Most of us do not like tests or trials. But there is a purpose: “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Life is a struggle. Yet for the Christian joy and peace are found in their relationship with Christ Jesus and within Christian fellowship, even if at times it is in stark contrast to the actual circumstances of life.
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