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Suffering and the Christian
By Brian Pepper
How many times has the question been asked, "Why do we have suffering and hardship when we become Christians?", and stranger still not every Christian suffers. I often think to myself that there must be something wrong in that I have never suffered physically, not like some of the folk who I have visited in Old People's homes and hospitals. I think of Mrs M who has been confined to her chair and bed for well over 15 years. Another lady HD spent a similar amount of time in the same manner.
We do not understand why Christians should suffer but St Peter must
have been asked this same question for he tells us in
1 Peter 4:12,
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to
try you as though some strange thing happened to you." The
Christian is not free from trial and affliction. After all we are
living in a world where tragedy, sickness and disease has become too
Cosmic Struggle in the Universe
St Peter stresses that suffering is part of the Christian's progress to the Heavenly Kingdom. He also reminds us that the one who suffers for righteousness is blessed. Also that there is a great cosmic struggle going on in the universe between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and the Christian is caught up in it. And because we are unable to look beyond our own world, we cannot understand what is taking place behind the scenes.
I have quite a long prayer list of church folk who are sick and suffering, but unfortunately every so often one of those folk for whom I have been praying for passes away. I cannot understand God's purposes or the reason why such a one has to lay down life's burdens. But I do know that even though Satan can cause death, it is only as God allows it.
I would like to take a look at another text found in
"And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan
hath bound lo these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond this
Sabbath day?" Jesus knew and named the one responsible for this
lady's illness, and we ought to know also when it comes to suffering
there is a big difference between the Christian and worldly people.
Christians can seek God in sickness
For Christians can turn to God for help and healing. I know that I have prayed to God when I was very sick. I asked Him to let me die, but He didn't. He allowed me to get well again. It did not happen overnight but it did happen. I have known of those who had terminal illness, and although they were not healed, they were spared of pain. By brother-in-law was a very worldly man and he had not been honest during his life, and when he was struck down with cancer he was terrified of the prospect of dying.
God can see something precious in us, and that is why He puts us through the refining process. Just like gemstones, they do not look very attractive in the rough but what a difference when they are polished.
St Peter has something more to say regarding suffering in 1 Peter 4:13, "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings that, when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy." Christians can be encouraged knowing that Jesus suffered and suffered terribly, but came through the fiery trial victorious, and every Christian can be assured of victory also.
The apostle James has words of encouragement for us.
James 1:2 says,
"My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials."
This is good counsel even if we do not appreciate it.
The World not kind to Christians
Jesus warned Christians that the world would not be very kind to them.
After all it treated Him very cruelly and it could treat you and me in
the same way. The world is not very comfortable about Christians, and
that has always been the case and will be until the end. The
world loves sin, it loves sex, it loves pleasure, and it hates
righteousness. The average person looks upon Christians as wowsers, as
do gooders, so one can expect the worldly person to be hostile to
those who follow Jesus.
God disciplines us
Most of us wish that we could just breeze through life without
anything to spoil things, and wouldn't that be wonderful. But it isn't
to be, not this side of eternity anyway. We have to recognize that God
is doing His very best to develop our characters so that they will be
worthy of a place in the glory land. And God disciplines His followers
by trials and situations which test us. God knows us better than we
know ourselves. He knows our faults and weaknesses, and He knows our
capabilities and our strengths. So He brings us into situations which
alert us to either our weaknesses or to our strengths. We are told not
to be surprised when these trials come to us.
Suffering of the Apostles
We need to remember that the apostles did not find it easy. Acts 5:40 says, "And they agreed with him (Gamaliel) and when they had called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go." Verse 41 says, "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
The apostles did not allow persecution and beatings to dampen their
evangelistic efforts. The question is, do we have the same sort of
courage to do as they did? Personally I am not sure, but if we were
faced with a similar situation, I believe that we could. For it was
the LORD who gave them the courage to come through triumphantly.
As I mentioned earlier, God has to be careful regarding those who will enter His eternal Kingdom. There has to be a checking up to see if the individual is going to be happy there and does not try to stage a takeover as Lucifer did.
St Peter mentions this in
1 Peter 4:17, "For the time is come that
judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us,
what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"
People often ask the question "If God knows those who belong to Him
and those who do not, why a Judgment? Usually a court decides whether
a case is right or wrong. A judgment is made. Sometimes the wrong kind
of judgment is made and innocent people go to gaol and spend years
there. But in the heavenly judgment it is not possible for such a
thing to happen, for there is nothing hidden from the scrutiny of the
Heavenly beings. The guardian angels have a complete record. There is
nothing missing. So the decisions are fair. They are just, and they
are true. There is no need for a Court of Appeal.
Disunity in the Church
But you may ask, "Why does the Judgment begin with the Church? With those who profess Christ?" It is because that in the Church there are those who do not reflect the teachings of Jesus in their lives. It is sad, but unfortunately true. You see Heaven is too precious to have it spoiled by someone who could be a danger to the peace of Heaven.
I have known of Churches where there was so much wrangling and bickering going on that a division was created and eventually the church was closed and the members disfellowshipped. This was the Harvey church of W.A. I should also mention that when I was a Minister in South New South Wales Conference the Albury church was noted for squabbles and power struggles. I am so glad that isn't the case today. I mention this because I want you to understand that God has to take a very careful look at those who intend to spend eternity with Him.
There isn't any peace here on this earth of ours. We see politicians
grasping for power. A leader is elected but it isn't long before
someone is trying to stage a take over. I can still remember how that
Mr Keating inched Bob Hawke out of his position of Prime Minister.
This kind of thing is happening all the time. So sadly the Church
members have to be sorted out too.
Tares and the Wheat
Jesus spoke about the tares and the wheat and he said that the tares would be in the Church right up to the very last hour. They cannot be plucked out because they might take some wheat with them. But at the Harvest they are separated from the wheat. It is absolutely vital that not one should miss out. That is why there has to be a judgment, so that those who do not reflect the teachings and character of Jesus will have to be removed from the pages of the Book of Life. It is very sad, but they would only sour the lovely spirit of Heaven. They would only grumble and complain and criticise and tear down the very fabric of Heaven itself.
I read a statement somewhere. It could have been in the Sabbath School
lesson, that if the Angel Gabriel were to come down and be a member of
one of our earthly churches, it would not be long before he would be
criticised by some of the brethren. However there is good news in that
the Judgment declares in favour of those who have clothed themselves
with Christ's righteousness. They will enhance Heaven by their
Some Goodly people in the Church
My mind goes back to the time when I first joined the Advent church. There was a very sweet and lovely spirit in my home church. I can still remember those godly people such as Gran J, a wonderful Christian lady. A great supporter of the young people who loved her. Then there was Dave E. He was the headmaster of a number of public schools, a dedicated Christian. One who stands out in my memory was Mr G, he was nicknamed 'Moses' because of his beard and dignified appearance. He was an outstanding Sabbath School teacher.
All along the way I have been fortunate to meet up with Christians who will make Heaven even better than it is, if that is possible. The reason is that I knew them here on earth, and what a great joy it will be to meet up with them once again. I am looking forward to this and I am sure that you too will have many happy hours talking to those you have loved and known on earth.