April 20, 2009

Unjust suffering

Christians suffer. Sam’s mother is dying, slowly, while he stays beside her bed. Jen’s husband is mentally ill, sometimes violent and continually driven by some inner motivation to run away, or steal things, or harm those who care for him. May’s husband is angry with her all the time, will not permit her to attend the church of her choice, and instead drags her all over the city to a different one each week. AH is persecuted for his faith by his relatives, his life threatened because he believes in Jesus Christ.

Years ago, one of our relatives said to us, “I admire you so much because you still keep going after all you have been through.” To this day, we have no idea what she was talking about, but in her mind the events of our lives had been difficult and we had suffered.

Because we are in the care of a holy and sovereign God, it is easy to think that we should never suffer, at least not unjustly. What father would allow that to his child? A good father would punish misbehavior, but wouldn’t a good father protect his precious children from pain and harm?

God is my good Father, yet the spiritual realm works differently than the physical. In this world, unjust suffering makes no sense. We are not to inflict it and even God tells us to do our best to insure it does not happen. However, in the spiritual world, it not only happens, but suffering can have great purpose.

This is seen in Jesus Christ. The Bible says that He “also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

While few people would even allow an innocent to die for the guilty, God sent His Son who was perfectly just to die for the unjust. Pilate said, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4), a true statement. The charges against Him were fabricated, the witnesses bribed, and the conviction illegal. The whole event was a farce, humanly speaking.

Yet God planned it. He sent His Son to die for us and Jesus was victorious through all of the injustice He suffered. It wasn’t only that He beat death, but because He suffered, sinners are brought to God!

Some of my Christian friends are suffering in situations they did not plan and that are not a result of their own doing. They may not see or understand the purpose of their suffering either. Yet even though we know we will never suffer as substitutes or redeemers, deep within our spiritual hearts, we also know that God can use our Christlike response to unjust suffering in the same way that He used the suffering of His Son. People might see it and be drawn to God because of it.

I’ve been watching the people I’ve described. Sam could go about his life; his mother is in a coma. She doesn’t know he is there so he could check out. Jen could put her husband in an institution as many think she should. Her husband doesn’t seem to care that she is giving her life to care for him, so why do it? May could divorce her husband so she can live as she pleases. AH could deny his faith and relieve the pressure on himself. Yet I know that none of these things are going to happen.

For one thing, these people are experiencing a grace from God that onlookers may not see. When the Lord asks us to suffer for His sake, He also provides what is needed so we can do it. That need might be inner peace, or a deep strength, or love that knows no limits. Whatever it is, the Christ who lives within us can help His people endure to the point that we don’t realize or care about the suffering; we are mostly aware of the grace.

Also, we may or may not understand that we endure what He endured so that we can point others to Him, but we do understand that He is near and that He is all we need.

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