We are discussing suffering this week in class, the theology of pain as it were. And the Lord spoke to my heart as we discussed our responses to suffering.(Here comes radical claim #1). If the suffering of others does not prompt us to action, we do not understand the cross of Christ. Even as I type that, my hand hesitates. Why? Because it is offensive and confronting. But I beg Christ to confront and offend my flesh, even when I hate it. And the ‘Murican in me HATES the idea that suffering is my problem.
But Jesus made suffering His problem. That is the point of the cross. He loved you, me, us enough to take our punishment, our suffering, and bleed and die for us. He made MY suffering HIS problem.
We were reading the interview between Lee Strobel and Dr. Templeton (a self-proclaimed agnostic who had previously been in the ministry) in the Case for Faith. Dr. Templeton had cited a picture of an African mother holding her dead infant as a result of drought, and said ‘all she needed was a little rain, so how could a loving God not give it?’ (that’s a paraphrase). He then goes on to describe his love for Jesus and His ‘care for the oppressed’ and His great morality. Now, Dr. Templeton would not say Jesus is God, but I do. But these two comments gripped my heart. All the woman needed to save her child was a little rain, this is true. But in a world filled with people claiming the name for Jesus, this woman’s child died for lack of water. Jesus made my suffering His problem, but I refuse to make this mother’s suffering mine. I think the number one argument I have heard against believing God runs along the same lines. ‘If God is loving, how can x, y, or z happen?’
Radical claim number two: Perhaps the world wouldn’t have such a problem with a loving God, if HIS church fought against the suffering of others. If we don’t weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), the world will never believe in a God who does. If the Church is truly the body of Christ, then how is it that we drudge along in apathy thanking God that the suffering around us is kept at bay by our affluence. Oh, how guilty I am of this! It is so easy to see suffering around me and hurriedly say ‘thanks for keeping me from that, God, thanks for blessing ME’ and move on. Or to quickly say ‘man, God, you should help them’. What?! Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So how do we love like Jesus loved? He gave all He had and died for us, to take our suffering. Isaiah 53:4, “Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” Did Jesus stand afar off, afraid to get dirty, and ‘feel for me’. No, He got in the muck, took my sorrow and gave me hope. He bore my griefs and carried my sorrows!
I have said things like this before and the response I usually get is ‘yea, but having things isn’t bad’ or ‘yea, but I give 10% to the church so the rest I can spend’ or ‘yea, but I gotta have something to give/leave my kids’ or ‘it isn’t wrong that I like my coffee, clothes, comfort, WHATEVER’. Radical claim number 3: Those statements are technically true, but not really. What if Jesus heart for you and me had been that? I would still be dead in my sins, damned to hell. Jesus’ heart toward me has never been ‘how much can I keep for myself?’ so why is this my heart so often? Why ISN’T my question ‘how much can I give for Jesus’? Luke 14:33, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” I won’t explain this verse away in my life any longer. Exodus 22:22-24, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword, your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” Isaiah 35:3-4, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who are fearful-hearted ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Psalm 82:3, “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.” Matthew 10:38-39, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 25:35,40, “For was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in… And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this; to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body what does it profit?”
Now I am not saying to sell all you have and give to the needy. But I feel strongly convicted in my own life and my love of comfort as I search Scripture. I truly believe that if I see the suffering of another and merely tell them Jesus loves them and move on, I am misrepresenting Jesus. Jesus felt compassion for the sick and lost, He healed and fed, He died to Himself. So my prayer is that God gives me the heart not to do as little as possible to be comfy and cozy, but to really cleanse me of myself and give me more of Him. I pray that God would teach me to depend on Him daily, rather than on my savings. That He would use me to show His love to others in the tangible, real gospel. But He will not if I am not willing. I will never see the miraculous provision of God if I am too busy providing for myself.
How can a loving God not do something about suffering? Radical claim number 4: He did do something. He sent His Son. His Son sent His Church, and we have been given the call to die to ourselves, and care for others. I am so thankful for the gift of repentance and that God is gracious. He not only calls us to this, but then gives us JOY AND DELIGHT in it. It is a leap of faith to take the suffering of others upon ourselves and make it our problem; but we serve the King who gives us His heart and His love for others.