Grey Christianity: Christian Suffering

Today’s sermon was something that should have hit home to many Christians, and seekers alike. The scriptural background was Judges 2:6-13 [show] [6]When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. [7]And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. [8]And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. [9]And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. [10]And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. [11]And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. [12]And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. [13]They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (ESV)
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which reads:

6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. 7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.

8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

I think the main point of the sermon is after the jump.

Art said one thing (amongst many) which hit me hard, to the point where I had to write it down:

knowledge without experience is merely information.

What happened during the end of Joshua’s life, an era in which an entire generation of God-believing-and-fearing peoples were nearing their expiration were soon to be filled with a generation of God-unbelieving peoples, had been repeated through the Puritan migration to New England and is, according to Art’s observations, occurring in the Chinese churches today. Of course, this growing trend of post-modernistic thought, as well as apathy toward life, God and everything else, can probably be seen in churches throughout North America.

The new generation of Joshua’s end time had not walked through the desert for 40 years, and 40 more afterward, nor had they seen the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, drank water flowing from a rock, or eaten manna which fell from the skies. Most of them were born into the land of Canaan, free from the slavery in Egypt and relishing in the benefits of the promised land, and therefore would not ever understand the hardships their fathers and forefathers had endured. They would also not understand the existence and sovereignty of the Almighty God.

To them, Baal and Ashteroth were good enough gods which they could see, worship and experience. And thus this new generation of Jews were put to persecution and war, as seen in Judges 3 [show] Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. [2]It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. [3]These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. [4]They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. [5]So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. [6]And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. [7]And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. [8]Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. [9]But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. [10]The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. [11]So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. [12]And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. [13]He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. [14]And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. [15]Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. [16]And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. [17]And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. [18]And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. [19]But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, "I have a secret message for you, O king." And he commanded, "Silence." And all his attendants went out from his presence. [20]And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, "I have a message from God for you." And he arose from his seat. [21]And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. [22]And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. [23]Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them. [24]When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, "Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber." [25]And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor. [26]Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. [27]When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. [28]And he said to them, "Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand." So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. [29]And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. [30]So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years. [31]After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. (ESV)
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, to let them learn how to fight, how to survive, and experience the power of God. Art concluded that trials and hardships in our lives are meant to allow us to experience God and to have a glimpse of Him.

Surely, this isn’t a surefire-all-encompassing answer to why suffering occurs in life. More than often, “suffering” happens when we are most focused with our own well-being. We “suffer” when things aren’t going our way, according to our plan. And shouldn’t we “suffer” in order to experience and see God’s works?

Merely mentioning “suffering” in the Christian sense then seems a little limited. Many people will ask, what about the innocent non-believing people who have to suffer? Those who have had their families destroyed, those who are born with incurable diseases, those who develop incurable diseases, those trapped in war-torn countries, those who do good in their neighborhood but get gunned down? Why do they have to suffer? Saying “so they can experience and have God revealed to them”, combined with “because we live in a broken world which only belief in Jesus can fix” can both be simplistically idealistic, yet paradoxically accurate.

Through “suffering” comes questioning. Through questioning comes opportunities for answers. Through answers, hopefully comes truth, love, healing, and most importantly, God’s glory. However, there can be no healing for the broken if there is nobody to help share the answer, our freedom and redemption from the physical suffering constraints of this world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Thus as a Christian, when we “suffer”, there are a few questions that come to mind.

  • Is my suffering brought upon me as punishment toward my sins?
  • Is my suffering brought upon me as temptation from Satan?
  • Is my suffering brought upon me as a reminder of God’s existence, sovereignty and commandments?

If you believe your suffering is due to your the sins that you may have committed by your hands or in your heart, you must definitely acknowledge your sins to God and ask for forgiveness. What point is asking why you’re suffering for your sins, when you are aware of them and do not ask for forgiveness? Is that not similar to having a nail impale your foot, and refusing to take it out?

There could be many times when Satan is causing your suffering in order to sway you from the hand of God. Case in point, Job. Under no circumstances would the LORD ever tempt you, for God does NOT tempt you to do evil. Saying the LORD is tempting you equates Him with being evil, which He cannot be.

The final question has been attempted to be answered through this entire post, though the question of why we suffer cannot be sufficiently answered (and accepted) by many people.

Should our questions then be revised from “God, why am I suffering?” to “God, what are You trying to reveal to me through this?”

“Grey Christianity” is a mini-series of commentaries and questions devoted to tackling some of the issues which come to my mind as a Christian. I take no authority whatsoever over what I say, and hope there aren’t misquotes of scripture, in the rare occurrences I actually quote scripture.

These posts are meant as discussion of these issues, not as avenues for people to smash Christianity. Do not waste our time if you plan to troll.

  • lorr

    yes, yes it should.
    you my friend, are a brilliant thinker and i think we need to catch up soon!