Today’s guest post comes from John Barrett, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between theology and science.
“For affliction does not come from the dust, neither does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward,” (Job 5:6-7). These words spoken to Job speak to the natural condition of man. In fact, it expresses just the opposite of our expectations; we tend to believe that trouble is somehow an anomaly, rather than the apparent norm. Such is the difficulty with our response to suffering. When we neither imagine its possibility nor believe in its necessity, it always finds us unprepared. C.S. Lewis says of the Christian, “. . . but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not,” (The Problem of Pain, 104). It seems that in Lewis’ mind, The Grieving Saint, is the customary state.
Suffering is precipitated by some manner of personal affliction which may include physical or emotional pain or distress that comes in the form of sickness, poverty, or oppression. There is also the idea of national affliction which comes through war or various calamities. In addition to these, Christians commonly experience affliction in the form of persecution by those in opposition to the cause of Christ. In this, there is also an expectation; “. . . so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this (1 Thess. 3:3). The theology of the suffering Savior does not exempt Christ from affliction rather it is intimately tied to the expectation that He would suffer. Christ makes this expectation very clear, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised on the third day, “ (Luke 9:22).
Jesus, whose life was marked with the expectation of suffering from the days Isaiah, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him,” (Isaiah 53:3); He stands as the model for all believers. His own prophetic expression concerning what we would face further affirms this expectation of suffering, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). But in as much as there is an expectation that we will suffer, there is also an expectation that it has been overcome and will be temporary, the Psalmist rejoices that “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning,” (Psalms 30:5).
The Christian experience is profound with expectation. We wait, expectant for the fruition of God’s plan of redemption; love, mercy and long-suffering are hallmarks of that expectation. Until that day, our personal theology, while not dwelling on the expectation of suffering should acknowledge, as did Job, “. . . shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”