God Doesn’t Suffer, So Why Should We?

In my Sunday school class last weekend, the discussion quickly moved from a discussion of the atonement to a specific focus on whether God suffers or can suffer.

A number of interesting observations were made, but one seemed particularly worth sharing.

Following a discussion of why some consider it better to be above suffering (and the connections with other persons that cause us suffering) than to suffer (and be connected and in relationship), a retired pastor in the class suggested that there might be a correlation between this and dispensationalism. The conviction that it is more perfect to be above suffering leads naturally to the view that the worthy will be “raptured” and thus spared the tribulation and suffering that they believe is coming upon the world.

I had never thought about it in those terms before. The whole notion of a pre-tribulation rapture reflects the core conviction that it is better for Christians to escape from suffering, than for them to be present in the world, even if their being present would enable them to have a positive impact in a very difficult time, at great cost to themselves.

This tells us something very important about the strands of Christianity that embrace this brand of dispensationalist thinking. The theology turns out to be self-centered, and thus unchristlike in its very essence.

It is possible to conclude, merely from an examination of the evidence, that dispensationalism and the whole futurist approach to Revelation it represents are incorrect and fundamentally misguided. But even as someone who had already drawn that conclusion, and who used to be immersed in his teens in a form of rapture-focused Christianity, it was really a revelation (pun intended) for me to discover just how opposed to the most fundamental principles of Christianity the whole worldview is.

And that relates to another thing that we discussed in my class last Sunday. The church has a tendency to find some external things to focus on, and having avoided them, to proclaim itself to be different from the world. Smoking and drinking are classic examples of these sorts of emblems of conservative church identity. But very often, perhaps almost always, the church turns out on closer examination to be fundamentally like the world, like the culture in which it finds itself, in its core values.

The belief that being free from suffering is better than an existence characterized by suffering, even if the latter is also as a result richer and more beneficial to others, seems to be an example of precisely that: the church resembling the convictions of our culture more than anything inherently or profoundly Christian.

 

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  • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

    I’m looking at the comic … it looks like Veronica who is preaching end times as she is raptured … I guess Archie, Betty, and Jughead were left behind!

  • Anthony Le Donne

    This gives me a chance to recommend one of my favorite books:
    The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Overtures to Biblical Theology)
    Terence E. Frethheim

  • Michael Wilson

    as an omniscient being, wouldn’t God experience every beings suffering?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      An omniscient being would by definition have to know about every being’s suffering, but would experiencing that suffering also be necessary for omniscience? I suppose one could argue that true omniscience would have to include knowledge of how all suffering felt.

  • Orc Orchard

    I call no way on that Christian comic book. I was *specifically* told there would be piles of clothes left behind by raptured people. Hence, the people/souls in that image should be naked. Like, that hot young thing in the center-middle: She should be totally naked if this were a correct, traditional, biblical Christian publication.

    Dirty, heretical, worldly comic authors. Clearly not focused on the things of God like real believers like me.

  • markmatson

    I immediately wondered why we think God does not suffer? And that led me to William Placher’s book, Narratives of a Vulnerable God. And vulnerability and suffering are related…

    mark

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    As a former fundamentalist-dispensationalist, I must object to your cartoon depiction of the rapture. One of the girls has a short skirt and another is wearing slacks. They would not be taken in the rapture!

  • Jonwards

    / Thanks, James. Good thoughts. The following was spotted on the www. Enjoy. /

    PRETRIB RAPTURE STEALTH !

    Many evangelicals believe that Christ will “rapture” them to heaven
    years before the second coming and (most importantly) well BEFORE
    Antichrist and his “tribulation.” But Acts 2:34, 35 reveal that Jesus is
    at the Father’s right hand in heaven until He
    leaves to destroy His earthly foes at the second coming. And Acts 3:21
    says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven with the Father “until the times
    of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the
    restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which
    obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. (“The Rapture
    Question,” by the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord,
    didn’t dare to even list, in its scripture index, the above verses! They
    were also too hot for John Darby – the so-called
    “father of dispensationalism” – to list in the scripture index in his
    “Letters”!)

    Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the
    catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS
    the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden
    destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The
    “rest” for “all them that believe” is also tied to such destruction in
    II Thess. 1:6-10! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the
    trib, who’d be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the
    change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52)
    to the end of trib “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or
    during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8
    which Scofield views as Israel’s posttrib resurrection!) It’s amazing
    that the Olivet Discourse contains the “great commission”
    for the church but not even a hint of a pretrib rapture for the church!

    Many don’t know that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I
    Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming
    to earth. In 1830 this “rapture” was stretched forward and turned into
    an idolized separate coming of Christ. To further
    strengthen their novel view, which evangelical scholars overwhelmingly
    rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began
    to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never
    dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward
    “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of
    pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away”
    of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that
    the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the
    “rapture” [“gathering”] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!).
    Google “Walvoord Melts Ice” for more on this.

    Other Google articles on the 183-year-old pretrib rapture view
    include “X-Raying Margaret,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart,”
    “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “The
    Unoriginal John Darby,” “Catholics Did NOT Invent the
    Rapture,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily
    Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture
    Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh
    My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Appendix F:
    Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Deceiving and Being
    Deceived,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” and
    “Morgan Edwards’ Rapture View” – most by the author of the bestselling
    book “The Rapture Plot” (the most accurate
    and documented book on pretrib rapture history which is obtainable by
    calling 800.643.4645).