Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | May 5, 2006

Perfected through Suffering

In our Western culture we have reached a level of comfort and security due to our technological advances and political liberties.  These luxurious benefits have become in the eyes of the people “necessities”, which they have begun to view as entitlements.  We see this in the belief that everyone is entitled to healthcare insurance, education, citizenship, home ownership, employment, etc.  Many depend on these privileges to be provided or at least assistance given to acquire them.  This is a very odd expectation for people to have in light of most of world history.  Five hundred years ago these types of luxuries would have been few and far between.  Even one hundred years ago they were rare and uncommon for the majority of the population.  What has changed in humanity between then and now?  Nothing, I believe this only demonstrates the ingratitude that human’s posses towards the blessings they are provided everyday. 

This high standard of living did not come without a cost, which our forefathers paid to allow this to be possible.  For example, hundreds of thousands of men risked or lost their lives in World War I & II to fight against the tyranny of their time.  If allowed to succeed, fascist dictatorships would have been established and oppressed their subjects in a brutal fashion.  If our world was controlled by such entities the thought that some of the above mentioned privileges were entitled to a person would be ludicrous.  This is just one example of numerous others that could be mentioned about the cost that’s been paid to attain the standards of living we have now.  The point, however is to propose that good things evolve out of suffering and trying times even though it is not expected.  The challenges of our own generation are confronting us throughout the world today.  It still remains to be determined if our own generation has the will and fortitude to stand up to these challenges.  Certainly, this entitlement attitude that our culture possesses is not compatible with the courage and humility that it takes to stand against the evil that threatens our liberty. 

Suffering is a part of life certainly and Christianity acknowledges this truth to be an integral part of life as well.  In our last post we considered the suffering of our Savior and today we will continue to review this theme.  His suffering also resulted in great benefits for many throughout history.  However, these benefits were not limited to the realm of the here and now, but had eternal consequences.  As we noted last time His suffering consisted of bearing God’s wrath and the judgment we deserve for our sin.  Question 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism as a follow up to 37 asks the following question: 

Q. Why did he suffer "under Pontius Pilate" as judge? 

A. So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by a civil judge, 1 and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us. 2 

1 Luke 23:13-24: …And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted… John 19:4:  Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.  John 19:12-16: …So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
2 Isaiah 53:4-5:  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  2 Corinthians 5:21:  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Galatians 3:13:  Christ redeemed us from of the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”…
 

The Scriptures reveal that our Lord suffered to free us from the judgment of God and the bondage of sin.  Although Christians have been saved from the pains of suffering for their sins, they will not elude all suffering in this life.  In fact, we are taught that we should expect to suffer in some manner or fashion.  This may come as a surprise to many Christians in our culture who seem to have adopted the same entitlement attitude of the secular culture.  This is foreign to those who preach a Christianity of health and wealth, which seems to ignore the whole counsel of Scripture.  Many Churches seek to be as accommodating as possible to “seekers” and censor any speech that may offend the masses.  It is a peculiar truth that may not be attractive to the unbeliever.  Nonetheless, this is the pattern that God has ordained for His people as John Calvin comments in the following from the Institutes:     

For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil.  It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test.  Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.  For even though that Son was beloved above the rest, and in him the Father’s mind was well pleased (Matthew 3:17 and 17:5), yet we see that far from being treated indulgently or softly, to speak the truth, while he dwelt on earth he was not only tried by a perpetual cross.  The apostle notes the reason:  that it behooved him to “learn obedience through what he suffered.”    III.VIII.1

Although it may not seem like it at the time the suffering in our lives occurs for a purpose.  This isn’t just an academic statement that is merely made out of intellectual assent.  I can speak from personal experience having had to suffer for periods within my own life.  Looking back at these periods of my life, although painful I see were some of the best things that ever happened to me.  This may not be a popular message and may cause some to question the motives of God.  Calvin responds to these allegations in his Commentary on Genesis:     

Yet it is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.  XII.1 

It's been said that nothing is easy, which is true of life and true fort he Christian faith.  Although our faith and salvation is given freely it does not mean that our lives are automatically going to be easy.  The marketers of Staples may not like this, but there is no easy button in real life.  Faith and life are a struggle, which require reliance on God to persevere.  It is a sad state of affairs when politicians, preachers, and others ignore this reality and tell people what they want to hear.  People want to hear that they are entitled to privileges in life.  They want to hear that if they follow certain steps everything will work out perfectly.  However, this is not being honest with reality and has done severe damage to our culture's resolve during difficult trials.  Lord willing they will see the folly of their ways and if they don't, God help us.

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