Patience

This Is a Good Time to Bolster Your Theology of Suffering, Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Mark Twain never wrote, and almost certainly never said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” But, Twaininess aside, there’s an underlying truth. When confronted with a severely negative turn of events, it’s human nature to reject it. “No way! … this is not happening!”

It’s just as natural to scale it down to a size we feel better equipped to handle, “That’s not what’s happening. This is what’s happening…” followed by a simplified, more understandable, less frightening version of things.

But a Christian is called to think differently about everything, including calamities and disasters. He is to “speak truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:2) as well as “with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25). In the case of disasters, this means facing the full reality of a mess out of our control, recognizing that what is, is.

This honesty has consequences. Because “the prudent sees danger and hides himself” (Prov. 22:3), facing a time of suffering with eyes wide open and lights on allows us to act wisely in response. “The simple go on and suffer for it” (Prov. 22:3b).

Because the times seem to call for it, I’ve been shoring up my practical theology of suffering by pondering seven certainties. These are the final three.

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This Is a Good Time to Bolster Your Theology of Suffering, Part 2

We humans have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. When too much change is happening too fast, the temptations to choose certainty over truth and comfort over honest struggle are greatly intensified.

We want it all to make sense. We want it to be simple. We want someone or some group to be clearly to blame—maybe because that’s easier than seeing the difficulty as a mess too complex to understand. A villain provides certainty and feels like a measure of control.

It’s a very human thing to do, but it’s not a very Christian thing to do. We’re called to prize truth and face it, even when the truth to be faced is, “I don’t how this happened or what’s coming next … and it could be really bad.”

The Christian way is to face disaster with all it’s complexities and uncertainties, but—in our hearts and minds—anchor it all to rock-solid, unchanging, big-picture realities. Because these realities are revealed to us by God in Scripture, we properly call this anchoring faith.

In part 1, we pondered two of seven certainties regarding suffering: our suffering is never meaningless and our suffering is never solitary. These certainties, and others, are pillars in our theology of suffering. Here we consider two more.

3. Our suffering is never payback.

“So much is going wrong in my life! Is God punishing me?”

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This Is a Good Time to Bolster Your Theology of Suffering

If you’ve been reading the economic news, you’ve been seeing the same things I have. Much of the forecasting is dire, and the numbers right now are beyond disturbing.1  There’s a wide range of predictions, and even the best-case scenarios aren’t fun to think about.

Like many of you, I’m more afraid of poverty than I am of COVID-19. This could be temporary. Nobody close to me has developed the disease. People close to me have lost their jobs.

This fear doesn’t make me less supportive of government rules aimed at slowing the disease, though. I don’t believe there ever was a non-catastrophic path through this. It was going to be a disaster, no matter what, and better decisions here and there would only have made it a slightly smaller disaster.2

So we have entered a time of suffering, and it might get a lot worse before it gets better. What that means for me is that I need to stir myself up by way of reminder (2 Pet. 1:13, 3:1). Maybe some of you will find these meditations helpful too.

Uncertainties and certainties

The platitude says fear of the unknown is the worst fear. I’m not so sure. Some things I fear only because they are known. I’ve experienced them before and dread going there again. Being unemployed is one of them.

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“As congregations, we grow in godliness not by hearing one sermon but by hearing a thousand.”

"We need to believe that God really does work and that he really does work over time. Too often we overestimate the growth we can gain in a week, but underestimate the growth we can gain in a year." - Challies

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Waiting for God? Oh.

Reposted with permission from The Cripplegate.

If you haven’t seen Samuel Beckett’s famous play, Waiting for Godot, let me tell you what you missed by quoting a stage critic, Vivian Mercier: “Waiting for Godot has achieved theoretical impossibility: a play in which … nothing happens, twice.”

The play has two acts and involves two characters joined sporadically by a few more characters, who are waiting for a character named Godot. At the end of the first act a boy shows up with a message from Godot that he will not be coming today, but will certainly come tomorrow.

After the interval, the play resumes as the next day, with no plot development at all, until at the end of the second and final act, when the boy shows up again with the same message that Godot will not be coming today, but will surely come tomorrow.

The drama world was startled by the advent of a new concept: a play with no plot, no climax, and no character development, breaking all the rules of theatre, for no apparent reason. Of course, when interrogated as to what it all meant, Samuel Beckett declared emphatically, “It means what it says!”

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