Suffering in Hope
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law, . . .
for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.
~ Psalm 94:12, 15
Perhaps the hardest thing for a Christian to learn is that we expect to suffer. As Christians, we will not be punished by God. The idea that God disciplines us out of wrath for our sin was fulfilled in Christ. The model that we see so easily, that we are disciplined by a loving father, like a human parent would discipline a child who is playing with firecrackers, has changed. We do not pay a penalty for our sin. Our obedience to God's will is a necessary result of salvation. We do not obey God to avoid punishment; we obey God because we love Him. We have become adults in faith and God will no longer punish us like children.
This is the great lesson of John. “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:5-6) Or in the words of Christ himself, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)
We do not suffer in life because we sin; our sins are forgiven. The world may chastise us when we break its rules, and these rules may in some cases overlap God's commandments, but this is known even to pagans. The world does not punish us for murder because it is immoral; the world punishes us for murder because it violates human law. Knowledge that conduct may have adverse consequences in this life is what Paul calls “spiritual milk”, the mindset of the immature.
God may steer us away from sin by discipline, but this is not punishment; it is a helpful reminder about how we much act out our faith. If God disciplines us, now, it is more in the nature of advice given in a physical form. He may call us away from work we should not be doing, for example, into an occupation
By and large, however, when we suffer in life, we suffer just as Christ suffered - not because we sin, but because we live in an evil world where Satan has dominion. Suffering is, in effect, the price we are glad to pay for having been forgiven for our sins. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
Once we understand our salvation, the power of God's love will fill us so bursting with joy that the pains of life — the rain that falls on the just and the unjust alike, (Matthew 5:45) — will diminish in power. As we grow strong in the Holy Spirit, we will not stop suffering — in fact, Christ warns us that we might be called upon to suffer specifically because of our faith — but it will not hurt as much. Being victorious over death, we may be free of the fear of death; and if we do not fear death, we need fear nothing.
All of us still seek to avoid pain and find pleasures in this world. (Well, most of us; there are some Christians who “mortify their flesh” on purpose; but Christ, may I point out, never did this and never taught us to do it.) While we are alive, our humanity will still generate feelings of fear and pain, and it will still be unpleasant. But it is never the same; it does not have the same power over us. No matter how terrible the things of this world get, we know in our hearts that God will set it right. Our hope is proof positive against any tragedy the world can inflict upon us.
For the strong in Spirit, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel; there is a star in the darkest sky; there is a rainbow already waiting for the end of the most terrible storm.
Lord, when I must suffer in this world, let me always be filled with the certainty of hope. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer