Friday, April 13, 2012

The Value of Suffering

"Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." ~ 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NIV

If you pay attention to events around you, even in a cursory way, then you have seen the deterioration of life in our culture.   Lines seem endlessly blurred as we ask insurance companies to pay for experimental, life-saving procedures or drugs, and then also advocate for assisted suicide.  Organizations protest government cuts and demand rights for the disabled while also promoting the option of aborting a child with that very same disability.  And health care costs will now suffer the expense of added liability insurance for doctors who have to protect themselves from "wrongful birth" lawsuits. It's hard to make sense of the incongruity, until you bring it all down to it's lowest common denominator -- avoidance of suffering.  Humanity will seemingly do anything at this point, no matter how insane, to take a path that presents the least perceived amount of suffering.

Earlier this week, I listened to a fabulous podcast from Chuck Colson's "Breakpoint This Week" featuring Joni Eareckson Tada.  In it, Joni makes the compelling case that our culture is wired to avoid suffering at all costs.  She also states that only Christianity is equipped to redeem suffering.  I agree wholeheartedly with both remarks.

I have often made the comment in past entries that we try to make earth into heaven.  We attempt to remove anything remotely uncomfortable in our lives and carry a pathetic attitude of entitlement.  Some days it seems we humans have never moved out of the hedonistic toddler phase of life.  Self-denial, self-discipline, self-control and self-sacrifice have become great rarities in this day and age.  We speak out about bullying, but then act as bullies in our adult lives when someone makes us uncomfortable with an opinion that isn't identical to ours.  What a sad affair that we have come to the point in history where mere discomfort is even equated with pain.  We see no value to suffering of any kind, and even demean those who would suggest that there is any value to it at all.

And yet, Jesus gave suffering immense value because of how He used it.  Hebrews 5:8-9 tells us, "Jesus is God’s own Son, but still he had to suffer before he could learn what it really means to obey God. Suffering made Jesus perfect, and now he can save forever all who obey him." (CEV)  The awesome miracles culminating in Easter should be a stark reminder of how powerful suffering is!  We never stop to think what discomfort came upon the God of the Universe by merely leaving His high heaven to be with us here on Earth for 33 years.  The humble, demeaning birth He experienced was only the beginning of a life of pain.  To highlight a few of the many trials He suffered, let us remember the emotional distress of living as a member of an oppressed nationality, losing His earthly father at a young age, and being disbelieved by His own family when He began His ministry.  Add to those things the severe physical and spiritual trial of 40 days alone in the desert, thirsting, starving and mentally exhausted.  The Pharisees hounded Him and argued with Him relentlessly for 3 years.  And He never did have "a place to rest His head".  Those sufferings and the sufferings of His followers all offered the opportunity for God's glorious revelation through miraculous healings, bountiful feedings of thousands, walking on water, and even the resurrection of a dear family friend.  None of those amazing, breath-taking things ever could have occurred had there not first been tremendous anguish preceding them.  And likewise, our eternal hope of life in God's beautiful presence would never be possible had we not been convinced of Jesus' tortured death brought on by the agony of scourging, crucifixion and stabbing.  That evil, awful distress could not win out over a loving Savior who burst forth in glory from the tomb!

If Christ's redemptive power gives such value to His suffering, does He provide no less to those of us who are called His own?  We can be sure that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)  Even the inconveniences of many doctor's visits or therapy appointments possess a redemptive quality in a world that lacks hope.  We have been given a unique opportunity to offer gladness to those around us who see nothing but despair.  What we have come to know and trust by witnessing the empty tomb of Easter requires that we stand against a culture of death and self-indulgence.

Now lest you should think my admonition makes no sense today, think on our key scripture verse at the beginning of this devotional.  Paul often used both athletic training terms and military terms to describe how he endured self-sacrifice, submission and suffering of his own.  That is no less admirable than the athletes we idolize today.  How common place have the phrases they use become, like "feel the burn"?  Do you think there is no suffering in that?  Yet, again, how many of us fail at dieting and exercise because we refuse the discomfort and self-denial?

Begin to take notice today at what you see and hear that are deeply incongruent in our culture.  Pray for the courage to both embrace the suffering God has allowed in your life, and to speak out against the godless things that men do to avoid pain.  Realize that the beauty which only suffering can yield is so awesome, that its delight cannot be enjoyed or appreciated any other way.

Pray:  Lord, help me keep my eye on the prize, so that I may endure any suffering You allow in my life.  Let me reflect Your glory in a dark world that sees no benefit in surviving and thriving the trials of this life.

No comments:

Post a Comment