The Why of Suffering

There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

I started looking at this verse here Strange House Guest.  In that post I wrote about how we most often view suffering as a strange house guest. But here I would like to talk about the why. Why does there have to be suffering at all? 

The answer must lie in that middle part of the verse – the painful trial you are suffering. “Painful trial” is the Greek word purosis (πύρωσις), which means burning or smelting, “a figure drawn from a refiner’s fire.” It comes from the word that means “melted by fire and purged of dross,” refined. 

The word translated “suffering” is peirasmos (πειρασμός), which means adversity, affliction, and trouble, but also testing, trial, and proving. It is a suffering “sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness.”  

Peirasmos is the word used “of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand” (Luke 4:13). It comes from a word that means – I love this! – “to try whether a thing can be done.”  

Although he was a son, he learned obedience (attentive hearkening, compliance, or submission) from what he suffered Hebrews 5:8 

Jesus did not need refining as the perfect Son of God. He did not need to learn obedience or learn to hearken to God’s voice. He did it for us, to show us that it can be done, and how.  

One [Messiah] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:13 

“Learning and suffering and death are part of the life experience for all people, and God ensured that His own Son would be no exception. As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, especially obedience; yet, at His incarnation, Jesus limited Himself to the human experience. He chose the weak position of having to learn and grow (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience.” — gotquestions.orgi 

Paul called it a “fellowship of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot called this fellowship a privilege: 

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”   

This is not our usual way of thinking, but it is God’s way, part of that one-track focus of his to save the world. It seems to me that if we are surprised by suffering it is because we are expecting everything to go our way. It is a kind of rebellion really. Looking to make our will be done, our little kingdom come. Rejecting the promise of trouble and suffering. Rejecting the Potter’s forming hands.  

But if we expect suffering and refining as his children – because that is what he promised – we begin to be surprised by joy. We begin looking for the blessings. Looking for the answer to prayer. Looking for the fragile life to poke up through our plowed hearts. Looking for the light shining through the broken places. Looking for the other part of the promise of suffering, because there will always be something beautiful included. There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere. 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NASB) 

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” — Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditation, “Be Surprised by Joy” 

Let us strive to be surprised, not by the suffering, but by joy. Let us pray that we may be the barren desert from which His life can spring up. Let us pour out the life that has been poured out into us. Jesus has gone before us; he has shown us the way. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering … 2 Timothy 4:6 

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair

I Am The Way

We don’t get a map and detailed instructions when we decide to follow Jesus. We get Him.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” 

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:2-6 

I love how Thomas speaks up and says and asks the potentially dumb, or embarrassing, things for all of us. He was an all-my-ducks-in-a-row type person that I can relate to. He wanted to see the nail marks and put his hand in Jesus’ side. He wanted to hold the map in his hands.  

“How can we know the way?” This time, when I heard him ask the question, I heard the underlying panic (or maybe it was mine). Wait! How can I follow you when I don’t know the way? It sounds like you are saying that I have to DO something. Perform, be perfect. I’ve got to be RIGHT (read self-righteous). I need a detailed map. Where is this way?! 

But what did Jesus say to him? “I am (I exist, I am present, I was, I am, I will be) the way …” 

Basically, Jesus was saying “I am the map.” The get-it-right-performance junkie in me (and, in my imagination, Thomas) immediately is anxious. What does that mean? How do I DO that?  

But Jesus compassionately went on to say, “No one comes to the Father except through (through, with, in, by the means of) Me.” 

We don’t get a map and detailed instructions when we decide to follow Jesus. We get Him.  

Recently I read a quote from Oswald Chambers that took my breath away. 

“To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your commonsense decisions are His will for you unless He checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.” — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

“You are God’s will.” At first the idea repelled me. It almost seemed blasphemous. How could I be the will of God? This is how my wise sister answered my question: 

“This confirms in my spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have the mind of Christ and do hold His thoughts, feelings and purposes. We grew up “wrong” but we are now God’s masterpieces created anew in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). In Christ we are new – the old has gone (2 Corinthians 5:17) and we are whole in Christ (Colossians 2:10). 

And really, what’s the worst that could happen if we get it wrong now? God makes all things new. Faith steps out of the boat.” 

Praise God for wise sisters! What is the worst that can happen if I mess up? I get to experience his gentle correction, the rod and the staff of the loving Shepherd.  

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4 

So, what does it take, walking this Way? Complete surrender. Drawing my life from His. Dying to self and letting him live in and through me – this temple of the Holy Spirit. Walking forward, sometimes in the dark, through, with, in, and by the means of Jesus. 

It’s not about my righteousness – about me getting it right – but about his righteousness. His is the righteousness; his is the faith; his is the love; his can be my actions and my words. If I lean on Him. If I abide in Him. 

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 

I get this feeling that we will need to be abiding, hidden in his great heart, more and more as we follow him forward. If you are not already abiding in Christ and he in you, please give your life to him today (see wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/salvation/ for help.) 

For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going, anyone groping in the dark, Here’s what: Trust in God. Lean on your God! Isaiah 50:10-11 (Message)  

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  

And He said, “Come!” i 

Image, You Are Here by Mario Klingemann https://flic.kr/p/ddNU5   

iMatthew 14:27-29 (NASB) 

Running Heart

“Come what may, I want to run.”

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. Psalm 119:32 

To run with a heart set free, a heart of passion. Running this way, on a narrow path, to me implies fearlessness, trust, knowledge of the path, being in good shape (preparation, training), focus, selflessness. Not carefully picking my way over, possibly dangerous or rocky, unknown ground. Not slowly, ready to turn and go back if it gets too hard. This running implies commitment to a goal. It implies wholeheartedness. 

Runners in the Old Testament many times were part of the Royal Guard who served the king, running before and after the king’s chariot (see 1 Samuel 8:11; 2 Samuel 15:1). Other runners were messengers. 

One poignant story of a runner-messenger is in 2 Samuel. David’s son, Absalom, had tried to overthrow the throne, but the rebellion had been put down and Absalom had been killed. Joab commanded a runner to go and give David what he thought would be good news. But, Ahimaaz son of Zadok knew his king. So, he begged to also run with message. 

Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.” 

20 “You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.” 

21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off. 

22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.” 

But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.” 

23 He said, “Come what may, I want to run.” 2 Samuel 18:19-23 

“Come what may, I want to run.” Ahimaaz wasn’t running for reward. But rather, he knew that David would be heartbroken at the death of his son and he wanted to get there first and maybe soften the blow a little. He was running for the love of his king. 

In Psalm 119:32, David says he runs in the path of the Lord’s commands. The Hebrew word is the noun mitsvah (מִצְוָה). It comes from the verb tsavah (צָוָה) = to command, charge, give orders, lay charge, give charge to, order, send a messenger.  

“Command [tsavah] is used for the instruction of a father to a son (1 Sa 17:20), a farmer to his laborers (Ruth 2:9), a king to his servants (2 Sa 21:14).”  — Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol II  

If we have received Jesus as our Savior, we are all of those things. We are children of our Father God, laborers in his field, servants of the great King. We are his runner-messengers and we run in the path – the Way – of his commands. He has illumined the Path and shown us the Way to run. He has given us great and faithful promises that if we run on this Path we will not stumble or grow weary. 

I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Proverbs 4:11-12 

But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)  

He has commanded us to run with His message of love, redemption, hope and healing to a heartbroken world. Let us run for the love of our King – fearlessly, selflessly, wholeheartedly, passionately, faithfully. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run … Hebrews 12:1 

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message (or word) of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored (literally in the Greek, “may run and be glorified”), just as it was with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1 

Draw me after you and let us run together! Song of Songs 1:4 (NASB) 

Photo by Raid Gaspésie  https://flic.kr/p/Yp1wfA  

The Pressing of Grapes

The amazing story of Redemption is hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

This is a well-known saying of Jesus and I have read it many times. But, this time I decided to take a look at the Greek meanings and roots of the important concepts – narrow, wide, broad. I would like to share with you what I discovered and some related verses that help reveal the amazing story of Redemption hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate …

The word translated “narrow” in verse 13 and the word translated “small” in verse 14 are the same Greek word, which is stenos. Stenos means narrow or strait, and it comes from the root word histemi, which means to stand, abide, continue, covenant, to be of a steadfast mind which does not hesitate or waiver.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NASB)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)

But small is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

The other word in verse 14 also translated “narrow” (or hard, difficult) is thlibo, which means to press like grapes, press hard upon, be crowded, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble. There are two breathtaking roots to this word: tragos = a male goat; and trauma = a wound or wounds.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 15:33 (NIV)

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins … The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22 (NASB)

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12 (NIV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

For wide (platus) is the gate and broad (euruchoros) is the road that leads to destruction

The word translated “wide” is platus. Its origin is the root word plasso, which means to form, mold, fabricate, or shape.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Finally, the word translated “broad”, or spacious, is euruchoros. It comes from chora which means and empty expanse or the space lying between two places or limits. Interestingly, the root of both these words is chasma, from which our English word chasm comes.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10 (NIV)

Enter through the narrow gate, where you can abide in me, holding fast your confession without wavering. For wide is the gate where you are formed by the molding of the world, and broad is the road that leads to destruction and separation from God, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road, where you are pressed hard upon like grapes, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble for my sake, but that leads to life, and only a few find it.

I [Jesus] am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. John 10:9 (NIV)

Keeping in Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

Keep in step with the Spirit. How do I do that? It reminds me of a little kid trying to keep up with the Dad. And sometimes it does feel like that. He is relentless, focused, always moving, always working, alive, creating. If I stop a minute to dig in my heels, he’s down the path. And then I’m running to catch up.

But “keeping up” is different from “keeping in step.” I have always been deeply impressed by the heavenly creatures that Ezekiel saw in his vision that were so completely responsive to the Spirit of God.

Each one went straight ahead (with their faces straight forward). Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning (not turning around or aside) as they went. Ezekiel 1:12 (NIV)

The word translated “went” is the Hebrew word halak (הֲלַךְ) which means “to walk.” Wherever the Spirit walked, they would walk, straight ahead, without turning. I have always been captivated by that vision – the instant response, without resistance, to the prompting of the Spirit.

“Keep in step” I think means to remain in his Presence, trying to be continually sensitive to his promptings – and to respond immediately, or more and more immediately. To walk the way he walked when he was physically on Earth, and to walk with him the way and where he’s walking now, today. To be so in tune with his great heart that, finally, there is no hesitation. Walk along beside him with my hand in his. Walk in love. Walk where he has always walked – where there is need and pain and the crying heart. Walk with him in the Way that his footsteps made for us to walk

Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way. Psalm 85:13 (NASB)

Jesus answered, “I am the way …” John 14:6 (NIV)

Lord help me keep my eyes on you. Help me keep in step with you on (and in) the Way.

 

Photograph by Jason Jones, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=Camping_FairOaks%20Farm_Sussex27