The past three posts have been about predestination. There are more to be said, but I have to take a pause for this week. Not because I am averting the issue, but because there is another topic that I need to address for the benefit of the local church I am pastoring at the moment.
Last Sunday, in our study on the gospel according to John, Ps Sam covered chapter 9 – the story of the man born blind. It is a captivating story of how the healing is not just physical, but also spiritual. Not only were his physical eyes restored, his spiritual eyes are also opened to the reality that Jesus is not just a man, but He is the Son of Man worthy of his (and our) worship. There is one line, however, that is fascinating. When asked by His disciple about on whose account the man was born blind, Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Thus, ’tis a good time to pause and to reflect on the issue of ‘suffering.’
At that time, the prevalent understanding was that when someone suffered, it was definitely because of sin. If you had been bad, you would reap consequence which would include a form of suffering. Therefore, your sickness is viewed as a punishment by God on your sin or on your predecessor’s sin. The ‘curse’ of my slow metabolic rate that keeps my body well-rounded is the result of either my stealing 50 rupiahs (less than 5c even at that time) from my dad’s desk to buy a popsicle (when I was 6, I think), my decision to keep 200 rupiahs (less than 10c) that my mum gave me to be given as offering to the church (when I was older than 6, I believe), or my dad must have done something worse… I knew it. However, Jesus’ answer broke down their paradigm and gave us a totally different way to view suffering, and consequently, to view God. So, I have got no one else to blame now. Dang!
Going straight to the points, I would suggest five things (three in this post, and the last two in the next post) we need to know when we are going through suffering.
1. Some sufferings are caused by our sin.
Firstly, before we go super-spiritual and say, “God has a purpose in our suffering,” which He always does, let’s not minimise the fact that sometimes our sufferings are the result of our sin, our ignorance, or simply our stupidity. My slow metabolic rate is not caused by other people’s sin. It is simply because I don’t subject my body to heart-pumping aerobic activities. I do exercise, don’t get me wrong. But definitely, not enough. Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil,” which clearly implies that some people suffer because of the evil deeds that they do. If you do crime, then you will suffer in jail. If you steal, then you will be asked to compensate. If you wrong others, don’t be surprised if they take revenge and do worse to you. If you do not obey safety procedure, then don’t complain if you suffer harm. That’s just reality and common sense (which is not so common these days, unfortunately). You don’t need Apostle Peter to say that. Therefore, perhaps, when you are going through suffering, you may want to ask this question first:
“Did I cause this suffering?”
“Did I bring this upon myself?”
The temptation is always to find other people or other things to blame. If we cannot find someone to blame, then blame God. Why? Because it is our sinful tendency to deflect responsibility. Adam deflected to Eve, Eve deflected to Satan, and Satan was wearing a wide grin all along. Therefore, stop blaming others. Take full ownership of your doing, then go through the suffering, get help, learn from it, don’t blame others, and don’t even think to blame God. If anything, you need to confess and repent from your sins, and warn others to not repeat the same sin.
2. Some sufferings are caused by other people’s sin.
Sometimes we are the victim of sin done by other people. Think of our beloved ones hospitalised because a person was driving drunk. A burglar might break in and take your things away. A friend’s car was recently snatched away while parked at a train station. Women being trafficked for sexual immoralities. One can think of many more examples, some can be trivial, while many might make you very sick in your stomach. So, the second question that you may want to ask is this:
“Did someone else cause this suffering?”
“Do I suffer because of someone else’s sin?”
The bad news is that while your human intuition and your sense of justice demand restitution of some sort, sometimes you might not get the appropriate compensation. You may never get your car back. You might not fully recover from the injury. Your loved one might not come back to life. This is a stern realisation that this world is deeply immersed in sin. People are really sinful. Left to ourselves, without gracious restraint from God, we can be even more horrific than Hitler.
Regardless of whether restitution is possible, our final response should not be ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” I use the word ‘final’ because I know that our first response will be exactly that as we go through the grieving process. However, with help of others, and with God’s grace, eventually, our response should be trusting in God. We must know that we too are inherently sinners and we have been reconciled to God when Jesus died on that cross, therefore we don’t expect others to be perfect. We must trust that rebellious sinners will not be left unpunished, therefore we can obey Jesus when He asks us to love our enemies. We must trust that God is in control of our situation, therefore we don’t take things into our own hands. As hard ad it may sound, sometimes the only response is to trust God, to forgive others, to let it go, and to move on with our lives. You will grieve. That’s understandable. But don’t stay there, and don’t harbour anger and bitterness. It’s not worth it.
3. All sufferings are because of sin
Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all relationships are in shamble. Sin ruins every relationship: relationship between God and man, between man and woman, and between man and creation. Sufferings caused by typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and all natural disasters cannot be explained apart from the reality that since the fall, the whole world began to decay gradually as the world is no longer in harmony with human beings. Disabilities, diseases, accidents, and deaths are all painful realities of sin. Therefore, the third question that you may want to ask is this:
“How does this remind me of sin?”
Apostle Paul in Romans 8:18-25 says that the creation is groaning, awaiting for its redemption. Deep inside, as human beings, we know that suffering is not welcome. Suffering is not supposed to happen. Suffering is not normal. We know that because inherently we know that we are not created to suffer. We are created to live peacefully with God. However, sin destroys that. God will restore everything and make everything new. God has promised that He will banish all tears, sickness, and death. But until then, every time we suffer or when we see suffering, we must be acutely aware of and we must be reminded all the time of the presence of sin. Losing faith in a good God is always a temptation. However, you wouldn’t have any other reasonable place to fall to if you left God. So, don’t! Hang in there! Allow the awareness of sin prevent you from clinging to this world, and let it increase your longing for heaven. Allow the awareness of sin bring yourself to your knee in repentance, and let it heighten your gratitude for the cross.
Due to the length of this post and the potential length of the next one, I will have to defer the final two points to the next post. We will look at the final two points: the reality of suffering as Christians, and the purpose of sufferings. Until then, I am more than happy to hear your thoughts.