Friday, March 02, 2007

Making Sense of Suffering

Not a Sermon - Just a Thought - March 2, 2007

Tsunamis, cancer, violence, and war.

Poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

All of these are symptoms of a world limping along in desperate need of healing & wholeness. In the classic blues tune It’s Bad You Know, R.L. Burnside rants in pained monotone his agreement that suffering stinks. Simply and repeatedly, he says, “It’s gettin’ bad, you know.” Hardly any other lines in the song, he sums up the state of things.

The most pressing question in all of the Christian faith is why God allows so much suffering if God is all-powerful and all-loving. I don’t believe we’ll ever fully understand this, but I also believe that parts of the answer can be found. For example, Isaiah 52 and 53 offers a prophetic look at the role that Jesus would fulfill in his life and death. It is also a graphic portrait of his suffering and glory. Verse 5, my emphasis added, reads:

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

It is troubling to know that our actions can cause pain and suffering to happen to anyone, but we humans are capable of that. For our iniquities, for our transgressions, the scriptures say that Jesus was wounded, and perhaps more profoundly we discover that because of his wounds, we are healed. Beautifully, the King James Version renders this idea, "by his stripes we are healed."

Isaiah 53.11 goes on to say this, again with emphasis:

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.

By allowing these two verses to frame the suffering of Jesus we are able to get a glimpse into one of the most troubling questions of Christianity: Why is there suffering?

For Jesus, the suffering and "wounded-ness" that he endured brought peace and forgiveness to the world. After his suffering, says the Bible, he was able to see the light of life and be satisfied. In the life of Jesus, there was purpose to his suffering, purpose on a grand and cosmic scale. I'm convinced that if we are indeed co-heirs in Christ as the Bible teaches, then the suffering which we endure on this earth must have a purpose also.

It may not be on the grand and cosmic scale of Jesus', but in discovering the reasons for suffering you and I are able to live more fully, freely, and joyfully-even when life is crushing in upon us on all sides. This Sunday we'll draw from the Isaiah 52 and 53 texts to think about the purposes of suffering. Suffering in our life, when properly observed, can sharpen our character, increase our sensitivity to God's work in our lives, and can be used to accomplish good.

Bringing a good word for hard times,
Pastor Gary

Not a Sermon – Just a Thought is a weekly e-column written by Gary Long, pastor of Willow Meadows Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. You can subscribe or unsubscribe to this column by emailing me at

Here are the upcoming sermon topics at WMBC during March:

Series Title – Wounded Light – Making Sense of Suffering

March 11
The Waiting Room of Life - How Do I Find Strength in Suffering?
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Three times Paul asked God to relieve him of the mysterious "thorn in the flesh" and three times God said no. In effect, Paul hears God saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul had to endure suffering and hardship and we can learn from his model that finding strength in suffering comes through waiting strong with God.

March 18
Singing the Blues
Scripture: Psalm 22
David sang the blues, the children of Israel sang the blues, Job sang the blues. Even Jesus, on the cross, sang the blues. Giving voice to our suffering-making a groaning lament-is sometimes good for us because it acknowledges our pain and helps us to remember that suffering is common to all humans, that it doesn't last forever, and that God is right there with us, even when we sing the blues.

March 25
Don't Waste Your Suffering
Scripture: Romans 8:28
Suffering has an end and a purpose, though they are difficult to see when you are in the midst of suffering. The benefits of suffering are wasted if you believe it to be a curse and not a gift, if you allow it to drive you to solitude rather than into deeper relationships, and if you allow it to drive you away from God rather than toward God. Suffering should invite reflection and changes in our lives as we respond to the difficulties of life by the power of our relationship to Jesus Christ.

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