Summary: There is suffering all around us. How do we make sense of all the suffering ? Especially the suffering that good people go through? Where can we turn to when we need to make sense of our suffering.
Allow me to start with a well-known and (may be poor) joke about marriage. You all know about the three rings of marriage right, It starts with the engagement ring, it gets solemnized with the wedding ring and then continues with… suffering. Right? Leslie and I of course have the privilege of having a forth ring, a silver ring after 25 years of suffering.
That was my sermon topic last I spoke to you here at BBF. Last time when I spoke here, I spoke on 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--. I am not saying that it is the condition of all married people. But more seriously, my last Sermon was about how Paul and his companions responded to what he called as “light afflictions” (2 Cor 4:17). We examined three things that enabled Paul and his companions to really look at suffering as “light afflictions” and to get through them victoriously. The three characteristics we found were
• Have the right frame of reference as to who Jesus Christ is
• Have faith in Him and His resurrection
• Give thanks in all circumstances/ situations
I am encouraged to continue on the same topic of suffering this Sunday too. I know some of you are going. “Oh. No…not again” I do hope that after my Sermon today, you will still love me the same and will call me back to preach here again. Why do I say that? Because, suffering is not something we “want” to hear about on a Sunday morning. We “want” to hear comforting words. We “want” to hear great promises. We “want” to hear the Good news always. Good as we define it. Isn’t it?
But what we “want” to hear and what we “need” to hear might be two different things isn’t it? Is suffering something that we may not “want” to hear, but is it something that we “need” to hear? I don’t know. God will reveal it after the sermon is over.
So you may ask, pray, why do we “need” to hear about suffering? Isn’t there enough suffering out there? Don’t we hear about it from everywhere? We cannot escape it even if we “wanted” to. Well!! That is the exact reason why we “need” to hear about it. We need to know how to make sense of it all from a Christian perspective, we need to know how to respond to it as a follower of Jesus Christ. We need to know the role of the Church in suffering. I will try to take a look at just the first topic this morning, and God willing, and if you invite me again next month, I will continue the study on our responses and the role of Church in the matter of suffering.
As Christians we all know that suffering entered with the original sin. God had planned eternal pleasure for mankind, but because of the fall, we lost that privilege. Genesis 3:17-19 (NKJV) Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." It is clear, pain and suffering entered our lives through the original sin of Adam. So, is God the villain in this? If God is a loving God, why do we need to continue to suffer? Has God not forgiven us? Is He not a merciful God? Doesn’t he care about our suffering? These are legitimate questions for us today. One of the best answers to this question can be found in Philip Yancey’s book “Where is God when it Hurts?”
In this book Yancey elaborately describes the studies that were conducted among Lepers. This study interestingly was conducted in India by Dr. Brand , and expert in this field. . He establishes the fact that what lepers suffer with most is not because of the decease per se, but because of the fact that the decease acts as a very very strong anesthetic and takes away their sensation of pain. They cannot feel pain and thus they end up hurting themselves (without feeling anything) over and over again. They put their hands in fire because they cannot feel the heat. They walk on broken glass because they cannot feel the pain when glass pierces their feet. Even common activities like holding a mop or turning a key, or working with a screwdriver could damage their skins and muscles, because they just cannot fathom how much pressure to put on those things. Simple shoes can cause infections because they do not know when the shoe hurts and causes bruises. Imagine a nail piercing your foot when you walk and it staying there, and getting more and more deep into your flesh because you did not feel the nail piercing your foot. Imagine not being able to itch when a mosquito bites you, imagine waking up with your toe missing, because a rat chewed it off and you didn’t feel a thing. It is difficult for you and me to fathom this, because we take these things for granted. And we are able to take these things for granted because we can feel pain. Pain helps us to stop doing things that could damage us more permanently. Pain warns us to stay away from activities that could be harmful. Pain tells us when to stop. That is why Dr Brand boldly states “Thank God for inventing Pain. I don’t think He could have done a better job. It is beautiful.” Dr. Brand knows the value of pain, because he raised and spent millions of dollars to design and manufacture gadgets like special gloves, special shoes, special audio devices etc, to enable lepers to be able to “feel” pain artificially.