Summary: There are multiple ways in which Christians respond to suffering. Most of them are flawed. Why? And what could be the right response?
Our Responses to the issue of Suffering
I have spoken on the topic of Suffering on the last two occasions that I have spoken here. I am going to continue the series with another aspect of Suffering. This time we will look at ourselves. How do we respond to the issue of suffering.
Leslie and I are studying the different books of the Bible and last week’s book was Leviticus. How many of you have read Leviticus in one sitting? Difficult isn’t it? It is about the laws and rituals that the Israelites needed to perform in order to be Holy, as the Lord is Holy. Before closing the book, the Lord makes it very clear in Chapter 26 that there are great rewards for obedience to the laws, but he also warns of dire consequences for disobedience of the laws. Reward for obedience, great punishment for disobedience. In case they did not really understand that God makes Moses repeat and reiterate the same in Moses’s words in Deuteronomy Chapter 28. Seen in this context, we can easily understand and even accept the suffering that disobedient people go through. They disobeyed. God was clear on his instructions. They were warned. So if they suffer, they deserved it. Even though we might not say it in the open, we will think in our minds like that. The operative word here is “disobedient”. The problem comes when it comes to us. How many of us truly consider ourselves to be “disobedient” to God? Well.. yes.. if we become really spiritual, we may reluctantly, hesitatingly, agree that we have disobeyed God now and then. We will punctuate that admission with numerous statements about occasions when we think we obeyed God. We will compare our Good deeds with a few minor infractions that we might have had with keeping the statutes. Isn’t this true? I don’t know about you, but I sure do that. I would like to think that I obey more times than I disobey. I would even make a list of all the things I do for the “kingdom” and others and the church etc to prove the point that I need a little bit more consideration from God. We also do this when we observe people whom we consider “good” suffering. We fail to understand why they go through the suffering.
So how do we respond to such suffering, my own suffering? Suffering of people close to me? Suffering of good people?
Atheists will of course respond to this issue by denying the existence of God itself, or even if they admit of some greater force above, they may dismiss the goodness of this force and hence may not want to do anything with it. Other faiths might respond with philosophies like Karma etc. How do we , Christians, who believe in the goodness of God, who believe in Grace of God respond to this? It is not uncommon to see Christians sometime respond to suffering by questioning God, questioning the goodness of God, questioning the fairness of God.
To help us understand some of the possible responses, Let us turn to Psalm 44 today. There are a couple of reasons why I chose Psalm 44. Typically when a sermon is prepared on suffering it has to refer to Job. So I decided to stay away from the beaten path and give Job a break. Psalms of course provide opportunities to study many things. And when we chose a Psalm to preach on , the easiest thing is to pick a psalm by David. Everyone loves David, don’t we? Again, over exposed. So I decided that we will stay away from David’s psalms. Why Psalm 44 then? All that we know about Psalm 44 from an authorship point of view is that it is attributed to the Sons of Korah. How many of you know who Korah is? Not many I am sure. (Pastors exempted). Korah was not a hero in the Bible but actually a villain. He was a rebel. Don’t believe me? So let us go to one of rarely read books of the Bible, Numbers. Let us start with Numbers Chapter 3, where God allocates specific responsibilities to the Levite clans. One of the Levite clans are the Kohathites and Numbers Chapter 4 describes their responsibilities. Their responsibility was to care for the items of the sanctuary like the ark, the table the lamp stand , etc. since these were the items of the sanctuary, they were not allowed to use cart to transport them but they needed to carry them on their person. To make matters worse, when they carried it they could not touch it, nor even watch them without a wrapping. The items had to be wrapped up by the priests and then the Kohathites could carry them on their shoulders. Only Aron’s clan were allowed to be the priests. Korah was the grandson of Kohath, and he did not like the idea that Only Aaron’s descendants were allowed to be priests and he and his clan were given subordinate duties. So he along with a couple of others rise up in rebellion and Numbers Chapter 16 describes the rebellion and its devastating consequences elaborately. We don’t have time to read the full chapter , but the gist is that Korah questions Moses and Aaron as to why they are special, and sort of demands equal status. So Moses asks them to gather together and offer incense to the Lord. Moses separates the others from the rebels and tells them what the Lord is about to do. Moses tells them that if they die a natural death, then Moses is not special, but if they die an unnatural death like for example the earth opening up and swallowing them , then that is the sign that Moses is a chosen one by God. Just as Moses finishes speaking God does just that. The earth opens up and swallows all the 250 rebels. Numbers 26:9-11 (NKJV) sums it up. The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, representatives of the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the LORD; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a sign. Nevertheless the children of Korah did not die.